Chris Alexander defies a Tory legend - Macleans.ca

Chris Alexander defies a Tory legend

John Diefenbaker may disapprove of citizenship reform

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Adrian Wyld/CP Photo

Adrian Wyld/CP Photo

“It is wrong to use citizenship rules to punish people for wrongdoing. That’s the role of the criminal system.” —Loly Rico, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees

This is a big week for first-time reformers. Pierre Poilievre, the Democratic Reform Minister, kicked things off with his bold attempt to reshape Canadian elections. Yesterday, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander went arguably even bigger, proposing comprehensive changes to Canada’s citizenship rules for the first time since 1977. He wants permanent residents to live in Canada longer before they’re eligible for citizenship. He wants to crack down on fraud. And he wants to revoke citizenship from convicted terrorists.

“Canadians understand that citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience,” said Alexander, whose proposals also include more stringent language requirements for applicants and tough prison sentences for fraudsters. There’s nothing subtle about the bill.

There’s plenty to criticize, and the opposition will no doubt launch a full-scale attack on not one, but several elements of the bill. They may spread their worries over several days, to maximum effect. But the criticism from all sides is best characterized by Lorne Waldman, the president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. Waldman told the Toronto Star that political masters should keep their hands off citizenship. “As Canadians, we make our citizenship feeble and fragile if we let government ministers seize the power to extinguish it,” he said.

The Globe and Mail‘s editorialists supported many of Alexander’s proposals—namely, the extended period in which residents will have to live in Canada, and the stronger language requirements. But the Globe joined Waldman and others who opposed the notion that the minister should be able to revoke the citizenship of criminals. “Loss of citizenship, except in cases of citizenship fraudulently obtained, should not be on the menu of possible punishments, even for the gravest crimes,” wrote the Globe.

Terrorism is, for sure, among the gravest crimes. But the Globe, to prove its point, recalled a little bit of history that Alexander may appreciate. After a Communist spy had his Canadian citizenship revoked, former prime minister John Diefenbaker amended the rules so that even those who commit treason remain Canadian citizens.

This government’s many odes to Diefenbaker’s vision extend all the way to the farthest regions of the Arctic. They apparently stop at the definition of who’s properly Canadian. That’s a wedge the opposition could dangle in front of the Tory benches.

ABOVE THE FOLD

Globe: The federal government moved to toughen citizenship requirements.

Post: Citizenship applications will cost more, and residency requirements will be lengthened.

Star: The new rules will also crack down on citizenship fraud.

Citizen: The feds expect to pay $1.4 billion in salary to public servants who took sick days.

CBC: The Sochi Olympics opening ceremony starts this morning.

CTV: tAtu, a Russian duo,will perform at the opening ceremony.

NNW: Phillip Nolan, the drummer in Stephen Harper’s band, was charged with sexual assaults.

MOSTLY MISSED

Near: Alberta plans to cull its wild horse population by about 200 animals.

Far: A protest that opposed a 10-cent transit fare hike in Rio de Janeiro turned violent.

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