Dual-citizenship review worries MPs
By Juliet ONeill, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Friday, December 22, 2006
OTTAWA When newly elected Liberal Leader Stphane Dion recently bowed to pressure and said he may renounce the French citizenship he inherited from his mother, fellow Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh considered it an act of courage.
MP Omar Alghabra saw Dion as a cornered man responding with sincerity and realism to unjustified questions about his loyalty to Canada.
MPs Jim Karygiannis and Lui Temelkovski were disappointed; they wished he had stood his ground and defended his dual citizenship.
The four Liberal MPs are among 41 members of Parliament who were born in other countries.
Each of them differs in their attachment to their country of birth. But all are concerned about the message to fellow immigrants that such incidents send from Parliament Hill, especially on the heels of a government plan to review the rights and responsibilities of dual citizens.
And all are concerned about undermining the idea that Canadians need to embrace global opportunities.
We have an increasingly mobile world, and you can't contend with these new realities by building walls, said Dosanjh, a Vancouver MP and former B.C. premier. I just think its a shame that people are even raising this issue.
This is not rocket science, said Temelkovski, an Ontario MP who didnt speak a word of English when he immigrated to Canada at age 13 four decades ago. The world is getting smaller. When my dad took a ship from Macedonia to Australia it took him 33 days. He came to Canada in 167. Now people fly.
You have breakfast in Ottawa, lunch in Paris and dinner in Moscow. We should be encouraging people to travel the world and work and fall in love. They may become citizens of other countries but theyre still Canadians.
Dosanjh, who immigrated to Canada from India in 1968, holds only Canadian citizenship and is not interested in a second citizenship in India which would ease his travel and allow him to live there but not to vote or run for public office. I have very strong connections with India spiritually and heritage wise and I go back whenever I have a chance, he said. I love the place. But for now, Canada is where I am.
At first, when Dions loyalties were questioned by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New Democrat Pat Martin, the new Liberal leader appeared taken aback. He does not live or vote in France.
Within days, however, he conceded he would take the sad step of renouncing his French citizenship if it's a problem for a significant number of Canadians and if it's a liability that may keep Mr. Harper in power.
Karygiannis had been getting calls from constituents supporting Dions refreshing approach. After Dion changed his tune, Karygiannis received calls from people outside his constituency taunting him to give up his Greek citizenship.
Well, I aint about to do it, Karygiannis said. My constituents dont want me to do that. Im very proud of my roots.
Karygiannis links the pressure on Dion with Immigration Minister Monte Solbergs announcement last month of a review of the responsibilities of dual citizens, sparked by the mass evacuation last summer of Canadians in Lebanon. Solberg singled out those who live abroad for many years and return to use health care and social benefits. We hear about it everywhere we go, Solberg told a Parliamentary committee.
This is a Conservative government trying to pit one Canadian against another Canadian in order to fulfil their Reform legacy of saying to the rednecks of this country that first and foremost we don't like the immigrants, Karygiannis charged.
Statistics Canada says nearly four million of Canadas 5.4 million immigrants have Canadian citizenship, but only 691,310 Canadians report that they have dual citizenship or citizenship in more than two countries.
Temelkovski, who immigrated to Canada from Macedonia at age 13, was disappointed and angry when Dion backtracked.
Is that what Canadas all about? he asks. Renouncing citizenships? He should stand firm. My advice to him would be dont back off. I would never do it.
Alghabra, who immigrated to Canada at age 19, was born in Saudi Arabia, a country which does not grant citizenship unless both parents are from the country.
His parents are from Syria, a country which does not allow citizens to renounce their citizenship. Not that Alghabra would anyway.
My parents, my heritage and my background is a part of my identity, he said. It played a significant role in shaping who I am as much as Canada has.
While he has Syrian citizenship, he does not have a Syrian passport because Im a Canadian.
Alghabra is skeptical about the governments review of dual citizenship rights.
We already deny benefits to Canadians that live abroad and we have tax agreements with many countries around the world, he said. I dont think the relationship between a citizen and his or her country should be a linear financial transaction.
“And I dont think we should make people feel guilty about making personal or professional decisions to work abroad.