New Canadian Media

Which Country Would You Die For?

Written by  New Canadian Media Friday, 04 July 2014 16:41
Cheering one side over another can be seen as a test of national loyalties.
Cheering one side over another can be seen as a test of national loyalties. Photo Credit: Shine 2010 via Flickr CC

by Andrew Griffith (@Andrew_Griffith) in Ottawa

With the World Cup in Brazil coming to a close, it's politically correct to ask, which team were you cheering for?

With Canada not in the running, cheering for your favourite team, whether based upon country of descent or other reasons, raises no question of dual loyalty.

With immigrants from over 200 countries, we have a variety of identities, attachments and loyalties. Our acceptance of dual nationality and political party responsiveness to homelanddiaspora politics reflect a relaxed attitude to identity and loyalty.

Just under three per cent of Canadians have dual or multiple nationality, or about one million people. But beyond formal nationality, numerous ethnic, historical and family ties to other countries exist. The close to three million Canadians living abroad are a mirror image in terms of their ties to Canada and to their country of residence.

The question of loyalty is even more topical, given provisions in the new Citizenship Act, which distinguishes between Canadians with single and dual citizenship in the most extreme cases.

But beyond these cases of loyalty, are there other limits to dual loyalties? When does loyalty to a homelandissue go beyond what most Canadians would consider reasonable? And how does a government reaffirm the value of Canadian citizenship while still supporting a range of diaspora issues?

I'd like to assess this question through cultural, social, economic and government perspectives and offer some pointers.

Cultural origins

We do not generally question loyalty when Canadians express their culture of origin. The richness of the different cultures, entertainment, food and folklore is welcomed as part of the Canadian mosaic. Politicians from all parties participate in cultural events and holidays. Traditional dress in this context is accepted; traditional dress in the workplace is largely accommodated.

Does it matter which team or country people cheer for at the Olympics? The World Cup? Largely not. There is little conflict in sports where Canada is not a contender. Most who cheer for another country enthusiastically cheer for the Canadian hockey teams at the Olympics.

Social affinity

Newcomers have always had a tendency to settle close to fellow newcomers. The various Chinatowns, Little Italys etc. reflect this. We didnt worry about ethnic enclaves then, and viewed this as part of a normal multi-generational integration process. Children will go to neighbourhood schools which reflect community demographics, but these are generally not monolithic. There are risks of ghettoization for some low-income neighbourhoods, where the barriers to integration may be higher.

We cannot regulate, nor should we, where people live, and the first generation will naturally prefer to settle where the local shops, services and organizations cater to the community.

Newcomers often work in mixed environments where they have exposure to other communities.

Are the risks of enclaves greater in todays globalized world? Do people maintain closer links back to the homecountry given cheap travel, free communications, and a wide range of specialty ethnic media? Yes, but most newcomers will consume both mainstreamand community media. Some communities, for faith-based or other reasons, may choose to self-excludebut this is largely limited to minorities within most communities.

Economic linkages

While most new Canadians work and invest in Canada, many maintain economic and business links with their countries of origin. This ranges from small businesses (e.g., ethnic grocery stores, travel agents ) to trading companies that export from or import to Canada as well as other businesses. Some maintain property in their countries of origin. None of these activities raise dual loyalty issues, unless of course such trade is contrary to Canadian laws and regulations (e.g,, export and import controls on weaponry).

Similarly, continuing to receive Canadian government benefits (e.g., pension benefits) when retired abroad is not an issue, given that recipients have paid into the respective plans and benefits when they lived and worked in Canada.

Civic engagement

Canada allows dual citizenship, given the practical reality of many Canadians who need to maintain the citizenship of their country of origin for travel or other purposes. While some have argued against dual citizenship, there is no broad support, although issues have arisen with respect to spouses of former Governors General (e.g., Jean-Daniel Lafond) or political leaders (e.g., Stephane Dion).

But it is in the more practical aspects of dual nationalities that loyalty questions emerge. Should citizens exercise their voting rights in more than one country? What about countries like Italy and France that have overseas constituencies and what about those Canadians who sit as members in foreign legislatures? Should they celebrate homelandnational days, or just cultural and religious festivals? Should they be active in homelandissues, and if so, to what extent? What about participation in foreign governments? What about military service in another country, or what about participation in foreign conflicts?

While in many cases, it is not either/or, loyalty can be questioned if one only votes in other country elections, celebrate homelandnational days, and is exclusively focused on homelandissues. It is the relative balance between participation in Canadian civic life compared to foreign issues that makes a difference. Normal interest and advocacy on homelandissues, if combined with participation in Canadian political debates, is one thing; exclusive focus on homelandissues is another.

Foreign military service or participation in foreign conflicts suggests loyalty to other countries. Hence, this loaded question, "Which country are you prepared to die for?"

Foreign military service or participation in foreign conflicts suggests loyalty to other countries. Hence, this loaded question, "Which country are you prepared to die for?"

Homeland v. Canadian

Participation in foreign governments, such as occurs in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, has been largely accepted, as it was viewed as projecting Canadian democratic and other values. But it does raise the question of where ones loyalty would lie should there be a conflict between Canadian and other country interests.

We live in a globalized world. We have diverse identities, both individually and collectively. As Canadas diversity continues to increase through immigration and intermarriage, our identities will continue to become more varied and blended.

Our ability to follow global events and to participate in political and other activities in other countries will also continue to increase.

But we do not expect interest in countries of origin to be exclusive. We expect citizens to vote in Canada. We expect citizens to participate in Canadian political, social and economic debates, and not only vote or advocate on behalf of homelandissues.

But we do not expect interest in countries of origin to be exclusive. We expect citizens to vote in Canada.

By and large, the government is comfortable with this approach. The only exception is with respect to citizenship revocation in cases of national security or comparable issues, where the revisions to the Citizenship Act distinguish between single and dual citizens. In other words, the existing long-standing policy that a Canadian-is-a-Canadian -- whether single or dual national, whether born in Canada or naturalized -- no longer applies. 

As Canadians continue to navigate and develop their various identities, we expect them to find a balance between their ethnic or country of origin identity and their Canadian identity. We have few hard and fast rules, given the complexity of our lives and identities, and provide considerable scope for Canadians to express their country of origin. However, we expect this activity to be grounded in a commitment to participate in Canadian life.

Andrew Griffith is the author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism. He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). He has worked at Canadian Heritage, Service Canada, Industry Canada and Privy Council Office, in addition to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, where he had a number of domestic and international assignments. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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