Commentary by: Jamie Liew in Ottawa, ON
There’s been a lot of talk about getting rid of birthright citizenship in Canada and the United States. President Donald Trump announced that he’ll issue an executive order and the Conservative Party of Canada passed a motion that, should they be the next federal government, birthright citizenship will be no more.
In the U. S., the president will have to contend with the fact that he can’t just unilaterally eliminate a right in the 14th Amendment of the constitution.
In Canada, birthright citizenship can be eliminated simply by amending or repealing parts of the Citizenship Act.
In both countries, the preoccupation with ending birthright citizenship is tied to the argument that migrants are engaging in “birth tourism” and challenging the integrity of citizenship. But the facts say otherwise.
As Andrew Griffith, former director general at Citizenship and Immigration Canada points out, fewer than 0.1 percent of total births in Canada in the last 10 years (except 2012) involved births of children to foreign mothers. Griffiths concludes, “An impartial observer would conclude that there is currently no business case for changing Canada’s birth policy.”
Aside from the business case, what’s not talked about is how the elimination of birthright citizenship would affect not just migrants, but all of us. Undoubtedly, such a policy would increase the number of stateless persons in Canada.
Every person born in Canada would have to apply for citizenship. More tax dollars would be needed to process the applications. Clerks would suddenly have the power to make substantive and legal determinations about the status of every person who applies for citizenship. Like any administrative system, mistakes would be made. Bad or wrong decisions would be challenged in the courts at great expense to both the state and people affected. People would struggle with the fact that they are stateless in the interim.
Being stateless has serious implications.
Stateless persons have difficulty accessing education, employment, health care, social services and freedom of movement. Simple things like obtaining a bank account, cellphone account or registering birth, marriage or death are complicated, if not impossible. Stateless persons would be subject to arrest, detention and potential removal to places they may never have been to before.
The elimination of birthright citizenship would affect the most vulnerable the greatest: the indigent, less educated, those with mental illness, children in precarious family situations or wards of the state. These are the people who may not have the appropriate paperwork or proof that they do qualify for citizenship or they won’t have support for obtaining citizenship.
This one policy would create an expensive social problem for the state.
The elimination of birthright citizenship is then not an act to preserve or protect the integrity of citizenship. The policy is a dividing tool that fuels discrimination against those of different races and socio-economic classes. It’s a tool to delegitimize persons who have a genuine and effective link to Canada. It would create barriers to important rights that come with citizenship, including the right to vote.
We only need to look at how stripping citizenship and the denial of citizenship in other places of the world have encouraged discrimination, persecution, and violence against stateless persons. For example, the oppression of and the genocide against Rohingya was precipitated by their denial of citizenship in Myanmar, a country they called home for generations.
Canadians should be cautious when considering the idea to get rid of birthright citizenship. It wouldn’t stop migrants from coming. Instead of making it harder to get citizenship, we should trust our well-oiled immigration system to deal with the entry of persons within our country.
Such a policy would not build confidence in the integrity of Canadian citizenship. Instead, citizenship would be more precarious than ever before.
Canadians should also be mindful that Canada has signed onto the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which obligate Canada not to create situations of statelessness.
My father was born stateless because the state he was born into didn’t confer birthright citizenship. It affected his opportunity for education, employment, and his mental health.
Being a child of a previously stateless person, I’m proof enough that welcoming stateless persons to Canada with the conferral of citizenship is the best way to build a nation.
Jamie Liew is an immigration lawyer and an associate professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, and a contributor with EvidenceNetwork.ca, which is based at the University of Winnipeg.
This piece is published under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post.
Commentary by: Fred Maroun in Ottawa
Quebec recently passed a law banning face coverings for people delivering or receiving public services, which has re-ignited the debate across Canada on banning the burqa and niqab.
Some people, such as Idil Issa, have accused Quebec’s politicians of going after Muslims because they are a minority and an easy target. Knowledge of Quebec history and culture, however, contradicts that accusation.
Quebec’s strong liberal values
Quebec is by far the most progressive province in Canada. Its two main parties are centrist (the Liberal Party of Quebec) and centre left (the Bloc Quebecois) whereas all other provinces have strong conservative parties. Quebec’s support for same-sex marriage is at 78%, possibly a world record. Quebec is a striving multicultural and diverse society.
Quebec was the only Canadian province to undergo a revolution (albeit a non-violent one, aptly named the Quiet Revolution) against religious and political conservatism.
There is a problem when women live in a society as liberal as Quebec and yet feel the need to comply with some of the most conservative and patriarchal religious rules ever invented. The fact that many Quebecers recognize this as a problem is not a symptom of intolerance.
