Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dual citizenship: "loyalty," "convenience," or an acknowledgement of facts?

You may not have noticed if you're not an immigrant yourself, but the big national discussion about dual citizenship that has culminated with Stéphane Dion has actually been going on for over a year now. It began with Michaëlle Jean's appointment to Governor-General, continued with the evacuation of Lebanese Canadians from Lebanon over the summer, and raised its ugly head once again this fall when Stephen Harper's Tories floated the idea of doing away with it. In each of those discussions, people who are uncomfortable with dual citizenship have brought up two words that have puzzled and frustrated me: loyalty and convenience. But it wasn't until this week that it gelled for me why those sentiments feel like such a betrayal of Canadian values.

See, for me--and, I suspect, for many other immigrant Canadians--citizenship is neither a matter of loyalty nor a matter of convenience. My Canadian citizenship is an acknowledgement both of the steps I've taken to become a part of this culture and the way that culture has rubbed off on me and gotten under my skin. My American citizenship is an acknowledgement that because I was born and raised in the United States, the idealistic pragmatist you see before you today spent most of her formative years being influenced by that culture. And while it may be true that those citizenships come with certain rights and certain responsibilities, those rights and responsibilities are not what citizenship is. Citizenship is no more and no less than an acknowledgement of the fact that one is an X.

What makes a rejection of dual citizenship so offensive to me, then, is that it tells me that I can't be both X and Y--I have to choose. But this is not a simple matter, because the fact is, I am both. In every sense of the word, I am Canadian and American. Giving up my dual citizenship wouldn't change that; it would only force me to pretend it wasn't the case for the sake of appearances. And that forced pretense would go against everything Canada claims to stand for as a multicultural country.

For years, Canadians have been telling me, proudly, that while the U.S. is a "melting pot," Canada is a "cultural mosaic"--a patchwork of cultures that all work together to form a cohesive whole. But how on earth does that ideology stand up when the supposed "melting pot" thinks dual citizenships are just fine, and the supposed "cultural mosaic" is telling immigrants that they have to pretend they're nothing but Canadian or else be branded as disloyal? It doesn't--it collapses like a house of cards. And if this country is going to start telling people they have to choose between being an X and a Y in order to be truly Canadian, we're going to have to accept the consequences of that line of reasoning and be willing to change our policies and our ideologies to go along with it.

As for loyalty, well, that’s a far more complicated matter that--at least for me--has little to nothing to do with which country's or countries' passport(s) I hold. I am fully loyal to Canadian ideals--that's why I came here in the first place. I am thrilled to have an opportunity to help realize them more fully. But here's the rub: if those ideals changed--if Canada rejected the things that brought me here and became someplace I didn't want to live--I would want to leave Canada just as I left the United States. My loyalty isn't to the passports I hold, and it's not to the land mass encompassed by the political boundaries of the place I live, either. It's to the things this country--this place that I chose--says it wants to be. And quite frankly, this big national discussion about dual citizenship has been the first thing since I came here almost ten years ago that's shaken my faith in that.

32 comments:

Deanna said...

I've been holding firmly to the idea that it is a very vocal minority that are singing the "no dual citizenship" tune.

Except for First Nations, we are a nation of immigrants. And we know it. When asked our ethnicity, very few of us just say "Canadian". British, we say, or French, Irish, Scottish, Ukrainian, Jewish, Italian, Chinese...

It's a vanishingly small number of us who can clain that all of their ancestors arrived in Canada in the 1700's. Most of us have at least one grandparent or great-grandparent who immigrated here from somewhere else.

To me it is inarguable that people who choose Canadian citizenship are as Canadian as those who are citizens by mere accident of birth.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

I've been holding firmly to the idea that it is a very vocal minority that are singing the "no dual citizenship" tune.

You may be right about that, and I sure hope you are. But I have my doubts when so many people keep bringing up the "loyalty" and "convenience" lines and/or start saying that dual citizens should be willing to give up one of their citizenships in order to take a higher government position. The list of people who have voiced their doubts when I've brought this up in the past reads like a list of smart political bloggers of all stripes: James Calder, Kevin G of Odd Thoughts, Olaf from the Prairie Wranglers. They may not exactly be crying "no dual citizenship," but neither are they fully accepting it.

