Skip to content

Dual citizenship overhaul likely a non-starter

|Written By Daryl-Lynn Carlson

Canada''s decision to evacuate upwards of 50,000 Canadians living in Lebanon when the Middle East erupted in war over the summer triggered a maelstrom of debate about dual citizenship entitlements.

Using the crisis in Lebanon to set policy for dual citizens is shortsighted, says Prof. Audrey Macklin.

From newspapers to blogs to radio talk shows, commentators, intellectuals, politicians, and their constituents were abuzz, using every possible forum to question why taxpayer dollars were being spent to assist citizens who don't call Canada home.

Observing that "there are twice as many Canadians in Lebanon as there are Canadians in the army," Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington wrote, "Most are dual-citizenship Canadians who've chosen to return to the motherland to live as Lebanese - until trouble strikes and they want the Canadian government to rescue them, not the Lebanese government."

Historian Jack Granatstein, former head of the Canadian War Museum, had his paper for the Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century quoted in the Edmonton Journal, suggesting the whole notion of dual citizenship be reconsidered.

"Obviously the government has some responsibility to assist tourists and visitors who are caught up in a conflict. But those holding this country's passport for convenience sake? Those who renew every five years without ever visiting, let alone living, in Canada? This too, needs careful study."

Conservative MP Garth Turner called Canadians with two passports "accidental citizens," and Liberal MP Derek Lee urged the government to "focus primarily on Canadian citizens who are resident in Canada first."

The public debate prompted University of Toronto Law Professor Audrey Macklin to write an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star, defending dual citizenship, its privileges, and benefits in a global economy.

"The Lebanon crisis was quite unique," she noted in an interview with Law Times. "So to use that as some kind of example around which to formulate future policy is probably a short-sighted thing to do.

"I'm not saying people shouldn't have a legitimate discussion about dual citizenship and [what] one's relationship to Canada should be if you don't reside in Canada."

But should the dual-citizenship entitlement be changed to require more allegiance to the country if Canada is required to respond to foreign emergencies? Can it even be changed?

Legally, it could be difficult, Macklin suggested.

"Dual citizenship is here to stay," she said. "It's not going to go anywhere and Canada is not going to abandon that policy. More states are moving towards dual or multiple citizenship and even those states that don't formally allow it, de facto allow it."

She suggested amendments restricting Canadian citizenship entitlements would be regressive.

Peter Engelmann of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP in Ottawa, whose labour law practice includes human rights and constitutional law matters, agrees.

"What's interesting about it is Canada has recognized dual citizenship and has an arrangement with a number of countries whereby they partner and agree dual citizenship is allowable," said Engelmann.

"It's either all or nothing," said Engelmann. "Once you decide as a country that you're going to allow dual citizenship, then I don't think you can detract from that citizen who decides to be a citizen of a foreign country.

"Once you allow it, you allow it with all citizenship rights."

Macklin pointed out the various scenarios through which people acquire dual citizenship, not the least of which is a birthright.

"In Canada you can become a Canadian citizen just by being born on Canadian territory. You can acquire citizenship from birth by descent or birth by territory. If my mother is French and my father is Chilean, then I'll have dual citizenship. Those dual citizenships are not going to go away."

As well, Macklin noted that unlike Governor General Michaëlle Jean's renouncing of her French passport, someone such as Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria and detained by American authorities on suspicion of terrorism, could not have renounced his Syrian passport because that country forbids it.

Not to mention, said Macklin, that dual citizenship can be an advantage for business in a global economic climate.

"Why countries permit dual citizenship is, it's good for business," she says. "Some major countries of emigration are moving towards permitting dual citizenship of Indian citizens who become citizens elsewhere because they want to encourage those people to retain contact with India possibly to invest money in India.

"So they have a good reason to want to encourage dual citizenship - they worry that given the choice, the person might pick the country that would offer them more opportunity."

Yet should Parliament indulge the debate, legal arguments either for or against would all be based on Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"The Charter guarantees certain rights to citizens," asserted Macklin.

But she pointed out, "What is not contained in the Constitution is a definition of a citizen."

So ultimately Parliament would - and could - attempt to determine whether there should be any legislative constraints on citizenship, but it would have to apply to everyone.

The United States, for instance, requires all citizens to file a tax return annually, regardless of where they live. Russia requires its citizens to formally apply to re-enter the country if they've been living elsewhere

for more than six years.

Many countries, noted Macklin, also require their citizens to fulfill military conscription duties.

But would it be constitutional to allow some individuals holding Canadian citizenship to be subject to conscription in a foreign land?

"So what is not clear and what could be litigated is, are there any constitutional constraints on the legislative definition of a citizen?" Macklin poses.

"I would suggest and I believe there are constitutional, Charter limits on undefined citizenship and I think one could draw on international law, particularly in the area of non-discrimination, to develop that argument," she said.

"With reference to discrimination amongst citizens, again, you'd have another argument there. Could you amend Canadian legislation to create different classes of citizens - to say, for example, Canadian citizens who've been out of Canada for X number of years lose the absolute right to vote, lose the right to enter Canada?"

  • home based

    By that I mean latching on to this or that latest, most innovative idea that some self styled money making guru has put out in the hope it’ll go viral and make them a lot of money off the backs of all the headless chickens who will follow them blindly down a blind alley. Its a shame but a truism nonetheless that people will follow where someone they see as an expert leads. Even if they lead them to certain disaster, which is what most of the gurus tend to do to their flocks.
    The trick is to recognize a shadow when you see it!
cover image


Subscribers get early and easy access to Law Times.

Law Times Poll

Ontario’s recent provincial budget calls for changes in benefits for catastrophically injured patients, including a ‘return to the default benefit limit of $2 million for those who are catastrophically injured in an accident, after it was previously reduced to $1 million in 2016.’ Do you agree with this shift?