Monday, June 15, 2015

Two Tier Citizenship

Recently, a bill came into law which allows the federal government to strip citizenship from dual citizens who have been convicted of terrorism or treason.  Previously, the only grounds for stripping citizenship was fraud, aka lying on the application.

          The quirk of this law is that it only applies to dual citizens.  So someone with sole Canadian citizenship convicted of the same crime wouldn’t be stripped of their citizenship, since that would leave them stateless, which is a no-no in the international community.

          This is largely consistent with what other countries around the world are doing.  And Canada at least has the benefit of judicial oversight of the process to remove citizenship, which Australia and the UK don’t.  The UK goes even further, actually, since there’s a potential of stripping citizenship from sole-citizens who are children of dual citizens.  So if your parents were immigrants, you could conceivably become a dual citizen, which means the UK law would allow your citizenship to be stripped.  Thankfully that, at least, is not the case here, since it looks a hell of a lot like xenophobia.    

          But part of the problem with this law is that it accepts foreign conviction of terrorism.  So if you’re from Saudi Arabia, say, and the government there declares you guilty of terrorism, you could (maybe) have your Canadian citizenship stripped.  Oh, but that’s no problem, I’m sure.  It’s not like we have a history of letting dual-citizens from the Middle-East be imprisoned in countries with corrupt legal systems.

          The idea that we would base something as fundamental as citizenship on the legal systems of other countries is troublesome enough, but the bigger issue is that this very clearly creates two kinds of citizenships: those that can be revoked, and those that can’t.  And there’s not really a good, principled basis for making that kind of distinction.  If it’s a matter of crime and punishment, then the punishment has to be the same no matter who committed the crime.  Otherwise it’s an arbitrary application of justice.     


           The law is sure to be challenged in court.  And while I don’t necessarily want to argue that there is no circumstance in which citizenship should be stripped, I’m hard-pressed to think of an example where I think that’s justified.  If you’re a citizen, you’re a citizen.  Full stop.  If you commit treason or terrorism, then you should be dealt with as a citizen and face the law of this country.  Doing otherwise demonstrates a lack of faith in our own laws.  More to the point, stripping citizenship and shipping people off to be dealt with elsewhere is not a responsible way of dealing with a problem. If citizens commit crimes, then that’s how they should be addressed: as citizens.

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