Jason said...

Dan (Calgary Grit) has also suggested it "might be best" if Dion gave up his citizenship.

As someone with dual citizenship, I'd personally feel a little let down if Ezra Levant's little farce ended up hounding him into it.

Anonymous said...

Im pretty sure one of Ezra's parents is bovine.

That closet clown can push this all he wants. No one gives a shit except for a very vocal minority of bigots.

So fuck em.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

anonymous,

If this were just about Ezra Lavant's comments about Dion, I'd roll my eyes and forget about it. But my point is that this has been going on for more than a year, and it's a lot bigger than just Ezra Lavant being a blowhard. It's about people dismissing Canada's most deeply held ideals out of hand without even thinking it through first.

Anonymous said...

If this were just about Ezra Lavant's comments about Dion, I'd roll my eyes and forget about it. But my point is that this has been going on for more than a year, and it's a lot bigger than just Ezra Lavant being a blowhard.
----

Agreed. Touche.

Devon Rowcliffe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anh Khoi Do said...

Ok, Idealistic Pragmatist, you mentionned that Canadians are proud of the "cultural mosaic". Really? Unfortunately, you should know that looks can be very deceptive, because I do consider myself as a Canadian and I'm totally ashamed to live in a "cultural mosaic". I prefer to live in a melting pot, because not only does multiculturalism encourages/forces ethnic minorities to keep their ancestral culture, but it also encourages them to stay in their psychological ghettoes by reminding them that they are anything, but not Canadians (that explains why many ethnic minorities are not loyal to Canada). Furthermore, because of multiculturalism, ethnic minorities tend to see the Canadian identity not as a national identity used to unite people from coast to coast, but rather as an ethnic identity belonging to the French and English Canadians. In fact, you may have noticed that few people in Canada identify themselves as "Canadian" (except English and French Canadians).

You can read why I'm firmly against multiculturalism here:
The Multiculturalism Act's backlash

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

anh khoi do,

If you would prefer to live in a country that sees immigration as creating a "melting pot," that is an option that is open to you. There are plenty of people who go the opposite way from the way I went--it cuts both ways. The process can even be made easier for citizens of NAFTA countries by the existence of special visas, so you could take a job there now and apply for your U.S. Green Card later.

Just something you might want to consider.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, you should know that looks can be very deceptive, because I do consider myself as a Canadian and I'm totally ashamed to live in a "cultural mosaic". I prefer to live in a melting pot, because not only does multiculturalism encourages/forces ethnic minorities to keep their ancestral culture, but it also encourages them to stay in their psychological ghettoes by reminding them that they are anything, but not Canadians (that explains why many ethnic minorities are not loyal to Canada).

-------------

Keeping ancestral cultural, but placing it inside the "Canadian" context, is the key to integration, and is not antithetical in the least.

As for psychological ghettos, I'd say critiques against multiculturalism, such as yours, tend to reinforce 'ghetto-ization' more then ascribing to equal differences in national identity.

I don't think you understand 'multiculturalism' the same as I I suppose.

Lone Primate said...

No one gives a shit except for a very vocal minority of bigots.

So fuck em.


Precisely. We have to keep in mind -- and I hope Stephane Dion will keep in mind -- that the kind of asshole for whom this is a big issue isn't going to vote for the Liberals in general or a 'frog' like Dion in the first place. The only bone he'd be wise to throw them is the one in his pants, with instructions on how to suck it.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

lone primate,

Like I said earlier, this isn't about Dion, nor is it about a handful of bigots like Ezra Lavant. These rumblings have been going on for much, much longer than just this week, and they cut to the core of the very ideals that this country claims to be about.

Dismiss this at your own peril.

Lone Primate said...

I prefer to live in a melting pot, because not only does multiculturalism encourages/forces ethnic minorities to keep their ancestral culture, but it also encourages them to stay in their psychological ghettoes by reminding them that they are anything, but not Canadians (that explains why many ethnic minorities are not loyal to Canada).

