--> Getting It Right: What Maketh a Canadian?

Monday, January 22, 2007

What Maketh a Canadian?

Sometimes an issue permeates to the top of Canadian consciousness so gradually that before you know it, everyone seems to be talking about it – and with a large measure of agreement.

The issue du jour? Dual citizenship.

It began last summer with the embarrassing spectacle of “Canadians of Convenience” clambering onboard whatever ships our government could commandeer during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon only to turn around and return once the rockets had stopped falling.

We were shocked with the level of entitlement that these non-resident, non-taxpaying “citizens” showed.

How big a problem could we have?

Unfortunately Statistics Canada only tracks dual-citizens living in Canada – and there were just under 700,000 of these in 2001. However, as the Lebanon conflict showed, there are hundreds and thousands of Canadians living in other countries happy to avail themselves of the comforts of Canada when expedient.

As a state, we don’t track the citizenship status of Canadians living abroad. Goodness knows how many potential Lebanons are lurking in the future.

A great number of people from Hong Kong became Canadians during the days leading up to the take over of that region by China, with many staying and building lives for themselves here. However, many also returned to Hong Kong and currently about a quarter of a million Canadians live there. Close to a million Canadians live in the US. What if they needed to exit in a hurry?

Just to be clear, my quibble is not with those Canadians working or living abroad, but remaining engaged citizens of our great country. Instead I take exception to those who consider themselves nationals of another country first – but like the cachet or benefit of an extra passport in their pockets.

A Canadian citizenship, which doesn’t require military service or tax collection on foreign income, is a handy insurance policy to have. Canadians are also able to enter a significant number of other nations without entry visas.

And, as this summer’s events demonstrated, paying $85 million to evacuate “Canadians of Convenience” was not what we were aiming for with our very liberal citizenship policies.

In the perplexing Stephane Dion red herring case, the issue of his being both a French and English citizen is pretty much moot as there is a section of the French civil code that disallows French citizens from holding government or military positions in another country.

What isn’t known is if this was enforced during his time in the Chretien and Martin cabinets but it would certainly come into effect if he ever became Prime Minister.

Stephane Dion isn’t the problem. He is clearly Canadian, with his life and roots here.

The problem is the hundreds of thousands of “Canadians” who are Canadian in passport colour only.

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