Second-class citizenship has now become a reality in Canada. Bill C-24 – the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” – came into effect on May 29, granting the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the ability to strip dual-citizens of their Canadian citizenship. The bill also erects new barriers towards becoming a citizen, punishing immigrants and their families by making citizenship both harder to obtain and easier to lose in one fell swoop. It is just the latest in a long chain of attacks by the Conservative government against immigrant workers and civil liberties.
Before Bill C-24 became law, naturalized Canadians could only have their citizenship revoked if it was determined to be fraudulently obtained. With Bill C-24, dual-citizens can now be stripped of their Canadian citizenship on the grounds of being convicted – whether in Canada or abroad – of terrorism, espionage, or the taking up of arms against the Canadian state. The new law exempts Canadians who are not dual-citizens, as they would technically be rendered stateless. This relegates a significant portion of the population to a second-class status, where they can now be deported simply due to their family origins.
This can apply to thousands of Canadians who may not even realize that they have, or are eligible for, dual citizenship. For example, children of Egyptian-born fathers are generally regarded by Egypt as citizens of that country, regardless of where they are born. This means that Canadians could conceivably be deported to countries that they have no actual ties to and have never set foot in.
Under the pretext of “expediency” and “cost efficiency”, those under threat of having their citizenship revoked will also have no recourse whatsoever to legal review in a federal court. Instead the government, in the form of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, will be given full discretion in deciding who stays and who goes. The Conservatives frame these changes in terms of efficiency, not because they are interested in such, but to distract from the fact that they have swiftly robbed a portion of the population of due process in the legal system. With such unprecedented power comes unprecedented forms of punishment, as archaic methods of the past, such as exile, are given a new lease on life.
The Conservative Party has given no reasonable explanation for such a radical overhaul of the existing citizenship laws. In the words of a recent news release, they claimed that C-24 will help ensure that “Those who wish to do us harm will not be able to exploit their Canadian citizenship to endanger Canadians or our free and democratic way of life.” Contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander has stated that “Citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege.” He cited intelligence reports that a hundred or so Canadians internationally are currently fighting with extremist groups, saying that “We all have an interest in sending a message to such misguided individuals: they are committing serious crimes and their actions will have consequences.”
This is all fine and dandy, but no amount of hyperbole will prove how the stripping of Canadian citizenship will hamper acts of terror in a way that the existing judicial framework cannot. In fact, it is more likely that Bill C-24 will galvanize terrorists both nationally and abroad, who will now be given further reason to view the Canadian state with vitriol and distrust.
In reality, both Bill C-24 and Bill C-51 (the “anti-terrorism” bill) are, in the short-term, both attempts to sow fear amongst average Canadians, in a desperate ploy to boost the prospects of the Conservatives in the 2015 federal election. By marketing themselves as the “anti-terror” party, the Conservatives hope to distract the public from an economy now teetering on the brink of recession.
A Weapon against Activists
The superficial aim of the citizenship legislation is to win the next election via the use of fear. However, there is another more disturbing aim. The new ability to strip citizenship from dual-citizens will serve as an important weapon in the arsenal of the ruling class in the battles to come.
The purported purpose of C-24 is to thwart terrorism and “strengthen” Canadian citizenship, but as was shown with the “anti-terrorism bill” C-51, looks can often be deceiving. That bill, which has now become law, defines “terrorism” in such a vague way that it ensnares anyone who “interferes” with the “economic and financial stability of Canada” – in the words of the legislation itself. Many across Canada have expressed concern that trade union and political activists could now be labeled as terrorists, and as was expressed in our article on Bill C-51, they are right to believe so. With the power to strip citizenship from these kinds of “terrorists”, there potentially is no limit to the government deporting activists or trade unionists whom they deem a threat.
To some this may seem farfetched, but we need look no farther than our own country’s past to provide evidence to the contrary. Canadian history furnishes a trove of examples on how immigration policy can be used by the state to stifle political activism. Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, frightened by the growing popularity of socialism in the depression-ridden 1930s, restricted immigration to supposedly prevent the influx of workers harboring “dangerous” revolutionary ideas. This eventually led to the expulsion of 30,000 people, many of them Eastern European, under Bennett’s government. Similar tactics were also used by the ruling class during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Seeing that many of the strike leaders were recent immigrants from the British isles, Parliament sought to amend the Immigration Act so as to more easily facilitate the arrest and deportation of “alien agitators”. This anti-immigrant legislation cleared both Houses of Parliament in under an hour, setting a record, and was used not two weeks later to arrest six Anglo-Saxon strike leaders.
It is of importance to note how each of these measures were applied during revolutionary periods. The ruling class has historically used all means at its disposal, legal or otherwise, to uphold its privileges in society. Eventually, all undemocratic laws are used against workers in struggle.
Barriers to Citizenship
In addition to radically undermining citizenship rights, Bill C-24 also makes it more difficult to obtain citizenship in the first place by imposing new language and residency requirements, among other things. As will be shown below, the bill is only equal in so far as it equally punishes a wide cross section of newcomers to Canada, including youth, elders and those with work obligations outside of the country. Among the new barriers to becoming a citizen are included:
– The changing of the residency requirements from 3 out 4 years to 4 out of 6 years before citizenship can be attained
– Applicants aged between 14-64 must be fluent in English or French, rather than the previous range of 18-54
– Interpreters are no longer allowed during the Canadian knowledge test
– The ability to deny citizenship if the applicant does not file Canadian income taxes, whereas previously this was not a requirement
In defence of these more stringent requirements, Alexander said the new measures strengthen the “value” of citizenship, which must be “earned by newcomers through their physical presence in Canada and their knowledge of our country and its languages.” He raised the spectre of “widespread fraud” as justification, falling back on the age-old racist and reactionary trope that Canada will be taken advantage of if it is too open to outsiders.
In fact, while immigration to Canada has remained relatively steady, the rate of immigrant workers becoming citizens has drastically declined in the recent period. In a recent article in The Toronto Star, it was noted how “An estimated 26 per cent of immigrants who landed in Canada in 2008 became Canadian citizens. This figure compares to 79 per cent who landed in 2000.” This results in an ever growing pool of immigrants who work and pay taxes in Canada, but are denied the right to have a say in how the country is governed. Bill C-24, by making access to citizenship more difficult, will only increase the proportion of non-citizen immigrants. This is ideal for the capitalists, who are eager to exploit foreign workers, without the nuisance of having them exercise their democratic rights and potentially challenging them on the political field. It is ironic to note how the slogan of “no taxation without representation” – something which remains unapplied to thousands of working non-citizens in Canada – was a chief demand of the bourgeois American Revolution of 1776. And this was a revolution more than 200 years ago!
The ruling class is fully aware that immigration will go on unabated, even despite racist legislation like Bill C-24. They are not interested in curbing the influx of immigrants, but in using them to artificially divide the working class. Cheaper, foreign labour places a downward pressure on wages for all workers, and misleads many into believing that “immigrants are taking Canadian jobs”. C-24 only enforces these racist stereotypes, by setting apart immigrants from other workers with legal status. In reality, it is the capitalists who are keeping wages low and destroying jobs – immigrant workers are just a convenient scapegoat.
While the federal NDP voted against the bill in final reading, their position on C-24 leaves much to be desired. The NDP’s opposition has been notably more muted than their stance on Bill C-51. A press release on the NDP website only goes so far as to call for unspecified “changes” to the bill, and not outright repeal. The release goes on to call for “the government to withdraw and then reintroduce this bill, so it can be referred to Committee before second reading. This would allow MPs to work together and fix the bill.” This is in keeping with the NDP’s initial response to the bill, when leader Thomas Mulcair said “This bill makes many mistakes, but we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater.” When the NDP speaks in such vague language, it only sows cynicism among workers and youth. The NDP should stand for all working class people by exposing this bill for what it really is – a racist ploy to divide workers and erode civil liberties. You cannot “amend” racism out of this legislation.
The Conservatives talk about “strengthening Canadian citizenship”, but what they are really doing is strengthening the arms of the state at the expense of immigrants and workers in general. Bill C-24 is not the first, nor will it be the last, attack by the ruling class against civil liberties in this country. The NDP and trade unions can play an important role in mobilizing working people, whether organized or unorganized, against this shameful bill. C-24 is an affront to all workers, and it cannot be defeated by a divided working class. A worker by any other name is still a worker, whether a citizen or non-citizen. The divisions which governments erect are meant to distract from the one fundamental division – that between the exploiters and the exploited. Only through the unity of all workers can that division, and all other divisions, be permanently eradicated.