Op-Ed

Recent attacks on citizenship threatens to divide Canadians

Photo: CC, Jeff Nelson

As the Canadian election drags on, citizenship has suddenly become a point of focus. This is in part due to the controversy over wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies, as well as  the government’s move to strip convicted terrorists of their citizenship, and their decision to enforce restrictions on expat voting rights.

These debates have shown a more closed-off and xenophobic side of Canada.

Multiculturalism has always been a prominent Canadian value, since it was first adopted as a federal policy in the Trudeau era, and recognized in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Tied to this value is the idea that being Canadian doesn’t depend on your place of birth, the colour of your skin or the clothes you wear—instead, being Canadian is about being part of one of the most open, peaceful and progressive societies on Earth.

Our government now needs to project that so-called Canadian value as a Canadian reality.

Citizenship is a legal recognition of Canadian identity, and grants people  access to the rights and duties offered by our society. For that reason alone, the government should never take away Canadian citizenship.

Anyone convicted of a crime has a debt to repay to society, and taking away their citizenship simply absolves them of that responsibility. Furthermore, removing citizenship from a convicted dual citizen just projects the image that we want to avoid responsibility, and that we can’t solve our own problems.

We can’t deal with our problems by kicking them out of the country, we need to address the root causes of these issues, whether it’s gun violence, sexualized crime, or terrorism. This approach will only  create more problems by disenfranchising people and removing them from their support networks here, making them more likely to commit more crimes.

Being a part of our society doesn’t just mean abiding by our social contract—it also means helping others when they walk down the wrong path.

The rule of law demands that justice be blind, that everyone is equal before the law. Laws that treat dual citizens differently than single citizens create different classes of citizenship. These laws will disproportionately affect people emigrating from Asia, including the Middle East, since that is where most Canadian immigrants are from, according to the 2011 National Household Survey.

Different classes of citizenship will make new immigrants feel like they’re not Canadian enough, when the government should be doing everything they can to make these groups feel welcomed.

As well, the rule of law demands the supremacy of the law, that government isn’t the law, but rather is subject to the law just like everyone else. When the government decides that one ethnic group is  subject to the law more than another, a dangerous precedent is set.

There’s another particularly noxious idea attached to the government’s stance on citizenship— that holding another country’s citizenship divides a person’s loyalties and makes them less Canadian. As a dual citizen myself, this is insulting, as the pride I feel from being European will never make me any less of a Canadian.

Nicholas Robinson is also running in the SFUO by-election for the vice-president finance position.