Will Canada soon strip citizenship from dual passport holders?

Will Canada soon strip citizenship from dual passport holders?

Legal experts say provisions in immigration law facilitating revocation of citizenship for Canadian-Israelis could be unconstitutional

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right) in Ottawa, Canada, March 2, 2012 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right) in Ottawa, Canada, March 2, 2012 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

A new bill proposing sweeping changes to Canada’s immigration law has individuals holding or seeking dual Canadian-Israeli citizenship unduly concerned, say experts.

The changes are contained in Bill C-24, tabled in Parliament in February by the Conservative government. Provisions of the proposed law could make it easier to lose Canadian citizenship, especially for dual citizens, or make it harder for individuals to gain dual citizenship should they apply for it.

If the bill is passed as it is currently written, a federal official could revoke a naturalized citizen’s citizenship if he believes that the person never intended to live in Canada. (Citizens born in Canada cannot lose their citizenship by living abroad.)

An official may also remove citizenship for a criminal conviction in another country, even if the other country is undemocratic or lacks the rule of law.

In addition, the proposed law would transfer the power to remove citizenship from the courts to government officials. An official of Citizenship and Immigration Canada could render a decision in writing with no opportunity for a person to speak to the official.

Canadian immigration attorney David Garson. (Courtesy)
Canadian immigration attorney David Garson (photo credit: Courtesy)

Under current immigration law, to take away a person’s citizenship, the government must make an application to a Federal Court judge who gives an oral hearing allowing a person to defend his or her right to citizenship.

“The bill seems unconstitutional,” Toronto immigration lawyer David Garson told The Times of Israel.

The Canadian Bar Association agrees. It suggested in a written submission to the House of Commons’ citizenship and immigration committee in April that some of the proposed measures were “likely unconstitutional.”

The association’s most significant concern relates to the requirement that applicants for citizenship demonstrate intent to reside in Canada if granted citizenship. It also sounded the alarm about the expansion of grounds to revoke citizenship.

Under Bill C-24, the government would have the power to take away Canadian citizenship from dual nationals “who were members of an armed force or an organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada.”

Harper ‘wouldn’t do anything to hurt Israel or Israelis’

Garson pointed out that dual Canadian-Israeli citizens who have served or currently serve in the IDF have no need to worry, as Israel is not in armed conflict with Canada. “And the [Stephen] Harper government is the most pro-Israel government in the world. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt Israel or Israelis,” Garson added.

Things could change if Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party came to power in the federal elections scheduled for 2015, but it is unlikely that a Liberal government would pass legislation proposed and drafted by the Conservatives.

Even if Bill C-24 were passed in to law, Garson believes law-abiding individuals holding dual Canadian-Israeli citizenship have nothing to fear.

However, the passage of the bill as it is currently written could be viewed as the opening of a door toward more restrictive immigration measures in the future.

“It sounds like for dual citizenship holders this would be a change for the worse, with several aspects that seem to negate basic rights,” reflected writer and editor Janice Segal Weizman, who made aliyah from Toronto many years ago.

‘It sounds like for dual citizenship holders this would be a change for the worse, with several aspects that seem to negate basic rights’

Journalist Lisa Goldman, a fourth-generation Canadian who became an Israeli citizen a number of years ago and now lives in the US, is confident her own status will not be affected. However, she does find fault with the proposed law.

“For foreign-born Canadians, it seems to imply that their citizenship is conditional. It’s a reactionary law that runs contrary to the ethos of a country that was built on immigration,” she said.

David Matas, a prominent Winnipeg-based refugee, immigration and human rights attorney, believes Bill C-24 is “a mix of both good and bad news.”

Matas shared with The Times of Israel a submission he made on behalf of B’nai Brith Canada to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on April 30. In it, he wrote, “The good news is that the government proposes to remove the defects which had hampered the effort to use revocation as a remedy for international criminal fugitives in Canada.”

Matas’s comment was in reference to past efforts to strip Nazi war criminals of their Canadian citizenship that had been stymied.

“The old law, requiring cabinet approval, meant that the government legal arm could win in court, and then the political arm, cabinet, could reverse the result. That is what happened in the cases of Wasyl Odynsky and Vladimir Katriuk who the courts said both entered Canada by hiding their Nazi past,” wrote Matas.

Canadian-Israeli singer-songwriter Orit Shimoni (Photo credit: Neil Muscott)
Canadian-Israeli singer-songwriter Orit Shimoni (photo credit: Neil Muscott)

Singer-songwriter Orit Shimoni, who is both Canadian and Israeli, is relieved that Bill C-24 would not take her Canadian citizenship away from her. However, a change she is contemplating has dictated that she think about what her Canadian citizenship means to her.

Shimoni may end up having to renounce her Canadian citizenship if she decides to go ahead with possible plans to obtain German citizenship, based on two of her grandparents. Germany does not allow triple citizenship, which would necessitate her dropping either her Canadian citizenship or her Israeli one.

Shimoni is taking a number of issues in to consideration, including sentimental and ancestral allegiances, personal freedom and security, and the pragmatics of employment.

“I have not reached any conclusions and would certainly not know what to do if I had to pick between Israeli and Canadian,” she said. “It’s like getting life insurance. You don’t know when you’re going to need the refuge of the one you didn’t pick!”

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