By Somayeh Bahrami
Somayeh is an MA Graduate of the Department of Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research is focused on the history of settlement, immigration, & citizenship in Canada; transnational migration and globalization; and Canada’s political economy and the labor market.
Critical Review of the New Canadian Citizenship Law Bill C-24
Published December 2014
The new citizenship Bill C-24 introduced by Chris Alexander, the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, passed and became law on Friday June 20th, 2014. The new law changes the core aspect of Canadian citizenship as Chris Alexander announced: “It would remind individuals that citizenship is not a right, it’s a privilege.” With the new Bill, Citizenship Canada redefined narratives of citizenship, what it means to be a Canadian, and what can be seen as an exemplary Canadian. But the critical issue is that new changes to the requirements for Canadian citizenship are not in the right and democratic direction.
First, under the old system, citizenship has always been secure. Whether born in Canada or not, once a person was granted Canadian citizenship, his/her citizenship was secure. Unless he/she obtained citizenship by fraud, no one could revoke it. Even then, a Federal Court judge made that decision after a full court hearing. Under the new law, citizenship can be rescinded for reasons other than fraud, the decision will be made by a citizenship officer, and there will be no opportunity for a live hearing or an appeal.
Second, the new law divides Canadians into two classes: First-class Canadians with no other citizenship or possibility of obtaining another one, and second-class Canadians who have dual citizenship or the possibility of dual citizenship. Interestingly, one may not be aware of possessing a second citizenship. In some countries, as long as you are married to their citizen, or you have a parent or grandparent of that country, you are also a citizen of that country without applying or even knowing about it.
Second-class citizens are at risk of losing their citizenship and their right to live in Canada could be taken away under certain circumstances. For example, all citizens born outside Canada (i.e. naturalized citizens) may lose their citizenship if the citizenship officer believes they do not intend to live in Canada or if they decide to move to another country to study or to work. On the other hand, Canadian-born citizens would not lose their right to citizenship under such conditions. Another distinction between the first- and second-class citizens is that second-class citizens may lose their Canadian citizenship for criminal conviction in another country. As such, even if the other country of citizenship is not democratic, second-class citizens still would lose their right to citizenship in Canada.
In addition to treating Canadian citizens as first- or second-classes, the new changes to citizenship requirements will impact new immigrants of Canada adversely.
First, to apply for Canadian citizenship, permanent residents now must live in Canada for four years before applying for citizenship status. Previously, permanent residents must have lived inside Canada for three years. This change means that even under emergency situations or when they need to leave Canada for reasons such as the death of a family member, new immigrants will not leave Canada or will return as soon as possible for fear that they may lose eligibility to apply for Canadian citizenship. Also, in the case of international students and foreign workers, the time spent in Canada before obtaining permanent residency is no longer valid to fulfill citizenship requirements.
Second, despite the fact that it will be very challenging for many older immigrants to pass the test, under the new system, all applicants aged 14 to 64 (previously, 18 to 55) must pass language and Canada knowledge tests in English or French.
Many critics suggest that the new citizenship law will ultimately weaken citizenship since the requirements are more exclusionary. Audrey Macklin, a professor of law at the University of Toronto says: “If you take the view that citizenship is a commodity, you want to make it more valuable. Then like any commodity its value increases if it’s scarce, hard to get and easy to lose.” Such a transition to view and treat citizenship as a privilege rather than a right would change the meaning of citizenship for new immigrants and non-Canadian born citizens. It means that government would reward them citizenship for “good behavior” and could take it away for “bad behavior”. This is a form of “punishment,” and in fact, an unnecessary punishment, especially when there are other avenues to deal with the so-called “bad behavior”. The introduction of citizenship as merely a privilege, and not a right comes from the negative perception that immigrants are cheaters. It constructs the idea that immigrants, refugees, foreign workers, and naturalized citizens are terrorists or criminals and need to be deported to their “home countries.”