A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Some are more equal than others: Canada’s dual citizenship debates

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 24, 2006

I have been following the Canadian press more assiduously than usual recently, since the publication of the first reports regarding the cost of last summer’s evacuation of Canadian nationals from Lebanon – and, of course, Foreign Affairs Minister MacKay’s description of the evacuation as ‘no worse than a mall at Christmas-time’, which I commented upon in early November – adiamondinsunlight.wordpress.com/2006/11/02/evacuation-shopping-mackay-on-canadas-lebanon-evacuation/). Now that the holiday shopping frenzy has officially begun, what better time to revisit the issue?

The CBC reports on the costs, and the controversy, in an article published today. The article features a Lebanese immigrant couple who are restaurateurs in Charlottetown, a city with a decades-old Lebanese population. They were on vacation in Lebanon when the war started, and the wife suggests that dual nationals who reside in Canada, rather than Lebanon, should receive priority evacuation when funds are tight. Here is the article:

$94m for Lebanon rescue, but Canadian evacuee grateful

The cost of rescuing nearly 15,000 Canadians from war-torn Lebanon has come in at about $94 million — up from a preliminary tally of $76 million — but Charlottetown restaurateur Nawal Abdallah, for one, is grateful the money was spent.

“Canada acted very well,” says Abdallah, who was winding up a two-month vacation with her husband, Maroun, when the conflict between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group broke out in July.

The evacuation effort, which involved scores of chartered flights and sailings arranged by harried Canadian officials, was criticized by some evacuees, many of whom said they endured heat and chaos on the docks, slow boat rides and sometimes wretched shipboard sanitation.

In Canada, some political and taxpayer groups suggested that thousands holding dual Canadian-Lebanese citizenship and living in Lebanon should not have been eligible for the help.

Nawal Abdallah has some sympathy for that view.

“I think it was money well spent,” she said, “but I think people who have lived there for a number of years should not have been evacuated. I think it should have been reserved for people who were on vacation and young people, children.”

The evacuation cost was posted on Thursday in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2006 economic and fiscal update. Officials had warned that the earlier figure would probably increase substantially when all the bills were in.”

(The full article is available here: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/11/24/lebanon-cost.html.)

An editorial piece by Arthur Weinreb in yesterday’s Canada Free Press takes a much harder line:

Duel Citizenship – we better decide soon

The war that broke out last July between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon brought the concept of dual citizenship to the attention of Canadians. Several thousand Canadian citizens found themselves in Lebanon while that country was being bombed by Israeli forces and the Canadian government was forced to evacuate its citizens. While many of these Canadian citizens were residents of Canada who were visiting the Middle East during a peak vacation time, many others were not. Many people that Canadian taxpayers were forced to pay to evacuate were those who had originally come to Canada as permanent residents, taken out citizenship and then gone back to live in Lebanon on a permanent basis. While most no doubt paid taxes to Canada while they were here, many hadn’t been residents of Canada in decades. They were Canadian citizens in name only. Yet for evacuation purposes, the Canadian government did not distinguish between those citizens who were spending a two-week vacation in the Middle East country and those that had been living there permanently.

On Tuesday, Pierre Gemayel, 34, an anti-Syrian Christian cabinet minister was assassinated in Beirut. The death of the son of a previous Lebanese prime minister threatened to plunge the country into a civil war between the pro and anti-Syrian factions in the country. Although it is too early to tell if there will be all out war between the two groups, the possibility cannot be ignored.

If a civil war breaks out in Lebanon, Canada will be forced to once again withdraw its citizens from what will be a war-torn country. Along with Canadians who happen to have the misfortune to be visiting Lebanon when the war breaks out will be those dual citizens who are permanently living in Lebanon. Canadian taxpayers will be once again forced to pay the cost of bringing to Canada, many of the same people who were brought to Canada last summer and then made their way “home” after the hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel ended.

When the war ended, the dispute between Israel and the Syrian-backed terrorist group naturally moved off of the front pages of newspapers along with the debate that took place regarding the rights of dual citizenship. Now there is a strong possibility of a replay of last summer’s situation.

