House of Commons. COURTESY OF MONE CHENG

The Strengthening Citizenship Act portion of Bill C-24 officially came into effect in late May, creating what some have derided as a “second-class citizenship” in Canada. Under the new law, people who have immigrated to Canada, or have dual citizenship, can have that citizenship revoked while the “first-class citizens,” or those born in Canada, and do not have another nationality, are safe from being stripped of their passports.

With this bill, the government aims to improve the efficiency of the Canadian citizenship program by reducing average processing time, and targeting citizenship fraud. The bill is designed to reflect Canada’s interests and values by strengthening the requirements needed for Canadian citizenship. Under the bill, automatic citizenship will be extended to “Lost Canadians,” those who were born before 1947, as well as to their children born in the first generation outside Canada.

When the intention to implement these reforms was first announced in February 2014, Chris Alexander, the minister of Citizenship and Immigration commented that the changes were intended to strengthen the values of Canadian citizenship. Alexander went on to justify this apparent need by stating that citizenship is not a privilege — it is a right. Critics and the public alike have debated Alexander’s statement, and the Act it defends in various forums, with many arguing that this act devalues Canadian citizenship by using citizenship as a punitive tool.

 

Effect on students

Currently, around 17.5 per cent of U of T’s 68,114 undergraduates are international students. The population of international graduate students is close at 15.3 per cent.
Ryan Gomes, UTSU vp, internal and services estimated that Bill C-24 could potentially affect about five to ten thousand U of T students, including international students pursuing Canadian citizenship. The bill not only affects those with dual citizenship, but also those who plan to apply for Canadian citizenship.

“The bill is a blatant attack on immigrants, specifically those who are a visible minority,” said Gomes in an interview with The Varsity. “More than anything, it makes me uncomfortable. Knowing that the government can revoke my citizenship even though I was born here is sickening,” said Gomes, reflecting on his own dual Canadian-Portuguese citizenship.

Jane You and Yeliz Beygo, vice-president external and social respectively for the International Student Association, believe that this bill could take a toll on the overall perception of Canada as a multicultural, accepting country.

“The reason why I love this country is because I feel accepted here, I feel that there is a place for me in its society”, said Beygo, “but this bill and the consequent creation of a second class citizenship creates this feeling that people who have a dual citizenship and were not born here are not wanted here, or at least are not wanted as much. While the bill might intend to strengthen the idea of Canadian citizenship, its effects might just end up being the opposite.”

You agreed, stressing on the importance of cultural heritage in Canadian society. “Given that Canada is not a very old country, I only know a handful of Canadians who have truly been here for generations; most of my friends have cultural origins from outside Canada, and are still in tune with their heritage. I’ve experienced a lot of people who are outraged by the bill, because they refuse to give up their dual citizenship,” she said.

When asked if this bill could affect future admission of international students, both You and Beygo agreed that while there might be an effect, it may not be too apparent, as many students will still apply to universities in Canada, such as U of T, based on their reputation.

“It depends on whether these students would plan on staying here after university,” said You. “I do feel that in this age of globalization, by making it harder for people to come and live here, you’re essentially draining potential talent from Canada. It’s like taking too many antibiotics; you will kill the bad bacteria, but you also kill the good bacteria.”

U of T professors weigh in

In her article, “Citizenship Revocation, the Privilege to have Rights and the Production of the Alien” U of T Law professor Audrey Macklin argues how this much too common exercise of citizenship revocation can be paralleled with the ‘arcane practices of exile and banishment’.

“Those subject to citizenship revocation are stripped of that aspect of human dignity that affirms the capacity and potential autonomy for reflection and change”, Macklin states in her article, later commenting: “if the principle of non-arbitrariness requires a nexus between offence and punishment, the fact that citizenship revocation applies only to dual citizens and not mono-citizens ruptures the link.”

Trudo Lemmens, also a professor at the Faculty of Law, has firsthand experience in enduring the complicated and lengthy citizenship application process. Although he ensured that his residency requirement was within government standards, he believes that the government obligated him to provide unnecessarily extensive details on his travels, extending the length of time until he received citizenship. He stressed that his experience was more of an annoyance, but that he has concerns for others.

“If I already have difficulties, what about people who may miss documents, who don’t necessarily have the same stable employment, who don’t have a Canadian wife and children? Imagine what some other people face with this opaque bureaucracy,” he said.

“Canada’s approach in some of these areas is nothing short of scandalous, and in violation of human rights,” said professor Lemmens, on Canadian immigration policy. He reflected on the manner with which the bill treats dual citizens and visible minorities: “You want to make people feel enthusiastic about Canadian citizenship, make them feel welcome…you want to treat new citizens with respect. Increasingly, our Canadian government is doing the opposite.”

Lemmens expressed how he believes the system should work: “You are a citizen or you are not.” “We should punish [those who have committed crimes] as Canadians…not conveniently punish them, then take away citizenship and ship the ‘problem’ cases to other countries.”

“The new act really reflects this growing mistrust of the Canadian government, of those who come to the country and want to build their lives here…it opens the door to governmental arbitrariness with respect to a crucial aspect of a person’s existence,” Lemmens said.

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