Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dueling over Dual Citizenship.

Straight up, my perspective on the whole dual citizenship row is tainted by the fact that I recently became a dual citizen. Thanks only to my grandmother happening to be born in Ireland, I got Irish citizenship last Spring. And with my newly minted EU passport, I came over to... England. If any country should be irritated by my "citizenship of convenience," it should be Ireland.

We all know the reason why dual citizenship is even on the agenda with Stephen Harper's government. The Israeli-Hezbollah conflict earlier this year forced about 15,000 Canadian citizens to be evacuated... at Canadian taxpayers expense, as the blusterers say.

As far as I know, the evacuation of American, British and French citizens from Lebanon has not sparked the same debate over dual citizenship. And as far as I know, there are few people upset that an estimated 300,000 Canadians are in England at any time. My understanding is that the anti-dual citizenship argument is mostly put forth by people who are ignorant about the size of Canada's Lebanese population -- and who consider them to be less Canadian than those of British, French or Irish stock...

I have no argument for these folks, so let's instead turn to Andrew Coyne, whose views are not based on such quasi-racist grounds. Coyne believes one of the inherent problems with dual citizens is that their loyalties are divided:
I asked one fellow, a dual citizen who accosted me at a party: so if there were a sporting match between Canada and (your other country), who would you cheer for? He refused to answer. The question, he said, was impertinent.
Why? If their loyalties are truly not divided, there should be no question what they would do: if asked to choose, they would unhesitatingly choose Canada. If not -- if the question caused them any difficulty whatever -- then we cannot even say their first loyalty is to Canada, let alone their undivided allegiance. That doesn't make them bad people. It just doesn't make them quite ... Canadian. Not if citizenship has any meaning.
The sports metaphor is not a good one. Rooting for Canadian teams is not a condition of citizenship, neither is it a good indicator of how devoted someone is to Canada. I know people who rooted for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, even though they were playing a Canadian team. But I know that in, say, a war with the United States (god forbid!) or, more likely, a really nasty trade dispute, they would unhesitatingly side with Canada.

Likewise I have a friend who is rabid Boston Red Sox fan and cried when they won the Series; his politics, however, are very anti-American.

Similarly, I know Americans who root for Canada in Olympic hockey. Why? Because we're awesome... And I don't think it makes them any less American.

During the World Cup, thousands of Canadian-born residents of my neighbourhood rooted for the Italian team -- not just those with dual citizenship. Not just those who were Italian either! I rooted for the French, even though I have no French blood in me.

If Ireland and Canada were, theoretically, to battle each other in the World Cup... Well, I'm not sure who I would root for. Likely the Irish, because I think they would go farther in the competition.

If the Irish and Canadian teams faced off in Olympic hockey, well, it doesn't really matter who I root for because hell has frozen over and we are all doomed regardless of citizenship.

My point is that sports are just that: Sports. And unhesitatingly choosing Canadian teams does not a Canadian make.

But loyalty surely is an important part of citizenship, right? Well, there are those who say that people who question one's country are the truest patriots. And that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Coyne doesn't seem to be in this camp:
If it is too much to ask that citizens of Canada should be loyal to Canada, that is the problem in a nutshell. I realize this is radical talk, in a country that cannot even assert it has a right to exist, choosing instead to spend forty years perched on the brink of dismemberment. But that just speaks to how radically dysfunctional we are as a polity.
Just as sports-team preference is not a solid indicator of loyalty to Canada, however, neither is dual citizenship. There are people who have dual citizenship -- like Stephane Dion -- who love Canada so much that they have spent years fighting to keep it together. Meanwhile, there are many Quebecers who are only Canadian citizens and who want to break up the country...

Coyne is really making an argument in favour of some sort of loyalty oath, one where presumably we would agree to only root for Canadian teams. I don't think I need to get into the reasons for why loyalty oaths are a bad idea. (Cough, Acadian explusion.) Certainly, if it involved swearing allegiance to the Queen, well you'd lose me as I am anti-monarchy. If it involved swearing allegiance to the constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, well I know certain Canada-loving conservatives who would object.

