O Canada, do we stand on guard for thee?
What does the government owe dual citizens who live elsewhere?
LUIZA CH. SAVAGE | Aug 07, 2006
Maybe it was the complaining that did it. Here was the Canadian government spending a yet-untold sum to evacuate Lebanese Canadians from a war zone, while most Canadians were coming to terms with the fact that there were enough dual citizens living in Lebanon -- around 40,000 -- to fill a small city. Then came the complaints of some evacuees about disorganization and nauseating conditions on the boat ride out. One evacuee said she would have preferred to stay under the bombs, another said she was ashamed to be Canadian. Although most evacuees said they were grateful, well, some Canadians finally snapped.
"If they don't live here and don't pay taxes, and may never be coming back, what is the responsibility of the government of Canada supported by the Canadian taxpayer?" asks Garth Turner, Tory MP for Halton, Ont. His website became one of numerous forums for the outpouring of passions around the country, where critics disparaged "Canadians of convenience" and "dualies" who use their passports as "insurance." The outraged calls streaming into his office "became an overwhelming chorus of concern," says Turner.
More than half a million people in Canada hold two or more passports, according to the 2001 census. More than half of them are European, with dual British Canadians alone accounting for 90,000. Canadian citizens, whether dual or not, are abroad in large numbers with 250,000 living in Hong Kong, while close to a million reside in the U.S. What if they all needed to get out in a hurry?
Critics like Turner want Canada's evacuation policy to be re-examined -- and they want a broader review of what Canada owes dual citizens, particularly those who no longer live in Canada. "I had constituents who were trapped there as tourists and were bumped from getting on the boat by people who lived there full-time," says Turner. Stephen Harper has said the evacuation policy will be reviewed to see "what we can credibly do and what we cannot credibly do."
Since 1956, the U.S. State Department has asked its citizens to reimburse some of the costs of evacuation, even though it evacuates everyone without concern for ability to pay. "We do not make any distinction between dual-national American citizens and natural-born Americans," says Janelle Hironimus, spokeswoman for the State Department. "They are all American citizens." Unlike Canadians, however, Americans living abroad are required to file American income tax returns and are taxed on income earned while living outside the U.S.
More than emergency evacuation is at stake. Dual nationals can find themselves in all kinds of trouble. Take the case of Ramin Jahanbegloo, the Canadian Iranian philosopher who moved back to Tehran in 2002 and is currently in prison, held there without charges. Although his case has inspired an outcry around the world, Canada has been denied access to him because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. Then there is Ghazi Falah, an Israeli Canadian dual citizen who was arrested in Israel July 8 on suspicion of spying when he took photographs near a military installation, and was held without charges for 22 days. He and his family lived in Ontario for eight years, although he now teaches at the University of Akron in Ohio. Falah says he was interrogated for 60 hours without sleep, and has complained that Canadian officials did not come to see him in jail. What about Abu Sufian Abd Al-Razziq, a Canadian and Sudanese citizen, who last month the U.S. Treasury designated as subject to having his assets frozen for high-level ties to and support of al-Qaeda?
"If someone voluntarily goes to a country where they have a reasonable chance of getting in trouble for their beliefs or their actions, I'm not sure we ought to be their Boy Scout," says Turner. The government of Canada has, to date at least, disagreed. There are no "degrees" of Canadians, and there is no residency requirement for citizenship.
Irene Bloemraad, a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who has studied dual citizenship in both Canada and the U.S., says it's not surprising that these questions are arising at a time of armed conflict. Wars are often where notions of citizenship are forged and unmask the deepest loyalties: for whom will you fight?
The American concept of citizenship was forged in the Revolutionary War, where to become American meant to break ties with Britain and to be American alone. The Cold War gave rise to the oath that all new Americans must swear: "I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen..." But although the oath was taken literally through the 1960s and '70s, its effect has been diluted by court rulings and administrative practices. Americans who take out passports from another country no longer receive letters from the State Department telling them they are no longer Americans. And U.S. courts have upheld the citizenship rights of people who move abroad and even vote in foreign elections. Unlike the Canadian Parliament, however, the U.S. Congress has never embraced the concept of dual citizenship. "Because it was born out of revolution, you had to make an affirmative choice for the United States or for Britain. Ideas of dual loyalty were not an option," observes Bloemraad, who was born in Europe and grew up in Canada.
Canadian citizenship also emerged out of conflict, in 1947, under legislation first brought forward by Paul Martin Sr., after viewing graves of the Canadian war dead at Dieppe. Until then, Canadians were considered British subjects. Under the new law, a Canadian citizen who chose to become a citizen of another country automatically ceased to be a Canadian citizen, but immigrants were not required to renounce past ties. In 1977, the ban was lifted on Canadian citizens taking out foreign passports after a standing committee raised concerns that the automatic loss of Canadian citizenship affected Canadians seeking citizenship of another country, but not foreign nationals acquiring Canadian citizenship. To require immigrants to renounce past citizenships was deemed "impractical and difficult to enforce" because some countries may not recognize renunciation of citizenship by their nationals.
Thirty years later, critics like Turner want a fresh look at the issues. "This needs to go before a parliamentary committee and then to Parliament to determine what are the rights and responsibilities of dual citizens. We are making it up on the fly and it's not working," he says. Others say that, on the contrary, it is working very well. Bloemraad says that dual citizenships are not a question of dual loyalty, but multiple identities. "Some people talk about dual citizenship as bigamy -- how can you have two husbands or two wives?" she says. "I think of it like children -- how can you pick between your children, you may love them differently but you love them equally."
Moreover, dual citizenship has helped newcomers integrate. Her studies find that immigrants to Canada are more likely to take out citizenship than are immigrants to the U.S., even accounting for factors such as country of origin and education level. The number of immigrants who took the final step of becoming full Canadian citizens rose from 60 per cent in 1971 to 75 per cent in 2001, while they fell in the U.S. from 64 per cent in 1970 to 40 per cent in 2000. The trend benefits Canada because citizens become more integrated socially and politically into their adopted country, she says.
Other countries are following suit. Since 2002, Australians have been able to acquire the nationality of a foreign government without losing their Australian citizenship and India has allowed dual citizenship since 2003. In the wake of the Lebanese evacuations, Australians are having a similar debate about their estimated one million dual citizens. Prime Minister John Howard said last week that dual citizenships offer economic opportunities because many countries limit what foreigners can do. "We want Australians to become the worldwide managing directors of the multinational companies," he said.
The Canadian government is not planning a wholesale review of dual citizenship, says Lesley Harmer, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Monte Solberg. But it could benefit from holding one, says the Ipsos-Reid pollster Darrell Bricker: "Having a review of this issue and making Canadian citizenship worth a little bit more and having a more demonstrated commitment to the country would play reasonably well with conservative voters." Rule changes, he says, don't matter "nearly as much as the statement of values that obligations go along with privileges of citizenship."
Read Luiza Ch. Savage's weblog, Savage Washington
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