Taking Stock of Dual Citizenship

October 24th, 2006

Recently, Canadian newspaper editorials have called into question our policy of recognizing multi-citizenships.

The Canadian ideal has been to distinguish ourselves as a “mosaic” rather than a melting pot. In 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to officially adopt a policy of multiculturalism. This policy encourages immigrants to retain their culture, becoming if you will, “hyphenated” Canadians. This cultural combination has become a foundational point for Canadian society.

Canada has a long tradition of recognizing multiple citizenships. Since 1977, when the last restrictions were removed, being Canadian has not required a new Canadian to cut ties with their country of origin; nor has taking on the passport of another nation required an existing Canadian citizen to relinquish their Canadian passport. Over 500,000 Canadians living in Canada currently hold more than one passport, along with a great many Canadians living overseas.

Recent events surrounding this latter group have led some to call the dual (or multiple) citizenship policy into question. During the recent conflict in Lebanon, the Canadian Forces evacuated 15,000 Canadian passport holders at a cost of some $85 million. Many of these evacuees have since returned to Lebanon after the situation there became more secure. This has led some to suggest that we are mistaken to use Canadian tax dollars for services to those who may have left Canada behind for life elsewhere.

While there are costs to allowing Canadians to hold other passports, they are outweighed by the benefits.

Globalization has made the Canadian economy more and more dependant on expanding trade relations. Yet national barriers remain, and under both public and private international law, countries always favour their own citizens. An Indo-Canadian, for example, will have an advantage in expanding Canadian opportunities within the growing Indian market. As a country that counts membership in Atlantic and Pacific regional groups along with both the Commonwealth and the Francophonie, Canada would be wise to encourage its global ties as a competitive edge. It does not make sense, at a time when great efforts are being made to ensure Canadian industry is growing internationally that we begin to restrict the international nature of Canadians themselves.

We must keep in mind that all Canadians living abroad act as ambassadors for Canada. As the Canadian economy depends on trade and as demographic change calls for a steady inflow of people through immigration, these Canadians can be an important national asset.

Certainly we wish to avoid people abusing their Canadian citizenship. For example, non-resident Canadians should not be able to use our national health services, which are free at the point of delivery, while they reside abroad. Similarly, non-resident Canadians, who have not contributed to the Canadian Pension Fund, should not receive benefits.

From time to time we are reminded of the costs of allowing for dual citizenship. It is important to keep such costs (e.g. the $85 million evacuation from Lebanon) in perspective. The cultural and economic benefits, in my opinion, far outweigh these costs.

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