Again though, I must emphasize that there is no reason to assume dual citizens as a whole are any less "loyal" to Canada than single-citizenship Canadians. The truth is there are Canadians with dual citizenship who are extremely loyal to Canada, and Canadians who are just Canadians who are not. Homegrown terrorism, anyone?

Basically, I don't see any disadvantage to there being dual citizens. They roam the world acting as ambassadors for Canada, make business connections between countries, produce art that crosses national boundaries... If their loyalties are divided, well, so are most everyone's in this crazy mongrel world! New immigrants, third-generation Canadians, Conrad Black, Michael Ignatieff...

But what if there was a war between two countries where people have dual citizenship... Well, not allowing dual citizenship doesn't make this any less of a problem. That's why the Canadian government interned Ukrainian-Canadians in the first world war... even while other Ukrainian-Canadians were fighting for the Allies! In a country that isn't racially or even politically uniform -- that is, every country in the world -- there is always going to be a conundrum when war erupts.

Now this is just speculation on my part, but I think the existence of dual citizens makes the possibility of war less likely. Having people who understand and who connect the people of two different countries could be one of our biggest weapons of peace.

Coyne finishes his blog post with what is apparently his clincher:
Still not convinced? Then answer me this. Suppose Quebec were to separate. (I don't think it's likely or even possible, but leave that be.) Should the citizens of an independent Quebec also be citizens of Canada?
Well, how about we rephrase the question to: Should the citizens of a newly independent Quebec have the option of retaining their citizenship in Canada? I certainly hope so! Imagine turning our backs on, say, 40% of Quebecers who wanted to and voted to stay in Canada.

As someone who grew up in Montreal and Winnipeg, I would really like to have the option to be both Quebecer and Canadian. In fact, I have that option right now! Let's hope it stays that way... The fact that people can have two identities -- Quebecer and Canadian -- is why our country works. Coyne says you have to choose... and that is what the separatists say too.


Anders said...

From one dual citizen to another, well said.

Guy said...

Of course Mr Coyne's first comment is a reformulation of Norman Tebbit's Cricket Test, one of the Thatcher period's less pleasant political moments.

As you say in your summation, people have mulitple identities ( Sen, anyone?). In particular, it seems to me that (personal and familial) birth-based citizenship ties together two important somethings.

First, it is a method of exerting economic control so as to determine who can or cannot work/live/"sponge" in a given geographic location. And second, it is a something around which one can build an identity, by buying into various aspects of national identity/mores/etc.

Andrew's argument appears to be based around a rather limited realisation of the latter. Ok, so I get a little bitter about citizenship barriers, so I'm going to get off my soapbox now. Thanks for listening.

Cameron Campbell said...

Quasi? QUASI!

You're being polite.

I love how this debate is framed, and I love how people who basically argue against nationalism are basically arguing for nationalism.

Closet Liberal said...

I'm on Andrew Coyne's side on this one. Like yourself, I had the opportunity to get an EU passport based on my parent's heritage. The advantages to me are obvious, I get a passport that proclaims I am a citizen of the EU, and it even entitles me to a small pension when I retire. All that, and I don't even have to set foot on European soil.

Well you know what? I didn't get one. To me, citizenship is more than convenience, more than a means to grease the wheels at immigration.

Citizenship means that: I am willing to pay the taxes, participate in the elections and willing to serve when called if my country goes to war. I am Canadian, through and through. If that isn't enough, then so be it. I will abide in Canada, serve Canada, fight for Canada and love Canada as long as I am able.

I do not have this same dedication to another country, and therefore I am not willing to become a citizen. It would be a betrayal of what it means to be a citizen. Citizenship is not a matter of convenience, citizenship is a matter of duty. As a wise man once said "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Declan said...

