The Canadian Citizenship Act entered into force on January 1st, 1947 under the government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie-King. This act assured that Canadian citizenship is a distinct category that allows the residents of Canada to obtain citizenship regardless of their country of origin. In addition, the Constitution Act, 1982(15) stresses that:
“every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
However, the implementation of the Citizenship Act contradicts the Constitution Act when we arrive at the bylaws of citizenship revocation. While citizens should be judged equally regardless of the method they obtained their Canadian status, citizenship revocation should be unconstitutional in Canada.
According to the Citizenship Act, citizenship may be revoked on the grounds of high treason, terrorism, fraud, false representation or knowingly concealing material circumstances. Whereas citizenship revocation bylaws have witnessed several amendments, including Bill C-6, these revisions have centred on those who have the decision-making authority while ignoring the importance and necessity of reconsidering the legislation. For instance, if a Canadian by birth is found guilty of terrorism and is liable to imprisonment for life, a naturalized citizen committing the same crime should undergo an identical punishment. Depriving the latter of their citizenship would be a further punishment and would clearly reflect potential loopholes in our judicial and legislative systems that need to be addressed.
Regardless of the sociocultural origin of a person, they should be allowed to experience the rights afforded to them by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Once an individual has been accepted as a citizen of Canada, the country is obligated to uphold their thirty fundamental human rights without any oversight or limitations. Accordingly, irrespective of whether someone has single or dual citizenship, they ought to be awarded identical rights as that of a natural-born Canadian.
While the most straightforward approach would be to revoke citizenship to protect Canadian interests, a better approach is to give those who have committed illegal acts an opportunity to prove their allegiance over time, given that there may be underlying reasons being ignored or neglected by the country. In any case, there is no good evidence that revoking a person’s citizenship ends up improving the security and safety of law-abiding citizens. In addition, since citizenship revocation primarily makes sense for dual nationals, applying it is discriminative as it treats them as second-class citizens relative to single nationals for whom it would not apply. Since Canada has an effective criminal justice system, it is best to let the system do what it was created to do and restore balance without deporting people. Nevertheless, while citizenship revocation may make sense in the short-term, it only ends up shifting the burden on other countries instead of working towards addressing the criminal element. As for individuals who were naturalized fraudulently, or misleadingly, there are alternative democratic options to address these challenges to a state’s functional integrity. These options may include fines, prison sentences, obligatory community service, or other means of punishment that “mono” citizens would undergo.
In conclusion, citizenship revocation should not be a justifiable option. It is often unfair and discriminatory. The danger of banishment renders citizenship contingent on “performance” – and if this is the case, “performance” should also apply to states. It is controversial to claim that a state is performing adequately by turning its back on people that might have been vulnerable to radicalization. Instead, a more inclusive approach would be to take responsibility for them, by using an ethic of distributive justice and providing rehabilitation for eventual reintegration into society. The current system is designed to give residents the opportunity to have a better life, including enjoying the basic privilege to live in a country where one’s rights are respected wholly. These fundamental human rights should then not be dependent on the prevailing political system where the country’s respect for human rights is selective.
Hadi Wess is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University. He works for the Federal Government of Canada and is heavily involved in media and politics. His research interests include immigration & refugee issues, foreign policy, domestic & internal affairs, and Middle-Eastern conflicts.
Banner image by Jaimie Harmsen, courtesy of Unsplash.