Dual citizenship faces review
Evacuation from Lebanon hastened rethinking
Allan Woods, CanWest News Service
Published: Thursday, September 21, 2006
OTTAWA – The federal government plans to revisit the 30-year-old rule allowing Canadians who live abroad to hold dual citizenship, a senior Conservative has told CanWest News Service.
The review of the law allowing people to carry a Canadian passport along with the citizenship of another country appears to be on a fast track, particularly after the government began tallying the costs and results of evacuating thousands of dual-passport holders from Lebanon during the recent conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
“I think it's going to be something that our Minister of Immigration [Monte Solberg] … will be addressing in the future because I think there is some interest as these details become known,” said Conservative caucus chairman Rahim Jaffer, a member of the House of Commons citizenship and immigration committee.
Mr. Solberg refused requests for an interview, and Mr. Jaffer did not disclose what other issues relating to dual citizenship could come under review.
But Stephen Harper has already expressed a desire to look at changes to the protocol the government follows when evacuating Canadians from foreign hot spots.
Lesley Harmer, a spokeswoman for Mr. Solberg, said “there aren't any plans” to change laws governing dual citizenship.
But Mr. Jaffer said a closer look at the issue was already on the government's fall agenda and could happen “within weeks” after the burden of moving Canadian citizens out of the Middle East war zone has come to light.
Some 40,000 Canadians were registered with the embassy in Lebanon when the war broke out in July. Ottawa estimates it spent more than $85-million to evacuate about 15,000 of them to Canada, according to an official in Foreign Affairs who gave what was described as an estimate. Reports suggest 7,000 evacuees have since returned to Lebanon.
The movement to revisit dual citizenship is drawing support on both sides of the Commons.
“I've always questioned dual citizenship — and I'm the former minister,” said Ontario Liberal MP Judy Sgro, a Liberal immigration minister between 2003 and 2005. “We've paid all that money to evacuate all those people, and now 7,000 of them have gone back.”
She added that the benefits that come with Canadian citizenship for those living abroad — including pension benefits and assistance from Ottawa in times of emergency — are “ripe for exploitation.”
Statistics Canada says more than four million immigrants hold dual citizenship with Canada and at least one other country. There are no records for Canadian-born citizens who hold other citizenships.
“We need to be loyal to one country as far as your citizenship. Your heart can be where you were born, but I think the commitment to Canada has to be strong and I think dual citizenship weakens that,” Ms. Sgro said.
Canada changed its immigration laws to allow Canadians to hold passports from two countries in 1977, and they have not received a major update or revision since then. Advice from two parliamentary committees from the mid-1990s that it was time to revamp the laws were ignored by the Liberal government of the day.
One of those committees from 1993 suggested that permitting dual citizenship reduced the value that goes along with being a Canadian and recommended those who take citizenship with another country should forfeit their Canadian passport.
“When someone lives here for a few winters and becomes a Canadian citizen for the rest of their lives, do they have rights and privileges that Canadian taxpayers need to fulfill … or should you have to live in Canada three years out of every 10 to maintain your citizenship?” asked Ontario Tory MP Garth Turner.
“It's in the government's court right now. I'm hoping that in the next couple of days we're going to see the issue brought up. I'd love to see it referred to a House of Commons committee, call some witnesses, hear from Canadians and come up with a better definition of who a Canadian is.”
National Post 2006