Generally, I agree with what you are saying.

Having said that, I do find that, when Canadian citizens, who live and work in Canada, go out and cheer against team Canada, boo the Canadian national anthem, and yell out 'Canada sucks', it does kind of piss me off, and I do question where the loyalties of such people would lie in the case of a conflict between Canada and the country whose flag they are proudly waving.

But still, what are you going to do? Removing dual citizenship is hardly any kind of solution and would do far more harm than good, as you rightly point out.

Robert said...

or, more likely, a really nasty trade dispute, they would unhesitatingly side with Canada.

I don't recall many conservatives siding with Canada on the softwood lumber dispute. In fact I could probably point to dozens of rightwing columnists and bloggers who outright sided with the US.

So if this is about loyalty as Coyne suggests, then I think he needs to start questioning the loyalty of those around him in the world of conservatism.

Anonymous said...

Certainly, if it involved swearing allegiance to the Queen, well you'd lose me as I am anti-monarchy.

I had to do exactly that when I got my CDN citizenship. It actually took me nearly half a decade to suck it up and do it because of exactly the reasons you state. Eventually, I decided it was worth it to be CDN. Yet, when the swearing time came, and it got to that part... I choked. I could not say it. My husband has the video of it and you can hear my voice choke out and me trying to sputter the words and eventually giving up until we got back to the "Canadian" part.

I don't mind paying taxes to use services when I am *in* Canada. But as someone who has lived and worked in several countries and actually has citizenship in three (I only acknowledge two, and one of those I only keep because I haven't decided what to do with it yet, and the one I don't acknowledge I know of no way to get rid of) I will not and categorically refuse to pay taxes in a place where I am NOT using services. I am not driving on CDN highways now, nor am I using health care or anything else. When I return and use those services, I will gladly pay taxes. For now I pay the Japanese govt for those services, which I am using.


CharLeBois said...

Wkh, what are your thoughts on Canada's evacuation of its dual-citizens in Lebanon then? After some back and forth on this issue, I think I setteled on the US approach: we won't actively stop you from being a dual citizen, but as far as we're concerned your only American, and that means you pay American federal income tax, wherever you live.

Sophie said...

What exactly is citizenship about then? Is it, I came, I hungout, I tasted the local cuisine?

Your comment about how the issue is only raised because it is Lebanese citizens is wrong,totally unsubstantiated and inflammatory. Aren't you a journalist? Hey kids! Want to undermine an argument on citizenship without facts? Ignore Canadas record as a tolerant society and toss in spurious allegations of racism!

If 15,000 Brit/CDN's(or even 1,000) asked us to pay the bill for evacuation from Britain you can guarantee there would be a hue and cry.

I don't blame the dual citizens who take advantage. It is the nature of people to take advantage of situations such as these. You are in the country for a few years, the test is easy and it comes with with no additional responsibilities. Citizenship is an easier decision than most memberships. No yearly fee, no responsibilities. Getting a credit card is harder. I blame the Canadians who have so little respect for their country that they allow and encourage this. Citizenship in Canada is a great reward, not just another piece of paper.

Anonymous said...

Charlebois... in order to be a citizen you have to have lived in Canada and contributed for several years. So as far as I am concerned, a citizen is a citizen whether they happen to be Ignatieff or a Lebanese dual national.

BTW the US does NOT have that policy (that's one of my three). In fact as long as you make under 80$K US per year (the majority of US dual citizens) you are exempt from paying taxes if you are paying taxes to another nation and (key here) residing in that other nation.

Actually, Canada has a "non resident status form" too. (Kelly you may want to look into this if you have not already. It wasn't for me since I have kids and a husband back in Canada, but it may be beneficial to you)

That said... re-establishing your residency and getting your health care set up again and all that can be a serious PITA. But if you're making enough money abroad, it may be worth it.

