VOX POPULI: Canadian citizenship is not a right

As pointed out by Andrew Coyne in the National Post on September 23rd, approximately 7,000 of the 15,000 Canadians evacuated from Lebanon have since returned. The cost of the evacuation, around $85-million, will not be picked up by the evacuees but rather by taxpayers.

It is clear that current laws do not reflect the view held by many that Canadian citizenship is a reciprocal, materialand moral connection. It is painfully problematic that the benefits of Canadian citizenship are extended to those with no real ties to this country.

Since 1977, thanks to Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau, Canadian citizens no longer automatically forfeit their citizenship if they acquire citizenship in a foreign country. The concept of dual citizenship is now somehow accepted as an inalienable right. Obvious problems exist, however, when someone who has lived outside of Canada for the majority of their life has the same rights as someone who has loyally and permanently resided in Canada. Some may never intend to return but do not renounce their citizenship because they know it may be useful. Canadian citizenship should not be “useful” and should be viewed instead as a bond that ties all those that care about Canada to a common goal and ideology.

Simple physical separation from Canada is compounded by the fact that the most basic duty that unites resident citizens-paying taxes-is avoided by many non-resident citizens. As of 1998 non-residents citizens were not required to pay taxes to the Canadian government if their earnings originated in a foreign country. This means that citizenship has been degraded to a type of abstract label that one can summon at any time despite the lack of any real connections. A person living outside Canada for their entire adult life, holding citizenship and paying taxes to a foreign country, and at the same time being able to appeal to the Canadian government and vote in Canadian elections (Sec. 3, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) is unacceptable. It is representation without taxation and is insulting to the average citizen, who does pay taxes.

It is clearly written within the citizenship laws that becoming a Canadian citizen entails a “substantial connection to Canada” and a “knowledge of Canada”. Following this it makes sense that if such criteria are no longer fulfilled, one’s true citizenship must be questioned. This is not to argue that citizenship should necessitate weekly tests and grading mechanisms, rather that citizenship should not be accepted as a lifelong right with no reciprocal responsibilities.

At the most basic level being a Canadian citizen requires meeting two criteria: residing in Canada and paying tax to the Canadian government. The interpretation of these criteria- for how long one is permitted to leave Canada and how much tax should be paid by temporary non-residents-is subject to debate.

However, citizenship is synonymous with responsibility. The services of the Canadian government should only be allotted to those who provide a service for Canada in return.

Many Canadians regard citizenship as a gift and see government spending as a means of reflecting the Canadian ideal. With this in mind one must ask how much of the $85-million given away by Canadian citizens during the Lebanese evacuation was given to Canadian citizens.

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