Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Who's Canadian enough?

When the new Governor-General was sworn in yesterday, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief. I don't have a particular stake in seeing Michaëlle Jean occupy Rideau Hall, but the controversy surrounding her had left an incredibly bad taste in my mouth. I've already blogged about the inherent sexism in the questions that came up about her husband's ties to separatist groups, but even more unnerving than that was the ordeal about her dual citizenship. Jean is married to a French citizen, and in 2004 she naturalized as French through marriage, becoming one of the 600,000-plus Canadians with multiple citizenships. But on Sunday, she bowed to some combination of public, political, and internal pressure (precisely how that combination of pressures played out is something I don't think the public will ever know) and renounced that citizenship again.

I was travelling in August and missed out on a lot, and so it was an American journalist friend who first pointed this controversy out to me. "So this is your tolerant, immigrant-friendly Canada?" she said, taunting. She had a point. The published comments on that Globe and Mail story I linked to above include people arguing that "for this matter to even reach this stage is ridiculous" and that "the leader of Canada must have Canada as their first priority." In the 'citizen journalist' realm, similar sentiments are also not hard to find. And now that Jean has given in and renounced her newly-acquired French citizenship, those sentiments seem to have prevailed. The same country that boasts many of the most multicultural cities in the world, the same country that teaches its youth about how we're not a "melting pot" like that big bad ogre to the south, but a "cultural mosaic"--that country is sending the message that having more than one citizenship is inherently problematic, and if you want to be considered pure enough to take on a position like Governor-General, you'd better make sure you have only one passport.

Canadian law doesn't forbid multiple citizenships; in fact, it doesn't even prevent the Governor-General from having multiple citizenships. This means that the pressures that caused Jean to renounce her French citizenship aren't pressures of legality, but of ideology. I'd like some clarity, though, on exactly what that ideology consists of. What is it that makes someone Canadian enough for a position like Governor-General? Who decides what those criteria are? And if we as a society are saying--whether legally or merely through ideological disapproval--that a certain class of Canadian citizens qualifies, while another class doesn't, are we not also saying that latter class of Canadian is inherently second-tier? I find it difficult to interpret this in any other way, but if that is what we're saying, then we'd better be sure we're ready for all the things it implies, because some of those things aren't at all consistent with what Canada claims to be.

At the end of August, blogger James Bow wrote the following:

I understand the need for a distinction between landed immigrants and citizens in this country. Citizenship should take some time and effort to receive. But once achieved, that should be it: a Canadian citizen should be the equal of any other Canadian citizen regardless of whether or not that citizen was born in Canada, or in the United States, or elsewhere.
Unsurprisingly, I agree with him. But more than that, I'm disturbed that so many others don't seem to. As an immigrant, I'm offended by the precedent this sets. As a Canadian, though, I'm just disappointed.


Progressive Maritimer said...

I agree. When I posted about the new GG 6 weeks ago, a debate arose about her citizenship. I argued that the fact that she is swearing an oath of office to represent the Queen for Canada was sufficient to prove her dedication to this country. I believe I said that while she held this office, it effectively nullified her other citizenships as she swore and oath to specifically represent Canada for the Queen. I didn't think it was necessary for her to give up her citizenship and indeed I believe it is unfortunate that such pressure was but on her to do so.

At the end of the day, what has changed? She no longer has a piece of paper that says she is a citizen of France. Does that change her status as a Canadian or suddenly make her more qualified for the job? I would argue that it does not but rather a scary form of nationalism emerged for a moment and forced her to comply. It is worrisome that such feelings can appear when provoked. It makes me worry sometimes what's beneath the surface of the usually passive, polite, and tolerant Canadians.

One blogger called it a demon in Canada, I think they have a point.

Trevor J. said...

This is doubly ironic, considering that it wasn't too many decades ago that Governors General in Canada - and most other Commonwealth countries - were exclusively British nationals, yet no-one thought to question where their loyalties lay... and anyway, if we really want to turn our attention to what it means to have multiple national loyalties, why stop at Michaëlle Jean? After all, the monarch she's been chosen to represent is someone who's simultaneously head of state of the U.K., AND something like 15 other countries besides. If that's not a conflict of interest, then nothing is.

Jim (Progressive Right) said...

Now, I'm one of the objectors to the dual citizenship GG, and I'll tell you why.

I just don't believe that the Head of State (GG), the Head of Government (PM), nor, for that matter, the Leader of the Opposition, should hold citizenship with another country.

These three individuals, under our current form of government have a responsibility to authorize, direct the formation, or direct opposition to legislation. As long as they hold citizenship with another country, there is perceived (real or not) loyalties to that other country.

We expect cabinet ministers, judges and juries to excuse themselves when a conflict of interest occurs. The PM, the GG, should not come into an office with a potential conflict of interest - that foreign passport is a conflict of interest waiting to happen.

I have no problems with a person's origin, or the origin of their Canadian citizenship - a Canadian is a Canadian - and a dual Canadian is not less a Canadian. I will not excuse behaviour that suggest otherwise.

