Second Class Citizenship in Canada: through the Eyes of a Second Class Citizen

“It’s official – second class citizenship goes into effect.” – British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (“BCCLA”), regarding Bill C-24 (now law).

Strong words.

I am always skeptical of strong words. More than half the time, they are hyperbole intended to deceive. I was skeptical of these words, too. So I went straight to the source: the Citizenship Act, RSC, 1985, c C-29 [Citizenship Act].

It turned out that, in my humble opinion, at least, the BCCLA is right to call the new regime dual class citizenship, and it is right to, together with the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (“CARL”), launch a constitutional challenge. There are three categories of insidious changes: terrorism-related offences, “intent to reside,” and changes in the revocation appeal process.

For the terrorists

If you are convicted of a terrorism-related offence in Canada or abroad, your citizenship can be taken away.

Why we should all be worried: let’s leave aside the dubious proposition that revocation of citizenship is a necessary and desirable penalty for terrorism. While I have approximately zero plans to be even remotely connected or connectable to terrorist activity, my very real fear is that one day I will need to travel to a country with questionable human rights practices (say, even, the country I’m from). And then I will look at somebody wrong. ‘Lo and behold, I’ll be a convicted terrorist and no longer a citizen of the True North Strong and Free, which, for all intents and purposes, I consider to be my homeland. After all, the Citizenship Act has no provisions for situations of foreign human rights abuses.

This was, in fact, such a real fear in the case of Mohamed Fahmy—a Canadian-born journalist convicted of terrorism-related offences in Egypt—that the NDP extracted a promise from Harper’s government that the new law would not be applied to him when it goes into effect.

 And for the fraudsters

 If you are a wannabe naturalized citizen like I once was, then unless and until the BCCLA and CARL are successful in their challenge, before receiving citizenship, you will need to declare that you intend to reside in Canada. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but…

Why immigrants should be worried: say, one day you need to spend four years in a foreign university, or move to another country to care for an ill family member. Think again, you fraudster! The vigilant Minister won’t let you get away with it! You see, if you’re away for a long time, you’re not continuing to reside in Canada. This means you lied, you liar. You made a false declaration, and since you made a false declaration, your fraudulently obtained citizenship is subject to revocation.

This is an absurd interpretation, you say? Perhaps, but there is nothing in the Citizenship Act that would preclude it. The law is vague, which makes me unhappy because I don’t like to entrust statutory interpretation to bureaucratic overlords, who I can only hope remain benevolent.

[By the way: this obviously doesn’t apply to plain old citizens, to those who were born and raised in our glorious country, rather than being naturalized immigrants. Those guys can go wherever they want for however long they need to be there, without fear. Talk about differential impact.]

Why do they need judges?

What’s more, even though one would think that stripping someone of their citizenship is a decision that deserves the application of the full weight of the Court, these decisions will be made by the Ministry bureaucracy on the basis of written representations to be made within 60 days. Holding a hearing is at the sole discretion of the Minister. A judicial review of the decision is possible, but only with leave of court. After a judicial review, there are no further appeals unless a Federal Court judge certifies that there is a serious question of general importance and states the question.

That is one important decision to make in a fairly summary way. I don’t know about you, but I get antsy even when it’s a judge who makes decisions that alter someone’s life. When it’s a government employee, I feel diagnosable anxiety.

Here’s to a brighter future

I have high hopes that Bill C-24 will be a blip on the Canadian radar. With the BCCLA/CARL challenge targeting the prosecution of fraudsters, and with terrorist provisions under challenge from a convicted terrorist Hiva Alizadeh (not the most sympathetic applicant, but nonetheless), the controversial provisions of the Citizenship Act, I expect, will soon be before the Supreme Court of Canada.

A future writer on this blog, I hope, will soon be able to tell you that Bill C-24 is but a memory.

2 Responses

  1. Marion Vermeersch says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Bill C-24 and the creation of second class citizenship in Canada.

    My family lost citizenship about 11 years ago and, at this point, I have heard nothing about our applications to have it restored as Bill C-24 purported to do. So, at this point, I still have no Canadian citizenship and no PR card either as my Landing Card from 1946 was deemed no longer acceptable. And, worst of all, my adult children and my brother’s are all now Second Class citizens, vulnerable to revocation (it happened to us, with no court process either!) and undetermined restrictions. They were all born in Canada, are perfectly good Canadian citizens, but are now demoted to second class for having grandparents who served in WWII and a parent born in the UK during WWII.

    I believe this all is grounded largely in the adamant claim by the last government that there were no Canadian citizens before 1947, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary there were “citizens”back to Confederation. When my mother brought us on the War Bride ship in 1946, she was given a document which stated clearly we would “be processed as Canadian citizens upon arrival” and also a card telling her the electoral district as she would be entitled to vote.

    My father came to Canada as a Home Child, went back in 1940 to serve the Royal Canadian Artillery as a sergeant throughout WWII, D-Day and the Liberation. Yet I have kept being told he would not, could not and should not have ever been given citizenship in 1947. My parents farm and worked for over 50 years after WWII and I want them recognized to have been the Canadian citizens they were.

    We need the legislation, Bill-C-24, repealed to get rid of this “Second Class Citizenship” and honour and respect those veterans of wars prior to 1947.

    I am so glad to see your publication here. I was beginning to think the Liberals had put the promise of repeal on a back burner and it was not going to happen.
    Our children have lots to contribute to Canada and they can do it best without the shackles of an insecure and questionable citizenship.

    Thanks

  2. Allen says:

    My kids and I have been living in Canada for the past 20 years. 12 years ago we applied for citizenship. The process was clearly stated but then the Harper government came to power and the hostilities toward citizenship applicants came with them. So our application got approved and to the point where I and my then adult son on his own application were to be called in to do our knowledge test but the local office decided to constantly require us to provide finger prints saying all our names were found in the criminal database. I asked to see the results of such criminality check and since I knew had that been the case our citizenship certificate would not have been issued.

    Because I dared to question what was obviously an error they decided to teach me and my kids a lesson. My eldest son who at the time was embarking on a career in aviation needed his citizenship for that since travel restrictions of 9/11 would make him unemployable. He gave them his finger prints and prayed it was not to be used for surreptitious reasons. after waiting about 5 years he contacted them. They let him know he better get me to give them my fingerprints and those of my then 13 year old daughter and 15 year old son or he ( who was not on our application) would not get his citizenship. Needless to say he never got his citizenship despite doing everything required and meeting all qualification including passing the knowledge test. Now he struggles to find work despite having huge student loan debts and my other family members are virtual prisoners here. We cannot do things like go on a cruise or take a trip abroad for PRs can be refused re-entry to Canada and with the suspicion on their records that we are all in the criminal database, we would be fools to leave these borders. They lost out on every opportunity normally available to their peers including academic ones. I could go on on on with our stories of woe but know we suffered abuses of the worst kind from Citizenship Canada. I personally know what all the fears expressed in this article means in real life because I endured them. These are real fears and they can be found on our records. Bill c-24 should be given priority by this government. I think they are having too many holidays when there are so many urgent things that need to be addressed by parliament.

    Each day these bad laws are allowed to exists is a day of abuse of ordinary people in this country. Your points raised in this article are well taken

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