Oct 16, 2015
New law makes Canadian Jews second-class citizens
By: David Berger, Philip Berger, Tzeporah Berman, Mitchell Goldberg
The past 10 years have seen many changes that have fundamentally altered the Canada that we love.
The Conservative government has made it more difficult for refugees to find safety for themselves and their children on our shores. It has passed Bill C-51 anti-terror laws that threaten fundamental civil rights and expand state espionage against citizens, even over objections from national security experts that the new laws will not make us safer. It has singled out certain “others” within Canadian society as the object of fear, for political benefit.
These are just a few examples of how this government has pitted Canadians against each other. Perhaps the starkest example of the divisions that this government has created, in legal terms, are the changes to citizenship law that formally creates unequal classes of Canadians. The new law has transformed every Canadian Jew into a second-class citizen.
Jewish Canadians remember Canada policy on Jewish immigration from the 1930s: “none is too many.” We remember the way Japanese Canadians were interned and stripped of citizenship in the 1940s. There are haunting echoes of this discrimination in the new law, Bill C-24, that creates one set of rules for “Old Stock” Canadians who can never be deported, no matter what crimes they commit, and another set of rules for Canadians who either possess, or could be eligible for, a second citizenship. They can be stripped of their citizenship for committing certain crimes – even if they are convicted in countries with no respect for democracy and the rule of law.
Let’s be clear. We have no sympathy for criminals and terrorists. All Canadians convicted of a crime deserve to be sentenced. Yet we believe it is absurd to apply different rules to Canadians who commit the same crime, based on where they or their families were born. This is discrimination, baked right into the law that is supposed to treat us all as equals.
Many Canadians are not aware how far-reaching this law could be. The provisions that could banish dual citizens can also apply to Canadians who might be able to obtain a second citizenship. This would include Canadian-born citizens who are descendants of many countries that grant citizenship to children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren born abroad. Many countries, like Italy, Ireland, and India grant citizenship or easier access to citizenship to members of their diaspora.
Jews are second-class citizens under this law. That’s because the Law of Return gives an almost automatic right of Israeli residency and citizenship to any Jew. Every Canadian with citizenship or a right of citizenship abroad now has conditional rights to be a Canadian. It doesn’t even matter that you or your ancestral family have not lived in Israel for the past 2,000 years. Because a government official could argue that the Law of Return means you won’t be stateless if your Canadian citizenship is taken away, the second-class citizenship law applies to you.
It doesn’t matter that you might never commit one of the serious offences listed as grounds for revocation of citizenship – a list that the Prime Minister has said they will consider expanding. What matters is that all Canadians used to have the same citizenship rights, no matter what their origins.
Now we don’t. Canadians have now been divided into classes of citizens, — those with more rights, and those – overwhelmingly immigrants to Canada and their children and grandchildren – who have fewer rights. Those who can never ever lose their citizenship, and those of us – like Canadian Jews – who now could possibly have our citizenship stripped, according to law. That is not what Canada is about.
Until C-24 is erased from the books, the law now says that some Canadians belong, and some belong here less.
The idea that Jews, and other Canadians, are now covered by this law of banishment certainly casts a bitter taste to our refrain of “next year in Jerusalem.” All citizens should be alarmed that our government is attempting to create different rules for “old stock” Canadians and for the rest of us. That is unworthy of the Canada we love.
David Berger is a former member of Parliament for Westmount and practices Immigration law.
Dr. Philip Berger is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Tzeporah Berman is an environmental leader and adjunct professor of environmental studies at York University.
Mitchell Goldberg is a refugee lawyer and president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.