politics

two tiered citizenship

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Stephen Harper has taken another step in pandering to his racist base by choosing to use bill C 24 to revoke a Canadian’s citizenship during the election period. Zakaria Amara went through the Canadian justice system and is serving his time. If he and his parents were all born and raised in Canada, and if he had no other citizenship than a Canadian citizenship, then jail and parole would be the full extent of his punishment. However because he has Jordanian citizenship he faces a punishment that Canadians born-in-Canada to Canadian parents don’t. He is facing having his Canadian citizenship stripped and being deported. The timing of the announcement of the revoking of his citizenship suggest he’s being used as a political prop.

Harper is relying on people saying “hey, he’s a terrorist, who cares?” and “Good! Let’s deport all the terrorists.” He’s baited his political opponents to walk into the trap of looking soft on terrorists. But there are good reasons why people should reject the revoking of citizenship.

For one C-24 doesn’t distinguish between charges in a Canadian court with adequate legal representation and charges that take place in a foreign court under torture or duress and without legal representation. Canadian journalists have been charged with assisting a terrorist group overseas and assisted by the Canadian government. Now the Canadian government could just cut them lose, revoke citizenship and leave them stranded. Journalists, humanitarian aid workers, and even tourists could suffer from this. And it won’t be all Canadians at risk of losing their citizenship, it will be those with that “second tier citizenship.”

For another the government has been expanding the definition of terrorism to include many things that aren’t really terrorism. C 51 allows people to be sentenced to jail for five years for promoting or advocating terrorism. According to a global news article this past January that definition is pretty vague.

In an email Friday evening, Justice Minister Peter Mackay’s spokesperson Clarissa Lamb said the “The Supreme Court has interpreted ‘promote’ to mean active support or instigation and is more than simple encouragement.  It has interpreted ‘advocate’ to mean actively inducing or encouraging.”

Conceivably, if you’ve ever written a blog post railing against Canada’s actions in Iraq or Afghanistan; brought a Tamil Tigers flag to a protest; argued that Canada should restore humanitarian aid to Gazans through their Hamas government; called Israel an apartheid state; supported militant independence movements in Turkish Kurdistan or Spain’s Basque region; you may have done just that.

There are scholars who point out that there has been a shift and an increase in policing domestic dissent. Basically, the government has authorized spying on environmental groups and political activists.

Government threat assessment reports [Jeff Monaghan, a sociologist at Queen’s University] collected via Access to Information requests show a shift between 2005 and 2010 toward focusing resources on “extremist” groups, including ones that organize around environmental issues and indigenous rights.

Environmental and native rights groups are being seen by government threat assessments as the new terrorists. What will this mean for the ability to protest and be politically involved?

I remember sitting in on a discussion about encouraging immigrant groups to participate in political actions around the minimum wage and other issues that affect them, and people in the room talking about how immigrants are often scared to participate, because they don’t know how their activities would influence their ability to become Canadian citizens. Permanent residents are already often silenced by fear of losing their ability to stay in Canada. C 24 would extend this fear and silencing to people who are already citizens.

C 24  sets the stage for similar laws. I mean, if we’re going to deport “unwanted Canadians,” why stop with terrorists? How long will it take for people to start demanding we revoke citizenship of those convicted of other crimes? The list of crimes that can get a permanent resident deported include growing marijuana, fleeing police and robbery. If we make the revoking of citizenship and deportation acceptable in people’s minds, how soon will we start authorizing it for those found guilty of other crimes?

Take the cases of Deepan Budlakoti. He was born in Canada and grew up believing that he was a Canadian citizen. His parents had been household help at the Indian embassy, but claim they quit the job shortly before his birth. They applied for citizenship for themselves (and were granted it) but did not apply for citizenship for him because they had been told that, by virtue of his birth on Canadian soil, he was already a citizen. He had an Ontario birth certificate and a Canadian passport. As a young man he was convicted (of non-terrorist offences) and after he served his time in prison he was informed he would be deported to India, a country he’s never lived in. He was told his citizenship was never valid because immigration believes his parents were still working for the embassy at the time of his birth (and embassy staff’s children are not granted citizenship). He spent some months in immigration detention in 2013 and continues to face legal problems as a result of being considered stateless. India declined granting him citizenship and he is currently considered stateless. What we can see in Deepan Budlakoti’s case is that the government and immigration departments are willing to spend a fortune fighting to deport an almost-probably-should-be-was-told-he-was-Canadian to a place he’s never been. If we continue down the path of two tiered citizenship – citizenship that can be revocable for some and unrevocable for others –  we can expect to see this type of deporting of people born and raised in Canada, though we will probably hear less about court cases for it, since they will not be allowed to appeal.

The law basically says that there is no way any immigrant can be a good enough Canadian to be granted the same rights as a Canadian-born-to-Canadians-with-no-other-citizenship. No matter how hard they work, no matter how long they have been in Canada, or what the circumstances are of them having dual citizenship, their citizenship will never ever be quite the same as the citizenship of those Harper probably meant by “old stock Canadian.” They will always be subject to the possibility of an additional punishment of deportation and removal of citizenship that will never be faced by Canadians-born-to-Canadians-with-no-other-citizenship.

Part of me wants to say, hey, this could cause problems for my cousins with dual citizenship to the United States. But another part of me wants to be honest, that this law is probably not going to be used as frequently against white Canadians as it will be against those who are not white.

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One Comment

  • Dale McDonough

    Hey Christie, a fine piece on racist Harper policy. Yes, the word “terrorism” is being molded before our very eyes to suit any convenient circumstance that will allow the race/class war to continue and expand. We must
    STAND UP and FIGHT BACK.

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