When Quebec’s new law is discussed, the discussion invariably drifts towards the face covering of some Muslim women due to a version of Islam that is highly sexist and regressive, commonly referred to as Islamism. The concern of citizens is clearly not face coverings in the abstract but the religious radicalism that it implies.
I grew up in Lebanon at a time when Muslims were already the majority, and yet I never saw a woman with her face covered in public, even in Muslim neighborhoods. Several members of my family grew up in Egypt and make the same observation. With the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, however, the niqab and the burqa are now often seen in the streets of Cairo.
Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, wrote, “[I] never saw a niqab when I was growing up in Karachi, Pakistan. […] But in the 25 years I have called Canada home, I have seen a steady rise of Muslim women being strangled in the pernicious black tent that is passed off to naïve and guilt-ridden white, mainstream Canadians as an essential Islamic practice”.
Islamism is the opposite of social liberalism. Whereas liberalism aims to achieve for women equal rights and opportunities, Islamism considers women inferior and expects them to be subservient. The infiltration of Islamist values into Canadian society can only send chills into the backs of liberals.
A political hot potato
There are however no easy answers to fighting Islamism in Canada since we also value freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and personal choice. A ban on face coverings can be seen as a patriarchal imposition on women who may in theory choose to cover their faces. And if a husband prevents his wife from leaving the house with her face uncovered, a ban may transform her house into a jail.
Politicians try to avoid complex issues, and the growth of Islamism in liberal societies is undoubtedly a complex issue. Quebec politicians deserve credit for at least trying. Federal politicians refuse to even talk about it.
During the Conservative leadership campaign, Kellie Leitch attempted to bring forward a proposal to defend Canadian values by asking some tough questions of potential immigrants, but she faced strong opposition even within her party. After Andrew Scheer won the leadership, he left Leitch out of his shadow cabinet and gave another former candidate, Lisa Raitt, the position of deputy leader even though Leitch received almost twice as many votes as Raitt on the first ballot.
The federal Liberal Party and the NDP stay even farther away than their conservative counterparts from fighting Islamism. Almost all Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs), all NDP MPs, and a small number of Conservative MPs passed a vague motion condemning “Islamophobia” without defining its meaning, which could be interpreted as an attempt to muzzle legitimate criticism of Islamism.
Demagogues could fill the void
While I never saw burqas and niqabs in Lebanon, I see them now in Ottawa, far too often. Such occurrences are frequent reminders to Canadians that the issue of Islamism is not a faraway problem but a local one.
Canada has no leading politician resembling Donald Trump at the moment, but neither did the U.S. until two years ago. Then Trump barged into the political scene and raised issues that Americans were concerned about, such as Islamic terrorism, issues that other politicians were afraid to discuss.
There are likely more significant reasons why Trump was elected, but his willingness to be politically incorrect was undoubtedly one of the attributes that attracted voters to him. We see such a phenomenon occurring in parts of Europe as well, such as Germany where the extreme right has significantly weakened Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dominance.
Politicians must find the courage to ask the politically incorrect questions, even when they do not have all the answers, so that intelligent solutions can emerge. If competent politicians ignore the challenge, demagogues may take advantage of the vacuum and propose ill-conceived populist ideas, which is the last thing we need.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He regularly blogs for The Times of Israel.
TORONTO: The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group on Thursday released a report proposing 13 recommendations to address issues of systemic racism in the legal professions.
The report is the culmination of thorough study and province-wide consultations, showing that racialized lawyers and paralegals face longstanding and significant challenges at all stages […]
by Naved Bakali in Brossard, Quebec
“Lawfare” is a term that combines “law” and “warfare.” It describes how the law can be used as a weapon to punish and prosecute citizens.
It also describes how fear of Muslims is manufactured, through terrorism cases involving agent provocateurs and the entrapment of economically desperate and mentally ill Muslim men with radicalized political views – a phenomenon well-documented in the recent report “Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Pre-emptive Prosecution.”
In Canada, the term is becoming ever more relevant, thanks to a slew of recent bills and proposed legislations by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
New legislation unfairly targets Muslims
With a majority government over the past four years, the Conservative Party legislated Bill C-51, a law that broadens Canadian security agencies’ mandates and enhances their powers.
Critics of the bill argue that it gives CSIS broad and sweeping powers with little oversight, in the name of national security and combating terrorism. Even the United Nations has spoken in opposition to it, claiming it can result in mass and targeted surveillance without legal protections for individual citizens.
The Tories also introduced a new Citizenship Act that can strip away Canadian citizenship of dual citizens found guilty of terrorism-related offences. In practice, the law creates a two-tier system, where some can have their Canadian nationality contested, while others can take their citizenship for granted.