That all said, I fully support Ms. Jean - she'll do great.

bijoux55 said...

"She'll do great" ask every Canadian who has been injured by a FLQ bomb if that two-faced sycophant has "done great".

Have we sunk so low, forgotton history of less than 40 years so quickly that that idiot and her idiot husband can be entrenched in the highest role with potentially the greatest power in the land.

Even George Bush, whom I abhore, did not chum with terrorists and advocate the dismantling of his Country.

The question is not who is Canadian enough, it is who is the least possibly Canadian.

A chamber maid from the Ivory Coast who makes 6 dollars an hour at La Reine Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal likely has more loyalty in her little finger than Michaelle Jean has in her whole couterier clad body. She disgusts me as do those "Canadians" who forget what the FLQ did to this country. She will never be my Governor General.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Yes Bijoux,

You've convinced me. Appearing in a documentary with several former FLQ members who have renounced violence and paid their debt to society clearly makes Madame Jean unfit to breath the same air as "real Canadians" like you.

Just in case Bijoux's broken (and often anti-immigrant) record has anyone thinking that our new Governor General was somehow involved with the FLQ's terrorist activities I'll point out two things.

During the FLQ crisis our new Governor General was indeed in Quebec.

She was also 13.

I haven't forgotten what the FLQ did, but for me, it's enough that the only people more upset about this appointment than conservatives are separatists. I might not mind an actual former terrorist being GG if it worried the separatists this much. But someone who shared a bottle of wine with former terrorists (who have renounced violence) during the filming of a documentary decades after their crimes, and after they had paid their debt to society? No problem.

She may not be Bijoux's GG, but she is Stephen Harper's, and she makes Gilles Ducceppe very unhappy. That's enough for me.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Citizenships mean different things to different people. It is clear to you, me, and certainly to Michaëlle Jean that the Canadian Governor-General must have Canada as his or her first priority, and maintain primary loyalties to no other countries. If she says she *does* have Canada as her first priority, though, and *doesn't* maintain primary loyalties to any other countries, then who are you to tell her that no, she actually does? In a practical sense (rather than a purely ideological sense), whom would it have harmed for her to keep the second citizenship, whatever meaning that happens to have to her personally?

KevinG said...

I'm not sure I agree with your position here IP. Isn't this just a case of managing conflict of interest?

Conflict of interest rules are in place for two reasons. Firstly to ensure that there is not the possibility that another interest can compete with the important one you are being charged with. I can't think of any significant post where one's word is deemed sufficient.

The purpose of conflict of interest rules it to ensure the conflict does not take place: to ensure we don't have to rely on anyones word.

The second purpose of CoI rules is to eliminate the 'perception' that a conflict might exist. Since the GG's role is all about perception I think it make sense that she have only one citizenship.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Well, then why isn't it simply illegal (or at least expressly forbidden) for a Governor-General to have multiple citizenships? If it were so self-evident that multiple citizenships automatically meant a conflict of interest, you'd think it would be.

Also, have we forgotten what the Governor-General's role is? The reason the position exists at all is to have a stand-in for the Queen ... who herself has multiple citizenships. As Trevor said above, if that isn't a conflict of interest, I think we're hard-pressed to say that Jean's multiple citizenships automatically would have been.

KevinG said...


I don't think the role of the GG is to stand in for the Queen. It certainly was at one point in time but the role is symbolic at best now.

In practical terms the GG is a symbol of Canada. She is a symbol of Canada to Canadians and a symbol to the rest of the world. Indeed, Clarkson acted as an ambassador for Canada during her trips overseas. When she travels, she doesn't represent the Queen, she represents us.

I'm sure you're not arguing that the absence of a law/guidleine is proof that it isn't a good idea. Right?

I think that if you strip most of the noxious rhetoric away from the complaints, what's left is a legitimate concern about conflicts whether they're real or perceived. I don't see why common practices used to resolve conflicts of interest shouldn't be applied here.

Personally, I was pleased with the way she resolved it.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


If the GG's function is now entirely symbolic, then that's more of a reason, not less of one, for her to be able to have multiple citizenships. What a better way to epitomize the multiculturalism and diversity of Canada than to stand as living proof that multiple citizenships don't automatically mean less loyalty to Canada?

kurichina said...

My understanding was that it was France that had a problem with the dual citizenship - not anyone in Canada. That is, it is illegal under French law for a citizen to be a member of the armed forces of a foreign country and the GG is the head of the CF.

KevinG said...


Is multiculturalism the same a multi-national?

I take your point though and perhaps we'd all be better off if nationalism was less prominent -- even in Canada.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Interesting -- that I hadn't heard. Although there are plenty of people in Canada who also had a problem with it, as you can see from this very thread.


Multiculturalism isn't the same as multinationalism, but if a society takes multiculturalism seriously, then multinationalism is an inevitable occasional side effect of that, and I become deeply suspicious of a society's commitment to multiculturalism when it doesn't tolerate multinationalism. As far as believing we'd all be better off if nationalism were less prominent here as elsewhere goes, that's not quite what I'm saying here--although I do believe that, too.