Many people argue that all citizens should be equal and no one should be relegated to the status of second class citizen. Rubbish. Although many people oppose this view, Canadian citizenship should not only come with rights but with responsibilities as well. But in the last 40 years or so, the notion that people (as opposed to the state) should have to take responsibility for anything, least of all their own actions, has fallen out of favour. We need to change the laws regarding dual citizenship to make Canada more than just a rescue squad for people who are citizens in name only. And if this leads to two classes of citizenship, then we’ll simply have to have two classes.

Lebanon and the Lebanese seem to be singled out for the wrath of Canadians who resent having to pay to bring these citizens back to Canada to wait for calmer times when they can return to the country of their preferred residence. But Lebanon is far from being the only country that has a significant number of residents that hold Canadian passports. Lebanon just happens to be the country that was engaged in a war last summer and now stands on what is perhaps the brink of another war.

The law needs to be changed and changed now. Canada doesn’t necessarily have to strip these people of their citizenship, but all Canadian citizens should be forced to take some responsibility. Those who have not resided in Canada for a certain period of time or those who have not paid Canadian taxes while being abroad for a certain length of time should be disentitled to financial assistance to return to Canada to sit out current hardships in their chosen country of residence. This issue should not be allowed to go away if the current possibilities of war in Lebanon do not come to fruition.

Last year’s evacuation of Canadian citizens was an expensive proposition. The next one will be an expensive joke.

Bah humbug to Mr. Weinreb, whose piece can be found in situ at: http://www.canadafreepress.com/2006/weinreb112306.htm.

Holiday shoppers looking for stimulation beyond that of shopping mall Santas and window displays must, like me, be eagerly awaiting the report on the debate held at the University of Toronto this morning, on dual citizenship and ‘passports of convenience’ in light of last summer’s war. A brief article announcing the debate appeared Wednesday on the University news’ website:

U of T panel tackles value of Canadian citizenship

Experts to discuss Israeli-Lebanon conflict and implications of dual citizenship

Has Canadian citizenship lost some of its value? Join U of T professor Randall Hansen and a panel of experts as they discuss the devaluation of the Maple Leaf on Friday, Nov. 24, …

“Current policy is producing large numbers of Canadian citizens living abroad with no meaningful attachment to this country,” says Hansen, Canada Research Chair in immigration and governance in the Department of Political Science. “The Israel-Lebanon conflict this past summer revealed the existence of 40,000 Canadian citizens in Lebanon. When offered safe passage to Canada, less than half chose to evacuate – at a cost of $68 million – and most have since returned to Lebanon.”

Hansen will be joined by National Post columnist Andrew Coyne as well as Professor Jeffrey Reitz, R.F. Harney Professor of Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies in the Department of Sociology at U of T, and Professor Audrey Macklin of U of T’s Faculty of Law.

Panellists will discuss whether the acquisition of so-called “passports of convenience” has produced a cavalier attitude towards Canadian citizenship and what the ramifications of policy reform – such as calls for an end to dual citizenship and taxes on citizens working abroad – might be.

The full article can be found at: http://www.news.utoronto.ca/bin6/061122-2754.asp.

I am curious to hear more about this morning’s debate, and hopeful that it offered a demonstration of the ‘civil, informed, and national conversation’ that Allan Thompson advocates in this (slightly older, but still worth perusing) November 16 opinion piece from the Toronto Star:

No Point in Fighting Duals

There’s a lot of talk about changing Canada’s dual citizenship policy. The trouble is, no one really knows what they’re talking about.