This law becomes even more problematic now, as terrorist activities, from the Conservatives’ perspective, seem limited to acts committed by Muslims or in the name of Islam.
For example, the Canadian justice minister, Peter MacKay, recently claimed that an attempted Valentine’s Day shooting spree in February 2015 was clearly not a terrorist activity because the alleged plotters did not have any cultural affiliations. Although he did not specify “Muslim culture,” he made specific reference to groups like ISIS when discussing how such an action could have been classified as an act of terrorism.
In relation to the new Citizenship Act, immigration minister Chris Alexander felt it necessary to single out Muslims when discussing the law, claiming it was designed to confront the threat of “jihadi terrorism.”
In addition, the Senate recently drew up plans for an imam certification process to prevent dissemination of extremist ideology through Muslim religious institutions.
The Harper government is irresponsibly wading into murky waters with these bills and proposed laws, given its fairly open anti-Muslim bias and pro-Israeli political stance.
Reputable scholars such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, as well as human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have described the Israeli government’s aggression in operations Cast Lead and Protective Edge as war crimes and manifestations of state-sponsored terrorism.
Would material support of the IDF result in losing one’s citizenship?
Should pro-Israeli religious leaders who encourage members of their congregation to join Israeli offensive operations require state policing and a certification process?
An exaggerated threat
In my study of anti-Muslim racism in Quebec and Canada, I have found that the biased application and enactment of laws and the one-sided nature of political debates can be traced back to a broader narrative of fear and suspicion of Muslims.
This narrative is an outgrowth of the 9/11 attacks and the “War on Terror.”
As my research and that of others have found, the threat of Islamic extremism is an overly exaggerated crisis in Canada that doesn’t warrant the resources, time and taxpayer funds that have been wasted by the Harper government.
There are approximately one million Muslims in Canada. Authorities estimate that up to 130 have been involved in terrorist activities abroad. This represents less than 0.02 per cent of the Canadian Muslim population.
If the Conservative government was genuinely concerned about public safety and well-being, perhaps a more efficient use of resources would be in drug- and alcohol-abuse campaigns, which affect far more Canadian youth than the “Islamic jihadi threat.”
In contexts where “terrorism” is defined by the cultural and religious affiliations of the perpetrators – as is becoming the case in Canada – the law can become a tool to discriminate and marginalize certain groups in society.
With careless attempts to gain consensus on the “dangerous Muslim threat,” Harper’s politics of fear create a state of exceptionalism and make Muslims into a sub-citizen class.
In short, the proposed and recently passed laws are becoming tools to punish Canadian Muslims through lawfare.
Naved Bakali is a researcher, activist and educator. His research focuses on the experiences of race and racism of Muslim youth in Quebec in the context of the War on Terror. He can be reached at www.navedbakali.com.
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This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Rape is the fastest-growing crime among juveniles; 86 percent of teens arrested for various crimes come from poor families, only six percent were homeless and less than six percent were girls, crime data for the last 10 years reveals. Arrests of juveniles in the 16-18 age-group increased 60 percent from 2003 to 2013, the highest […]
The Weekly Voice
VANCOUVER - The World Sikh Organization of Canada has successfully assisted a Sikh student barred from wearing his kirpan into the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Ishwer Singh Basra, an amritdhari (initiated) Sikh, was scheduled to write the LSAT on September 27, 2014. Upon arriving at the test centre in Burnaby BC, Ishwer Singh’s kirpan was spotted by a proctor. Despite being explained its significance, the proctor said the kirpan would not be permitted in the test centre. The proctor then proceeded to call the Law Society Admission Council (LSAC), the body that administers the LSAT, and said that there was a student carrying a “knife” and insisting it was for religious purposes. After a brief phone call, the proctor reiterated to Ishwer Singh that his “knife” would not be allowed.
Ishwer Singh was given the option of either removing the kirpan and being allowed to write the test or forfeiting the exam and writing another day in which he would once again be told to remove his kirpan.
by Yves Engler
Speaking Out on Human Rights is a powerful response to the right-wing backlash against human rights commissions and tribunals. In this readable book, lawyer and McGill University lecturer Pearl Eliadis details the positive contributions these commissions have made to the advancement of human rights and points the way forward to strengthening these important institutions.
Speaking Out on Human Rights delves into the history of discrimination in this country, how human rights commissions and tribunals have helped, and how various forms of discrimination persist.
Yves Engler: The book is partly a response to the media frenzy towards human rights commissions spurred by two cases in 2007. Can you tell me about them?