You evidently haven't compared the composition of our Parliament and their Congress lately. Were you aware that they just -- JUST -- elected their first Muslim Congressman, and have deigned to let him swear in on the Qur'an? Well, my MP is ethnically Iranian, and has been for years. So you're telling me our model is a problem? Au contraire. Okay, maybe I'm crossing the line here, but I'd like to point out it wasn't the CN Tower planes flew into five years ago, or the Montreal Metro that got bombed last year. I think people know us better than that... which is what makes this dual-citizenship xenophobia all the more distressing.

Lone Primate said...

Dismiss this at your own peril.

I ain't dismissing it. You can only eat the steak that's currently on your plate, you know? :)

Jeremy Kirouac said...

First,

This is an excellent piece and I hope that you would try to see it published.

Second,

The idea that people are stuck in cultual ghettos is so unbelievably culturally arrogant... Damn.

Third,

This issue is ridiculous, especially when you consider that there are many other issues worthy of serious debate in the public. I cannot believe that this is the issue we have choosen to focus on. What a waste of time.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Jeremy,

Thanks for the compliment. I suspect people don't reprint things that have already been published on the Internet, but the thought made me smile, anyway.

Canadian Tar Heel said...

Hi IP,

Nice post !

Aside from merely echoing praise, I would add that we do have an issue of Canadians of convenience as it relates to "legal persons" and corporate accountability. Although it's a different issue, it is a related one.

Happy Holidays

West End Bound said...

IP,

Yes, we've been following the saga of the dual citizenship question enumerated in your first paragraph and watching it closely.

Thus far I am impressed with Stephane Dion's management of the situation - especially the reference to the French citizenship being a "gift" from his mother. Hopefully, if the Tory pundits and politicians will sit back, chill out, and consider the situation rationally it will become a non-issue. Whoops - I mentioned being rational and referencing the Tories in the same sentence . . . . Not being realistic, was I?!?!?

Anonymous said...

Folks, don't you see? This dual citizenship debate isn't the work of a vocal minority. It's something that has obviously struck a chord with a lot of people. I've seen one poll where 70% of Canadians have said they believe the leader of their country should have only one citizenship. Another one was basically 50/50. Not exactly insignificant numbers.

Don't try to squash this debate. It's healthy. Don't be too quick to play the 'bigot' card for people who have an opion that doesn't fit yours.

leonsp said...

The current President of Latvia gave up her Canadian citizenship to become President, but then Latvia only allows dual citizenship in exceptional situations. That, inconveniently, means that I am no longer one. Automatic EU citizenship would have been a nice perk to have.

Sarah said...

I think this is superbly written, and personally I think that Dion should absolutely not give up his French citizenship if he is elected.

About the big rumblings of dissatisfaction though, I'd like to point out the statistic that was I think quoted in the Globe&Mail yesterday (I can't remember exactly) that even among the still fairly large number of Canadians who aren't totally enamoured with gay marriage, when asked about where the issue ranked in terms of importance, it was pretty much off the radar. I have the feeling that this is the same situation - when asked directly, a lot of people reply they aren't sure about it, but in the grand scheme of things I don't think it really matters.

Sarah said...

Ahah, by elected, I mean becomes PM.

robedger said...

We musn't forget two people who joined the chorus to attack Dion on this point: Jack Layton and Pat Martin.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, rob, wouldn't it be nice for you if this really was all about Dion versus the NDP. Too bad people can see through your transparent efforts to turn IP's thoughtful post into your own blind partisan bleating.

Anonymous said...

previous anon:

amen! thanks, rob, for reminding me of why I don't actually want to vote for the liberals...your convention was so cool that i forgot for a while. but it sure doesn't take much to bring back that familar old uberpartisan arrogance.

jane

Arrogant Polyglot said...

