Over 140 000 Sri Lankan citizens in Canada could face the risk of losing their Canadian citizenship or return to Sri Lanka after a new immigration law enacted by the Canadian Government dictates that these ‘second class’ citizens may have their citizenship status stripped at any point. The new immigration bill which was enacted last week states that new Canadian citizens have lesser rights than those born Canadian.
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 Under the new law, citizenship can be rescinded for reasons other than fraud, the decision will be made by a citizenship officer, and there will be no opportunity for a live hearing or an appeal.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.
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.
Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said that the law ‘undoubtedly puts a lot of Sri Lankans irrespective of their ethnicity at risk of losing their citizenship.”
“While we acknowledge and respect their government’s laws, if they are allowed to nullify citizenship status at their whims and fancy, it could cause a conundrum and possibly a category of second-class citizens,” he said. “This new law will also deter a lot of Sri Lankans, specially Tamils from seeking to obtain a Canadian citizenship status, a move which could work in their government’s favor.”
Under this law, the only Canadians who can never lose their citizenship are thos born in Canada who do not have another nationality (and are not eligible to apply for another nationality). No matter what crimes they may be accused of, these ‘first-class’ citizens can never have their citizenship taken away. On the other hand, Canadians with another nationality (and those who are eligible to obtain another nationality) now have second-class status, even if they were born in Canada: under Bill C-24, their citizenship can be stripped.
There was stiff opposition to the rule in Canada because many claimed that since this cannot happen to those born in Canada, the new law would be discriminatory. The government of Canada has justified the new law saying that was meant to protect Canadians.
“Our Government knows that there is no higher purpose for any government than to ensure the safety and security of its citizens…that is why we are taking steps to confront the ever evolving threat of jihadi terrorism by revoking citizenship of dual nationals who have been convicted of heinous crimes such as terrorism, espionage for foreign governments or taking up arms against Canada and our brave men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces.” Chris Alexander, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister was quoted as saying.
Legal experts warn that the list of offences that could lead to the removal of citizenship might be expanded in the future. Additionally, Bill C-24 punishes criminal activity with exile – a practice abandoned hundreds of years ago that has no place in today’s democracy.
“The Ministry of External Affairs is not at liberty to comment on the matter since it is their right to legislate,” Mahishini Colonne, the spokesperson for the Ministry of external Affairs said. “Sri Lankans who are also citizens of other countries are welcome to come back, but that decision is solely at their discretion, we cannot force them and neither can they be forced to return.” Colonne also briefly spoke of the Dual citizenship program saying that “Sri Lankan expatriates should have the opportunity to return to the country and take part in the country’s developments.”
According to the Organization for Economic Corporation and Development, in 2006, one in three members of the Sri Lankan Diaspora living in the OECD is an educated professional. According to the statics available Sri Lankan citizens of Tamil origin number 143,000 in 2011 alone. Figures for the total Sri Lankan expatriate community are unavailable online.