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Naomi Lakritz: Kenney’s proposal an insult to dual citizens

At first glance, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s idea sounds like a good one.

At first glance, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s idea sounds like a good one. If someone who’s a dual national — holding Canadian citizenship, plus citizenship of another country — commits an act of terrorism or act of war against Canada, that person should be stripped of Canadian citizenship.

At second glance, Kenney’s proposal is just plain insulting to dual nationals. It’s not that those of us who hold dual citizenships intend to rush out to join a terrorist cell; clearly, the overwhelming majority of dual citizens are law-abiding folks going about their daily lives.

Rather, the proposal creates a two-tier idea of citizenship that makes a naturalized Canadian somehow less of a citizen than someone who was born here. If you were born in Canada, and you commit a terrorist act, you’ll go to prison. But if you were naturalized in Canada and you commit a terrorist act, you’ll go to prison and lose your Canadian citizenship.

Citizenship must bestow the same rights on all citizens, whether they were born here or immigrated here. My naturalized citizenship has to remain no different than the citizenship you gained by being born here.

Why don’t we dual citizens simply renounce our other citizenships? First, because the Canadian government recognizes dual citizenship, so it’s legal, and second, because renouncing opens a Pandora’s box of new problems, including unnecessary hassles from officials in the other country of citizenship on innocent trips abroad.

Kenney says his proposal is not about ordinary criminality. Not yet, it isn’t. But if Canada institutes a system in which citizenship can be lost for one kind of major crime, what is to prevent the legislation from being amended to include lesser crimes, thus further diluting the status of naturalized citizens?

My citizenship is revocable, but yours is not because of the accident of birth? Whatever happened to equality before the law? There is no reason that millions of law-abiding dual citizens should have the meaning of their citizenship watered down because of the actions of one, possibly two, people abroad.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird confirmed a Canadian dual national, who became a citizen as a child, was involved in a Hezbollah-linked bus bombing in Bulgaria last year that killed five Israeli tourists. It is also believed at least one Canadian was involved in the Algerian gas-plant attack in January, though it is not known if that person was a dual citizen.

They don’t even have a name, yet Kenney is proposing new laws about dual citizenship? You’re darn right that’s a concern, Minister Baird. That’s pretty alarming. What if the person turns out to have been born in Canada, like Omar Khadr?

The only time dual citizens should lose their citizenship is if they obtained it under false pretences, such as in the case of war criminals who lied about their participation in, for example, the Holocaust, or the atrocities in Rwanda, to get into this country. But Kenney’s proposal would reduce naturalized citizens to the status of permanent residents.

NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims is right to call Kenney’s proposal a “kneejerk reaction” to a few recent instances of Canadian participation in terrorist activity abroad. Sims, a naturalized Canadian who was born in India in 1952, observed that this is a case of the government making policy because of “unique or rare circumstances.”

In 2006, dual citizenship came under fire when the so-called Canadians of convenience, many of whom hadn’t lived in Canada for many years, demanded the Canadian government rescue them from Lebanon. The Canadian government needs to find some way of dealing specifically with situations like that, but the way to do it is not by passing legislation based on the lowest common denominator so that all dual nationals are suspected of divided loyalties.

So punish the terrorists, Minister Kenney, with prison terms if you catch them on our soil, and press for them to face justice abroad if that’s where they are. But don’t turn us loyal, naturalized Canadians into second-class citizens because of the actions of a few extremists.

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