IP, I agree with you entirely on all points, chiefly when it comes to choice. There is no reason why you can't be both Canadian and American! To say one has to choose one nationality over another would be no different than demanding X, whose mother is Chinese and whose father is white Anglo-Canadian, to be either Chinese or Canadian--not both. If one cannot draw a neat and tidy biracial line, how could it then be possible to draw a binational line in the same way? Hooey, I say.

As Dion has dual citizenship, there's no reason for him to discard it, no matter how practical the purpose of keeping it. Plus, it's for his mom!

Anonymous said...

Another dual citizen raises her hand here, to say that part of this (which, believe me, is making me furiously angry on an ongoing basis) is perhaps about the quite recent nature of Canada's committment (such as it is) to multiculturalism. Because this really is something that has become part of the Canadian self-definition over the course of my lifetime so far, and so maybe it's not actually all that surprising that it can turn out to be shallowly rooted at times.

I grew up with the knowledge that, at 18, I would have to choose only one citizenship. It was really only shortly before I did turn 18 that Canada permitted dual citizenships freely enough that I didn't have to make that choice.

I *hope*, I really really hope, that this debate will end up re-establishing the multicultural view of what it means to be Canadian. But I have to say that at the moment, the signs do not seem encouraging.

-- maggie h

dirk said...

Its not about duel citizenship its about Dion being from Quebec and France,its about intolerance and different standards depending on ones politics.There was not a peep when John Turner lead the country,he had duel citizenship.
Its an issue in the minds of small minds

famousringo said...

Maggie H is right. The national myth of Canada as a cultural mosiac only came to the forefront thirty or so years ago, so it's not surprising that a fair number of people don't quite get it yet.

Honestly, the whole debate seems like it comes from sixty years ago. "Randy's mother is german, he must be spying for them!"

People who think dual citizenship is an issue haven't stepped into the 21st century yet. Nowadays, this kind of brainless nationalism isn't good for much except selling beer and buying the votes of the shallow.

Anonymous said...

Good points. Upon closer inspection, "loyalty" and "convenience" have little to do with citizenship (a relationship between an individual and a state) at all.

First, loyalty. Friends aren't loyal because they have a sheet of paper that say they're loyal, but because they behave in a loyal way. And they may have other friends to whom they are also loyal! All at the same time, with no official certificates. People expect loyalty from their friends without asking them to rescind their other friendships, so the concept of dual (multiple) loyalties is widely understood, but when applied to citizenship evokes jingoistic reactions for whatever reason.

Then there's convenience. Are there Canadians somewhere out there not paying enough taxes? That's a tax issue. Country X can require (if they so wish) citizens of X to pay taxes T even if citizen X resides in country Y. So that's independent of whether or not citizen X is also a citizen of Y or Z. Wait a minute! What about single-citizenship Canadians who evade taxes? Are they loyal?

So the citizenship issue is overblown, to our detriment.

Tyrone said...

Multiculturalism vs melting pot is a politely Canadian fiction. In practice, the two operate virtually identically.

Immigrants to both Canada and the US continue to worship the same way, cook the same foods, celebrate the same festivals, and speak the same language at home as they did in their countries of origin. It is not even remotely realistic to expect them to do otherwise.

Canadian right-wingers love to complain that the US' melting pot supposedly integrates immigrants much better than Canada. Cross the border, and American right-wingers whine that immigrants are speaking Spanish too much and not integrating. By "integration" of course, they really mean "assimilation". In reality, it takes a generation, sometimes two, to fully assimilate immigrant populations. If you don't want ethnic ghettoes, don't accept immigrants. It's as simple as that.

Adopting US-style policies would neither satisfy nativists nor make much actual difference on how immigrants live their lives.

As for dual citizenship, the country that has the most dual citizens with Canada is far and away the USA. Many of these are Canadian-born who have emigrated to the US, or had children born there. For them to be stripped of their Canadian citizenship merely for emigrating would probably be unconstitutional, and so it should remain.

Jen said...

Sorry to get to this one so late, IP, thank you for your post! I would echo the above call for you to reprint this somewhere, at least in a letter to the editor, perhaps not word for word, but expressing the same sentiment. It's a side of the debate that needs to be more represented in the media I believe.