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Government legislates racialized second-class citizenship

Percentage of immigrants who became citizens dropped 53 percent and citizenship is now harder to get as well as easier to lose.

Citizenship: Canadian citizenship is now harder to get and easier to lose. The percentage of immigrants who became citizens dropped from 79 percent to 26 percent among people who arrived between 2000 and 2008. Muslim-Canadians have been particularly targeted as un-Canadian, while the “Stealing Citizenship Act” (Bill C-24) legislates second-class citizenship.

Ottawa-born and Canadian passport-holder Deepan Budlakoti is currently stateless. Since 2010, when he was 21 years old, the federal government has alleged that he should never have been issued a birth certificate or passport. In a shocking precedent, he has been stripped of his passport and he has no permanent work permit, no access to provincial health care, and no right to vote. As he explains, “I was born in Canada at Grace Hospital in Ottawa, which is now closed. I have an Ontario birth certificate. I held a Canadian passport and, before that, I was on my mother’s Canadian passport for five years. In my passport it says that my nationality is Canadian, the same is true of my younger brother. The government now says it gave me a Canadian passport in error… What the government is doing is wrong.”

Since 2010, the federal government has introduced a number of changes to citizenship including special language tests, a more stringent citizenship test, and the institution of a higher score needed to pass it. They also doubled the citizenship-processing fee and added a $100 “Right of Citizenship” fee to actually become a citizen.

As a result of all these changes to accessing citizenship, the percentage of immigrants who become citizens dropped from 79 percent to 26 percent among people who arrived between 2000 and 2008.

The Conservative government also amended the citizenship guide to reflect a narrow, pro-military and pro-business view of Canadian history. It includes prominent recruitment ads for the Canadian Armed Forces. In its first revision, references to same-sex marriage and queer rights were completely removed, only after mounting pressure did the government re-include those sections. The new citizenship guide also makes racist references to “barbaric” cultural practices, fueling anti-Muslim stereotypes of forced marriages and honour killings.

Racialization of citizenship

The racialization of citizenship has intensified under the Conservative government:

  • Harper explicitly targeted mosques as sites where terrorism is presumed to be advocated or promoted, lending government approval to Islamophobic attitudes.
  • The federal government tabled the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which received royal assent and is soon to become law. The sensationalist title frames gender violence as a foreign and imported practice, rather than something faced universally by women, including thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women within Canada.

“I am not looking for Mr. Harper to approve my life choices or dress.”

  • On International Women’s Day, Minister Kenney tweeted fake photographs of Muslim women in chains and child brides falsely attributed to ISIS, fueling the government’s war-mongering in Iraq and Syria.
  • On the niqab, Stephen Harper said “Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice at that time that is not transparent, that is not open and, frankly, is rooted in a culture that is anti-women?” A Conservative fundraising email condemned the niqab and hijab. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander would later tell the House of Commons that the garments go against “our values” and “our traditions.”
  • Muslim women like Zunera Ishaq took the government to court for disallowing women who wear niqab to take the citizenship oath. A Federal Court judge ruled in favour of Zunera Ishaq and deemed the niqab ban to be unlawful, but the Conservative government is now appealing this ruling. In Zunera’s own words, “My desire to live on my own terms is also why I have chosen to challenge the government’s decision to deny me citizenship unless I take off my niqab at my oath ceremony… I am not looking for Mr. Harper to approve my life choices or dress. I am certainly not looking for him to speak on my behalf and “save” me from oppression, without even ever having bothered to reach out to me and speak with me.”


Stealing Citizenship Act legislates second-class citizenship

Most recently, the “Stealing Citizenship Act” (Bill C-24, officially known as Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act) received royal assent, making citizenship harder to get and easier to lose. Since June 2015, a major part of the Bill has gone into effect, officially creating a two-tier system of citizenship in Canada.

On June 25, 2014, the Constitutional Rights Centre along with lawyers Rocco Galati and Manuel Azevedo filed the first of several legal challenges in the Federal Court of Canada against the new law.

Changes with the “Stealing Citizenship Act” include:

  • Extended residency requirements: permanent residents must have been physically present in Canada for four out of the six years prior to application and be physically present in Canada for at least 183 days per year in four of the six years. Previously, applicants were required to have lived in Canada for 3 of the past 4 years. Time spent living in Canada prior to permanent residency (as student, worker, or refugee) is no longer considered.
  • Intent to reside clause: Applicants must intend to continue living in Canada, and government officials are vested with unprecedented authority to deny citizenship if they suspect an applicant may not reside in Canada in the future.
  • Requirements: Citizenship tests are required for applicants aged 14 to 64, increased from the previous range of 18 to 54 years.
  • Higher fees: Processing fees have nearly tripled from $200 to over $500 per person.
  • New grounds for revocation of citizenship: The law gives powers to revoke the citizenship of Canadians with dual citizenship who are found guilty of terrorism (including foreign convictions), or treason. This amounts to a double punishment of dual citizens, who may have citizenship revoked in addition to serving time for criminal convictions. Citizenship can also be revoked from individuals who have served as a member of an armed force of another country, or as a member of an organized armed group that was engaged in an armed conflict with Canada.