Immigrant Groups Fear Dual-Citizenship Review

Immigrant groups fear dual-citizenship review
By Petti Fong
The Globe and Mail (Canada), October 19, 2006

Vancouver — A number of Canadian immigrant groups say fear is building in their communities over whether a federal review of dual citizenship will lead to people having to choose which passport to keep.

They say Canadians with dual citizenship will face excruciating personal decisions if the government revokes the practice.

'I think the majority of the members of our community are very concerned,' said Svetlana Litvin, a leader with the Russian-speaking community in Montreal.

Some of these members are business owners who travel back and forth from Canada to Russia and neighbouring countries, said Ms. Litvin, director of projects for the Russian-speaking community reference centre in Montreal. The organization represents about 55,000 Quebeckers originally from 15 former Soviet bloc countries.

'For somebody who has a [business] branch in Russia and in Canada, dual citizenship facilitates operations like administration and taxation,' she said.

Samuel Young, an Edmonton accountant who is on the national board of the Hong Kong Canada Business Association, said that with business opportunities expanding in China, any changes to citizenship requirements will have an impact.

'That gives me an advantage that someone else might not have,' he said.

'I value my dual citizenship and I know many, many people do as well.'

The federal government has not specifically said it is looking into revoking dual citizenship, which allows people to hold more than one passport, but a spokeswoman in the office of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said a review is under way.

'We will be reviewing the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in the upcoming months,' said Pema Lhalungpa, in minister Monte Solberg's office. She declined to say whether a report is being prepared or what kind of information is being canvassed as part of the review.

The review was ordered after the government spent $85-million to evacuate 15,000 Lebanese residents, Canadian passport-holders and dual citizens from the region during the war with Israel in August.

Since 1977, Canada has allowed citizens to live and maintain citizenship in other countries without losing their passport. An estimated 500,000 Canadians living in Canada have dual citizenship, according to Statistics Canada, but there are no figures of how many Canadians with dual citizenship live outside of the country.

There are approximately 50,000 Lebanese-Canadians who live in Lebanon and of the 15,000 evacuated during the conflict, about half have reportedly returned to that country. In Hong Kong, where about a quarter of a million Canadians live, reports of changes to dual-citizenship requirements have been on the front page of newspapers and on radio programs.

'People are talking about it as if they have to make a choice, and among my friends, it's a real dilemma,' said Danny Ma, who moved to Toronto at the age of 12 and returned to Hong Kong five years ago for work. 'There are opportunities here for me, especially with the mainland opening up, that I wouldn't have in Canada. My head would say stay in Hong Kong and my heart would say go back to Canada, if I didn't have a choice.'

Toronto immigration consultant Tony Luk said he's been getting about a dozen calls a day from former and prospective clients since talk of changes to dual citizenship began circulating a few weeks ago.

'The ones who are here already call and say it's not fair that they have to give up one of their citizenships, and the people who were thinking about coming say they now think they're not welcome if the government is thinking about changing.' Although he has been telling concerned callers that the government hasn't specified what, if any changes, are being considered, Mr. Luk said many are still troubled by the review.

Vancouver financial representative Andrea Chan said it was hard for her family to obtain British passports when they lived in Hong Kong before emigrating to Canada.

'Until now, I've never really thought about the importance of having dual citizenship. I just took it for granted that I had it and I could travel and work in other parts of the world,' Ms. Chan said. 'But when I heard people talking about changing dual citizenship, I thought about whether I have to give up being Canadian or being Chinese and I can't choose. I'm both and because my family has ties to the U.K., that's part of my home as well.'

Immigration lawyer Joshua Sohn said he doubts the Canadian government will consider revoking dual citizenship. About 90 countries allow it, and the number of Canadian passport holders who are citizens of two other countries tripled between 1991 and 2001, according to Statistics Canada.

'It was a knee-jerk reaction. If the issue was the evacuation in Lebanon, you can look at evacuation fees, or if the issue is taxes, you can extend taxes to non-residents,' said Mr. Sohn, the B.C. branch chair of the Canadian Bar Association's immigration section. 'Any review is in its infancy and there have been talks of planning to amend the Citizenship Act for years and years.'

At this point, everything is speculative, he said. He said he believes the government has no solid plans beyond taking the 'pulse of the issue.'

A Haitian community leader in Montreal yesterday said Haitians will never accept parting with their other citizenship. 'We have taken Canada as our adoptive country,' said Saint Arnaud Nicolas, an official with the Centre Culturel Canado-Hatien, La perle retrouve. 'But if I adopt a child, that doesn't mean I'm losing my roots.'