Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has introduced changes yesterday that he called, “the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation.”
“Citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege,” the minister told reporters at a news conference, and I could not agree more. I won’t go into the details of the proposed law, though, as these are readily available from several sources as a quick Google search would demonstrate.
Suffice to say Minister Alexander is pretty well right on target with the thrust of his proposal, which is to reset expectations of some who seek Canadian citizenship as a convenience, and to encourage more integration of newcomers in Canadian life.
When I arrived in 1955, Canadian Citizenship as a legal status was only about eight years old, it having been enacted in 1947. Prior to that, Canadians were British Subjects as was I at the time.
As a British Subject, I enjoyed pretty much all the rights and privileges of citizenship and could vote, etc., and served as an airman in the RCAF Reserve. When, later, I became a citizen—notwithstanding the fact very little had changed for me, the act of acquiring citizenship made me feel as though I really belonged here.
In those pre-Trudeau days, little was spoken of official multiculturalism. I was Canadian. Yes, there were those who treasured the institutions and traditions inherited from Aboriginal and European Nations—especially France, England and Scotland—but Canadians before me had built something unique on those foundations, adding cultural enrichment and diversity. And, having acquired citizenship, I could legitimately lay claim to all of that.
More than a half-century has passed, yet I believe no less now in my adopted Canadian identity. True, it has evolved somewhat, but it continues to embody core values like belief in democracy, the rule of law, free speech, equal rights, separation of religion and state, tolerance and peaceful coexistence with our neighbours. And, although our national identity may continue to evolve, these are points on our moral compass that will continue guide us.
State-sponsored multiculturalism has done little to help us nurture our identity and evolve as a people. Rather it has emphasized our differences and threatens to divide more than to unite us. Newcomers should be encouraged to maintain foreign cultures only so long as doing so does not interfere with their integration into our society.
Newcomers need not belong to any specific religion, or be of any particular colour, race or ethnic origin. They ought, though, to share the core values of our society. Furthermore, to understand Canada properly and to participate fully in society, newcomers ought to become functional in one of our two official languages.
For the most part, I have over the years supported our system of building our country through broad-based immigration. There are, however, some elements that have begun to bother me.
It is well known that, in some cultures from which we draw immigrants, religion and state are inexorably bound. This is anathema to most Canadians for whom separation of religion and state matters profoundly. Canadian law is secular law made by representatives to parliament elected democratically under principles of universal suffrage. When there is a conflict between “the law of the land” and someone’s religious law, it is “the law of the land” that must take precedence. Newcomers, it seems to me, ought to be made to officially acknowledge this reality and abide by it.
This brings me to the contradictory concept of dual citizenship, which seems to have become commonplace.
Some holding this status will inevitable side with their non-Canadian homeland if they see it in a confrontation with Canada. We understand this when we hear the rhetoric of those who demonstrate—sometimes in an unlawful manner—in our streets over things happening in foreign lands. This is not desirable.
Furthermore, we know that some immigrants return to live full-time in their original homeland, once they have secured the convenience of Canadian citizenship—a sort of insurance policy to be cashed-in should an emergency arise.
How can such people ever fulfill their obligations as citizens? I would like to see the practice of multiple passports discontinued. Citizenship is not something that can be shared.
Time will tell, of course, but I believe the new citizenship rules will help us to build a safe and prosperous Canada, with immigration fuelling a major proportion of our growth.