It’s as if we started this conversation before we have anything to say.Canada is not being invaded by absentee dual citizens here to soak up social services or run for political office. So let’s not rush into changing a system that goes to the heart of who we are and how we intersect with the world outside our borders.There is room for debate, to be sure. There are few issues more important than the value of our Canadian citizenship. But before acting, we need to spend a lot of time thinking, absorbing information, mulling it over. And the end result of that deliberation could well be: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We don’t really know how many dual citizens there are in Canada, where they live or who they are. By some estimates, there could be as many as 4 or 5 million Canadians eligible for dual citizenship. And we literally don’t have a clue how many Canadian dual citizens are living in other countries. We simply don’t keep track.And just as we have no way to measure the cost to Canada of allowing its citizens to hold multiple passports and move about freely, nor do we have any reliable way to measure the economic or other benefits to Canada of its dual citizenship policy. We’re operating on gut instinct. We need more information.All we know for certain is that a lot of people were annoyed when thousands of Canadians living in Lebanon were evacuated from that country during the war with Israel this summer, at an estimated cost to Canada of more than $80 million.The notion that dual citizens who live in another country were somehow taking advantage of Canada sparked an outcry in some quarters. That prompted the Conservative government to declare it was time to review the dual citizenship policy established in 1976.The response is largely about politics, not policy.”Canadians want to know that citizenship means something, that we’re not just a port in a storm,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Monte Solberg told a House of Commons committee last week. That sentiment puts the focus on access to services by Canadian citizens who live abroad for extended periods. Because they seem to have little attachment to Canada, the argument goes, why should they benefit from Canadian largesse without paying the price? Some critics are asking: How can we let someone who has lived outside Canada for years, even decades, just come along and get access to our services?In fact, we do it every year with tens of thousands of new immigrants who have never set foot in Canada before, let alone lived here long enough to obtain citizenship. How could we possibly treat Canadian citizens — albeit absentee ones — more harshly than we treat new immigrants? The logic begins to break down the more you think about it.And that’s why we need to think about these issues, long and hard. What are the legal issues at stake here, particularly in view of the Charter of Rights, which deems all citizens to be equal before the law? What about the consular issues, the rights that Canadians hold when they are outside this country? How would we differentiate among different classes of citizen? How would such a new citizenship policy be implemented, or policed? And is it really necessary?How many times in 30 years of allowing dual citizenship has Canada expended significant resources on absentee citizens? Apart from Lebanon, no other examples spring to mind. And in those intervening 30 years, how has Canada benefited from its openness to the world?No, this discussion is being driven by political considerations and by politicians who are anxious to assuage their constituency.These politicians are not making policy. They’re making noise. And frankly, they’re probably glad to be garnering some headlines about a review of our dual citizenship policy. It is one of those public policy deliberations that come at virtually no price to a government: make some noise, get people talking, scare a bunch of people, satisfy some others — then do nothing. After letting the citizenship question percolate for a while, sparking some news reports that the government was actually considering abolishing dual citizenship, the government finally made crystal clear last week that Canada’s policy of allowing its citizens to also hold the nationality of another country was here to stay.”We’re not tinkering with dual citizenship,” Solberg declared.News reports of Solberg’s committee appearance zeroed in on his “port in a storm” comments, the few minutes when he did talk about dual citizenship during a question session with MPs after his opening remarks. But notably, Solberg didn’t utter the phrase “dual citizenship” in the prepared speech drafted for him by officials. Instead, his speech on his priorities started with a mention of refugees from Cambodia that Canada has recently taken in. Then he talked about how immigration could address the shortage of workers in Canada. He boasted that the government’s immigration target for 2007 was the highest in 15 years, at 265,000. He went on to decry how earnings by immigrants have been slipping over the years as newcomers face more and more barriers to integration in Canada. Then he talked about plans to use immigration policy to allow more temporary workers.Nary a word about dual citizenship. Not a syllable. Sometimes you can read a lot into political speeches, especially set pieces drafted by senior bureaucrats. Often, it is what is not said that matters. Media attention notwithstanding, there is every indication that dual citizenship is nowhere near the top of Solberg’s list of priorities. And it is certainly not on the list of priorities being brought forward by his officials, who are instead in an information-gathering mode.Canadians — dual citizens and those attached only to Canada — should take a deep breath. Then we should think for a while before embarking on a civil, informed, national conversation about what it means to be a Canadian citizen in today’s world.The piece is available online here: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&col=969483202845&c=Article&cid=1163588588095&call_pageid=968350130169.

The proposal to establish hierarchies of citizenship horrifies me, but I recognize that there is some logic to ranking those who demonstrate commitment to their new country by residing there above those who do not. But how would this work – would each citizen be assigned a point value assessing his or her value and commitment to the nation-state? Would those like me – native-born but resident abroad – be ranked higher or lower than those foreign-born and resident abroad? foreign-born and vacationing in their natal land? foreign born but with a record of service in the government or US military? would I receive more points because my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary war? would I as an academic abroad receive more or less points than an equally DAR friend working abroad as a journalist? working for a NGO? an oil company? or abroad as the spouse of a foreign national?

Selfishly, I am pleased that these debates are taking place in Canada, rather than the US. Its a relief to see that for once our ideal of equality has not been superceded by our penchant for protectionism.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: