Your Canadian citizenship means nothing

There have, in the past few years, been some very disturbing trends around the state of Canadians rights.

The first assault was very direct. The current conservative government has made it law that children to Canadians who were themselves were born outside the country will not be Canadian. So, if you happen to be on vacation, or visiting family, studying or working abroad when you (or your partner) give birth to a child, you’d better hope they are not also caught in the same situation when that happy moment arrives. If so, your grandchild will not be Canadian. Canadians, being an international lot due to immigration and our propensity to travel, study and work abroad, are apparently only really considered Canadians if they are born in the right place.

This assault of the notion of Canadian citizenship – that you may not be able to pass it on to your children if you happen to be out of the country – is however, relatively minor. If you happen to be a Canadian that the government of the day does not like – don’t expect to be rescued from torture and false imprisonment. Indeed, don’t even expect to be allowed to return home.

The treatment of Abousfian Abdelrazik is a national scandal. In short a Canadian citizen was abandoned by his own government – the institution that is supposed to protect his rights and ensure that he receive due process if accused of a crime. It is appalling that a Federal judge had to order the Canadian government to repatriate a Canadian citizen. All this tells me is that if I do something Foreign Minister Cannon does not like and my passport is removed from my person, he can essentially prevent me from returning home. Even if the RCMP and CSIS clears me of any charges.

And the complicity of the Canadian government in ensuring that Abderlrazik remained imprisoned is still more shocking:

In a wide-ranging and sometimes chilling account of six years of imprisonment and forced exile abroad, Mr. Abdelrazik recounted stories of interrogation and alleged torture. He told of Canadian Security and Intelligence Service agents laughingly saying “Sudan will be your Guantanamo” when he begged to be allowed to return home.

Apparently, being a Canadian citizen abroad means that you are on your own. If you have the wrong colour skin, the wrong beliefs, if you do something that the Canadian government decides it doesn’t approve of, or if you are simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time… you are on your own. Again, this is a shocking state of affairs. Citizenship is supposed to come with certain rights. Our physical security and right to due process are core among them. When these disappear for some citizens they disappear for ALL citizens. Every Canadian is vulnerable.

If you are not outraged, you should be. Your government has decided that certain Canadian citizens are expendable. They can be forgotten, ignored and even tortured by a foreign government with our explicit knowledge. Maybe you think it will never happen to you – maybe it won’t. But if we are willing to treat some Canadians this way, what does it say about our definition of Canadian citizenship and, more importantly, what it means to be a citizen of this country?

As I said once before, never before have Canadians cared so little about foreign policy, but perhaps it is because foreign policy has never cared so little for them. To be a Canadian abroad is to be without support, without rights, and, in some cases, without even the acknowledgement that you are Canadian.

13 thoughts on “Your Canadian citizenship means nothing

  1. Majd Al-Shihabi

    Totally agree – I was talking to an old man in a train station in Rome last month, and he was describing how disappointed he was with the track that Canada has been going down in the past few years. Definitely a disgrace.

  2. Lloyd Budd

    Not getting Canadian citizenship as a 2nd generation born outside of Canada does not seem unreasonable, though I'm thinking the exception should also apply to UN workers and other Canadian sponsored international bodies. Being Canadian means living in Canada (or serving Canada abroad).Us not helping our citizens abroad and conspiring against them is a whole other story.

  3. RobCottingham

    Nice post, Dave. I really don't like the idea that, for Canadians who aren't born here but become citizens, there's an asterix next to their name. “You're a Canadian, but…”Was there anything about that in the Conservative platform? (I mean, apart from the subtext.)

  4. the_rat

    Do any of you see a problem with Canadian citizenship by descent ad-infinitum? If you move to, oh lets say Lebanon, and your child is born there and grows up there and never sees Canada they will still be Canadian citizens. Ahh, but if the never-been-to-Canada-Canadian has a child, THAT child will not be immediately granted citizenship, BUT if the parents move to Canada as they would be entitled to they could sponsor their child as an immigrant. Unreasonable? Well, if you do see generations of Canadian citizenship without Canadian residency as a problem what other solution do you have? This solution seems best to me, I mean if two generations of Canadians are either so unlucky or so distanced from Canada that they can't give birth in Canada, there are other ways to re-aquire citizenship. It'll just take a little commitment to this country, something I don't think is too much to ask.

  5. David Eaves

    the_rat, there are theoretical problems and then there are practical problems. How many of these “never-been-to-Canada-Canadian citizens are there are there? Is it 1% of citizens? 0.5%, 10%? (I'm going to see if I can find some numbers).The question is should we design a system for a tiny fraction of “free loaders” (even here I think this term is deeply problematic – there are lots of reasons why people might live abroad for extended periods). The real question is why does 2 generations of not being born in Canada suddenly become the magic tipping point? If being Canadian is going to be defined as “living in Canada” then why not be striped of your citizenship if you live 5, 10, or 20 years abroad? There is a cost – to be sure – of free riders. But there is also a cost to a closed system, one that alienates those who feel, and are, Canadian. If there is an epidemic of Canadians who have never been to Canada – show us the numbers! Let us no make policy to fight what is at best an imaginary beast and at worst, is a tiny mouse.

  6. neelam

    My understanding of this law is that , if I am working outside Canada, and have a baby with my Canadain husband who is also living there with me, that kid is no a Canadian. If so then what will his/her nationality be? Does that mean that we can not go outside Canada to study or work till we are having babies. I agree with you that being Canadian means serving Canada, can we do that while we are physically not here? Do the soldiers who go and fight in other countries serving our country or not?

  7. Lloyd Budd

    Hi Neelam, have you had an opportunity to read the article linked above or look at…I don't think what you suggest is what the changes to the law mean. If your husband was born in Canada, your children will be Canadian.Each country has it's own laws about whether foreigners children born in their country are automatically citizens.It is about whether citizenship is automatic. Upon returning to Canada citizenship for your children should be a simple process.As discussed in the article linked above, soldiers are exempt from these new rules.

  8. Majken "Lucy" Connor

    On the first topic, I do find it a good compromise between what the rules had been and just letting any descendant of a Canadian claim citizenship. There was a big push from children of veterans from a certain time period to be able to claim Canadian citizenship due to parentage. I remember reading about among other things.I'm actually a Canadian born abroad and this would affect me, should I have another child someday. However, you don't just happen to find yourself in another country late in your pregnancy. Except in the case of medical complications (premature birth, unable to travel again once in another country) there's plenty of time to decide which country you will be in when you give birth. Also if I'm not mistaken we're fairly unique in allowing parentage to determine citizenship. The other countries whose policies I'm aware of base citizenship at birth solely on place of birth.

  9. trevor123

    Hi David, I'm really enjoying your posts on foreign policy. Re: “All this tells me is that if I do something Foreign Minister Cannon does not like and my passport is removed from my person, he can essentially prevent me from returning home.”I don't think Mr. Abdelrazik's ordeal can be attributed to offending Minister Cannon – he's our sixth Foreign Affairs Minister since Mr. Abdelrazik was detained in 2003, and Harper is our third PM. After reading about this case, and the Arar report, and the delayed evacuation of Canadians from Gaza, I'm left with the impression that Canadians in trouble abroad are getting indifferent/inadequate service from our consular staff. In important cases this has interacted with some questionable decisions by the RCMP and CSIS, to put Canadians in jeopardy. I don't know if this is because of damaged bureaucracy at DFAIT or something else. Do senior officials in the department in Ottawa pay attention to these matters? Does DFAIT spend as much time working on solutions as they do negotiating evasive answers to press questions (see Paul Wells' blog post “We could, in addition to the previous line, perhaps add a line such as…” from July 27)? Any thoughts?On the citizenship thing – our new policy seems to match the existing UK policy, and still be better than a lot of European countries, but, like you, I don't know why it needed to be changed.

  10. David Eaves

    Trevor123, While the Arar case certainly has guilt that can be spread around it is worth noting this quote from the Globe and Mail article:

    It was Mr. Cannon who labelled Mr. Abdelrazik a threat to national security, in spite of the fact that he had been cleared by CSIS and the RCMP. Mr. Cannon made no mention of the fact that the Harper government had already sought – in December of 2007 – to have Mr. Abdelrazik delisted after the security agencies said they had knew of no reason not to back the request.

    It would appear as though the minister personally intervened to have Mr Abdelrazik labelled a risk… Given that both the RCMP and CSIS had cleared him I'd be curious to know more about the criteria he used to do this.

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