Pearl Eliadis: The first case was the conservative online magazine Western Standard’s re-publication of one of the Danish “Mohammed-as-bomber” cartoons, and the second case involved three complaints initiated by Canadian law students against Rogers Inc. and its editor for refusing to publish a rebuttal to a string of allegedly anti-Muslim articles in Maclean’s magazine, a Rogers property. The students announced that they would be filing complaints in three jurisdictions in Canada because they argued the articles were beyond offensive and were discriminatory, painting Muslims with a broad and tarred brush, depicting them as prone to bestiality and sex with nine-year-olds.
An avalanche of articles and editorials in the media appeared, in a concerted and coordinated effort to repeal the human rights laws that regulate hate speech. Outrage against the bureaucracy of human rights commissions was not new, but the Maclean’s hate speech complaints blended free speech, the “Muslim menace,” and national security threats to create a toxic brew that brought the simmering stew of rage-against-the-government-machine to a full boil. The net result was that many Canadians, spurred on by media reports and by politicians who thought they saw an opening to attack these institutions in the name of “freedom,” began to believe that human rights institutions in Canada were no longer acting in the best interests of Canadians. It became commonplace to see public calls for the abolition of these institutions or the rolling back of human rights legislation.
YE: You quote the president of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter who cited a series of “pillar cases” from the Supreme Court of Canada that began in human rights commissions and have gone a long way in strengthening women’s, workers’, religious rights etc. Isn’t this an indication of the importance of the tribunals?
PE: The cases discussed in the quote started at the level of human rights commissions and tribunals and then made their way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. Far from being irrelevant or petty administrative tribunals, these institutions have played a leading role in developing case law that now forms the backbone of equality law in Canada and is something that we now all take for granted. These include key cases that have outlawed sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and protected the rights of kids with disabilities to an education.
YE: You write about how human rights commissions are not solely about compensating claimants but also about helping to eradicate discrimination through public education. The courts, on the other hand, do not address the underlying systemic causes of discrimination, which you see as an argument for the tribunals, correct?
PE: This is an important point of the book. People often associate human rights commissions and tribunals with human rights complaints alone. This is understandable because complaints are the main point of contact with the human rights system. However, human rights commissions also have a legal obligation to speak out about human rights and to promote public awareness of human rights – these are very important parts of their mandate and fundamental to what these institutions are supposed to do as a matter of law. So when the Ontario Human Rights Commission spoke out against Mark Steyn’s writings about Muslims in Maclean’s, it was doing so as part of its legislated responsibility to speak out and to address issues of social tension independently of any human rights complaint.
I don’t think this is well understood among the public and it certainly is not a part of the work of human rights commissions that is being adequately addressed in many jurisdictions today. If people were more aware of this aspect – namely that promoting human rights is integral to what human rights commissions do – much of the so-called scandal around free speech in human rights would have been muted.
YE: For much of Canadian history a laissez-faire approach prevailed, whereby the legal system refused to palliate inequities. Can you explain how this was upended partly by social movements?
PE: There’s a sad string of cases in Canadian law where courts were unable or unwilling to do much of anything about blatant discrimination and inequality. It really took the civil rights movement and the work of the labour movement to take the bull by the horns and push society at large as well as legislators to enact protections for workers, tenants, and those seeking public services. Had it been left to the courts or elected politicians alone, not much would have happened.
YE: Certainly the employers who’ve had human rights cases lodged against them – and who own much of the media and fund many right-wing institutions – dislike these human rights commissions. And many of those hired to be commentators in the dominant media share this sentiment, if not always openly. So it seems naïve to write, as you do, that, “it is difficult to believe that anyone would want to return to a pre-rights world or move to one where market incentives are the sole or main policy response to discrimination.”
PE: I don’t think it is naïve. It is hard to believe that anyone wants to go back to the days of refusing to serve Fred Christie a beer. And it is counter-factual: polling data mentioned in the beginning of the book shows that the only issue dearer than healthcare to the hearts of Canadians is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That has to say something about the distance between the “dominant media” and the average Canadian. I believe the majority of Canadians are aware that human rights are important and support them. They are central to not only our constitutional structure as the fundamental law of the land, but also to Canada’s important international human rights commitments and its multiculturalism. What does strike me as naïve is that we should, as a country, entrench constitutional rights and then assert that it is an unintended or unwanted consequence of those constitutional commitments that we would actually have to respect them.
Yves Engler is the author of seven books. His most recent is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy.
This post was republished with permission from the Montreal Review of Books.
Among the honourees were Devon Clunis, who last year became Canada’s first black Chief of Police and Lori Seale-Irving, who was the first black woman to become a commissioned officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit