Last week, I celebrated my first Canada Day as a new citizen. My family immigrated here a little over five years ago and earlier this year, I took my oath of citizenship. Being Canadian offers opportunities, rights, and privileges that being a citizen of Bangladesh does not. Although I received a certificate that allowed me to call myself a “Canadian,” I did not automatically feel that way–I am still adapting to my new country. I’ve since watched Team Canada play at the FIFA Women’s World Cup where I proudly draped the Canadian flag over me and sang the national anthem—my national anthem. After this, and many other experiences, I was finally starting to feel more Canadian. All that changed when Bill C-24, “The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act,” became law; rather than feeling proud, I was deeply concerned.
As it stands, the legislation gives the government the right to strip Canadian citizenship from any dual citizen for crimes such as treason, spying, and terrorism, whether it be in Canada or elsewhere. Individuals who commit such crimes and are found guilty after due process should, undoubtedly, be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Revoking citizenship, however, is an unnecessary extra measure that essentially creates two classes of Canadians. In addition to its flawed principles, the proposed implementation of the law is worthy of criticism; the revocation of citizenship would be primarily decided by the citizenship and immigration minister, rather than by the judiciary, hardly due process.
Certain statutes within Bill C-24 are commendable. For example, there is a broadening of language and knowledge requirements to all prospective citizens aged 14-65. (it’s currently required for everyone aged 18-54) These requirements measure knowledge of history, governing institutions, geography, and rights and freedoms through a citizenship test. This amendment should help ensure that more new Canadians are able to integrate within and contribute to their communities as active citizens.
Despite a few worthy points, Bill C-24 compromises the well-being of both dual citizens and Canada’s future. For naturalized citizens such as myself, this law is a cautionary warning that despite legally immigrating and being a productive member of society I am not, and may never be, a ‘true Canadian.’ Bill C-24 reminded me that as long as my national identity is hyphenated, I will be treated as a second class citizen by the law.
The act also has the potential to limit Canada’s future growth because it is likely to act as a deterrent to immigrants. The country’s population is aging—the baby boomer generation is reaching retirement and the fertility rate has stagnated. According to a 2014 report from Statistics Canada, population increases from immigration would be the primary engine for growth in all potential scenarios (low, medium, and high growth) for the next 50 years.
Laws such as Bill C-24 risk alienating the very people that Canada needs the most to continue to grow in the 21st century. With its increased application fees and longer residency requirements, it makes the immigration process more cumbersome and increases the investment required of prospective immigrants while also warning any potential immigrants that they will not be treated equally. Canada is very fortunate to not suffer from many of the ills of the U.S. immigration system. Creating extra barriers to legal immigration, a process that stands to benefit all Canadians, is counterintuitive. Moving forward, the government should make attracting and retaining young talent, such as international students, innovators, and creative pioneers, a top priority.
Becoming a Canadian citizen was one of the proudest moments of my life. In Canada, I am a member of a free and fair democracy; however, a functioning democracy is built upon the rule of law. Section 27 of our constitution holds that multiculturalism is a central value of Canada, while Section 15 states that all citizens deserve “equal treatment before and under the law, and equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.” Bill C-24 does not celebrate multiculturalism, it intends to marginalize those who add to Canada’s multicultural fabric and it creates second class citizens. Simply put, the Act is contradictory to the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and will do more to harm Canadian society than to strengthen Canadian citizenship.