Anyway my loyalty has never really been a question. If there was a Canada US war I'd happily burn my US passport on the steps of Parliament. I have not travelled on it in years, never identify as American, and am seriously considering renouncing it because the US now says in order to go in the US (even in transit) you must have a passport. Jolly... but if you are a US Citizen, it is illegal to enter the US on another passport. Nice. So everytime I go to the border and show them my CDN passport then they see where I was born I get a big lecture.

The reason I don't... my husband's grandfather was a 16 yr old francophone from Boston Massachusetts who ran away to Montreal to join the army in 1914 because he thought it was shameful the US was not involved yet (see Because of BS laws back then, he lost his US citizenship, and while my husband's mother is eligible, he isn't. So to him, our kids having that would be righting a wrong. Decisions, decisions.

Kerith said...


Becoming a Canadian citizen is not easy. First you have to get permanent residency. This an expensive, long process that involves huge amounts of paperwork and documentation. Inevitably something with your paperwork will be wrong because of unclear instructions and the application will be held up for months.

You are asked personal questions and possibly have to go to an interview in a far away place to answer even more -- at your own expense.

I had to go through this procedure in my native language and because of my situation, I was guaranteed acceptance eventually. I can't imagine how difficult it is for people in a different sitation.

Once you have permanent residency, citizenship is not that hard to get (in comparison), but you can't get it without first going through permanent residency. Sure, the citizenship test is easy, but for the vast majority of us, it takes a lot of hard work and committment to get to that point. Comparing it to applying for a credit card is insulting to those of us who have actually done it.

What happened in Lebanon is not an everyday, or even yearly event. Canada is not going bankrupt because of crafty dual citizens. If the government wants to spend less money on them, I'm sure there are less inflammatory ways than doing away with dual citizenship all together.

Sorry for the long comment Kelly, I just couldn't stay silent on this one.

Roshan said...

Hey guys, I am a guy from India, who has never been to Canada but loves & admires her from afar. My dream is to one day live there or atleast visit it. It would be great. I listen to a whole lot of Canadian singer/bands , even the obscure ones, because they are great. I support all six Canadian NHL teams cause they are great. I think most Canadian actors/actresses are special. I love ur cities and towns and ur products (Molson & Labbats especially!). I like that Canada has a laid back attitute without a holier than thou outlook. I feel because of my obsession with ur country I am Canadian in spirit. I have never seen her except on screen or on the web. But I love her.
What about dual citizens who could love both countries equally, who would weep when either country has a disaster? Like me - I was born in Kuwait & lived there till I was 11 (did not automatically get citizenship, because I am not Arab, my parents did not embrace Islam and some other reasons as well). I got Indian citizenship because of my parents. I wept & screamed at Iraq when Kuwait was invaded. I try to keep uptodate with matters in Kuwait as much as I can. I love Canada too. And as frustrated as I am with India as a whole, I love her very much as well.

Onizuka said...

Certainly, if it involved swearing allegiance to the Queen, well you'd lose me as I am anti-monarchy.

It is a shame that in today's modern political climate, so much anti-monarchism has silently leached into Canadian society.
It seems to me people has forgotten what the Crown represent, the role it played in our history.
It gave us our liberty when the Americans invade us,it gave us an un-biased, a neutral and non-political affiliated symbol (with the current party in government of the time) for all people of any ethnic to rally in times of need.
You may think it's something you can now say you do not need, but when your freedom is striped from you, and the armed mobs will follow in the sway of the current dominating political party of questionable morals to erode our national identity, it will only stand to those who has sweared an oath to the Crown,
To up hold Justice & Peace, in the name of the Crown, to look beyond the filth and the blind faithful to the tyrant you have elected.

Modern monarchs neither have nor need executive power. Integrity and continuity are their stock in trade. These qualities are becoming more precious when political parties, many of them in power for a decade or more, are increasingly judged arrogant or corrupt or both. Politicians could with profit learn not to treat modesty as merely a royal prerogative.
- Editorial, The Times, 2nd August 1993.