May 23 marked a century since the Canadian government refused entry to asylum-seekers aboard the steamship Komataga Maru. While Canadians may boast the country as being a ‘multicultural mosaic’, the actual history of immigration is much more insidious.
Today, as Western countries continue to weather poor economic climates and combat non-state actors, these conditions of insecurity affect how policy is reasoned in a variety of fields, especially in the field of immigration and citizenship.
Debates over immigration reform still dominate discussions in both American and European politics. In Canada, the Conservative Government introduced Bill C-24 into the House of Commons. Titled as the ‘Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act’, the bill proposed large-scale reforms to a naturalization process.
Examples of such reforms include: Tripling application fees, stricter language requirements, increasing the residency requirement from three to four years and now require physical presence. The government would be granted the ability to revoke citizenship from persons assessed as never having the intent to live in Canada and from persons with dual citizenship who have been convicted of certain crimes. The bill also seeks to retroactively allow citizenship to ‘lost’ Canadians – those who are entitled for citizenship but either lost, or never received it – and to their children.
The government continues to support the bill with the justification that these reforms will streamline the process – currently backlogged two-three years – and better protect against fraud. Security is also a justification – a dual citizen who takes part in an act of terrorism for example, can also have their citizenship revoked.
Since its introduction however, the bill’s constitutionality has been hotly contested. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has been quoted as referring to citizenship as a privilege. The debate of whether citizenship in itself is a right or a privilege is still taking place in op-eds across the country. At minimum, the act of naturalization and obtaining citizenship is often a ‘merit-based’ process and thus can be construed as a privilege.
However, the main criticism about Bill C-24 is that the privilege would be afforded to less as the reforms would render “Canadian citizenship harder to get and easier to lose”. Furthermore, the implementation of such reforms would “create two classes of Canadians”– those who can have their citizenship revoked and those who cannot. Finally, the loss of the ability to appeal a rejection of citizenship and the ability to revoke citizenship itself accords substantial power in the hands of bureaucrats.
The concerns have been voiced in multiple forums by different groups – a petition on Change.org protesting C-24 has amassed over 4000 signatures, professional organizations such as the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have released lengthy statements outlining their concerns, and the bill continues to be debated in Parliament across party lines. Critics also draw trajectories of C-24 as part of a longer and problematic immigration reform process that is “an accumulation of incremental, seemingly innocuous changes”.
In its attempts to protect against the few who may seek to exploit or threaten, Bill C-24’s broad and sweeping provisions may risk burdening all of those to whom it applies. As Western countries continue to grapple with the realities of a globalized society, it is important to create policies that ensure security and efficiency, but acknowledge the nuances in the complicated processes of immigration and naturalization.