Canada’s new immigration and citizenship law, Bill C-24, has started a conversation among Canadians about whether Canadian citizenship is a right or privilege. While the distinction between these categories may not make much difference in an average citizen’s daily lives, this important subject will likely have long-term effects for our immigration and citizenship policies. This area of policy and law is a sensitive matter especially for those citizens born outside Canada or those who become naturalized citizens.
As a Canadian citizen born outside of Canada, I have always believed the Canadian way was people from diverse backgrounds who meet the immigration requirements are granted the privilege of becoming permanent residents. As Canadians, we have always made a promise to permanent residents that if they follow Canadian laws and fulfill the citizenship requirements set by our elected officials, they have earned the right to become truly a part of Canadian society through Canadian citizenship. The citizenship path is set so immigrants have the opportunity to demonstrate they are ready to act as and be citizens of this great nation.
Multiculturalism in Canada does not solely mean we have people from diverse backgrounds living in this country. Canadian multiculturalism is a successful showcase of tolerance, freedom, and understanding of nationhood from diverse cultural backgrounds, while preserving unity and sharing a single national identity. The success of our multicultural nation has been achieved through avoiding discrimination against people from different backgrounds and allowing them to become part of Canadian life and communities with equal rights regardless of their birthplace.
Our lawmakers and elected officials have the responsibility for setting the fair and just immigration policies based on long term planning and Canada’s socio-economic interests. They set the requirements for those who are applying to move to Canada. They also set the path for residents who want to become Canadians. However, for the sake of Canadian multiculturalism and our national unity, creating different classes of citizens must be avoided. Canadian citizenship is the centerpiece that connects our cultural mosaic together and allows our communities flexibility to learn and grow in the 21st century.
Revisiting our history may remind our lawmakers of the value of Canadian citizenship. During the post-Second World War debates of 1946 on the Canadian Citizenship Act, then Liberal Cabinet Minister, Paul Martin Sr. told Parliament:
Our new Canadians bring to this country much that is rich and good, and in Canada they find a new way of life and new hope for the future. They should all be made to feel that they, like the rest of us, are Canadians, citizens of a great country, guardians of proud traditions and trustees of all that is best in life for generations of Canadians yet to be. For the national unity of Canada and for the future and greatness of this country it is felt to be of utmost importance that all of us, new Canadians or old, have a consciousness of a common purpose and common interests as Canadians; that all of us are able to say with pride and say with meaning: I am a Canadian citizen.
Bill C-24 undermines this sense of common purpose and unnecessarily promotes division amongst and between Canadians, both new and old, instead of providing a path for uniting all of us and our dreams and desires for the success of our nation.
I am always grateful to my parents for moving to this amazing country. I consider myself privileged to be a Canadian. I also rightfully consider myself just as much a Canadian as anyone born here and I would not accept nor want any other titles or names attached to my status as a Canadian. Hopefully our courts will remember the tenets of Canadian citizenship and who we are as a country and take the moderate Canadian way in reminding this particularly insensitive government about the rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.