Divide still evident in dual-citizenship debate
Mike Blanchfield, CanWest News Service
Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2007
OTTAWA — One year after the war in Lebanon sparked the mass evacuation of 15,000 Canadians, no one knows for sure how many Lebanese-Canadians actually went back to their established lives there, after their taxpayer-funded rescue.
But one thing is certain: the debate over Canadian dual national citizenship
sparked by the crisis continues to simmer one year later, with hard feelings on
both sides of the issue. Much of that may have been fuelled by an
unsubstantiated report that suggested half those rescued simply went back to
Critics say the Conservative government’s ongoing examination of dual citizenship is unfair or insensitive, and tarnishes many hardworking and loyal immigrants.
Others, including some of Lebanese descent, do not like the fact that some — again, no one knows for sure how many — Lebanese-Canadians simply went back to their established lives in Lebanon, and tucked away their Canadian passports for the next emergency.
“If you are on vacation and you are a taxpayer, you are entitled to get all the help that your government could afford,” said Elias Bejjani, chairman of the Lebanese-Canadian Co-ordinating Council.
As for those who simply took the free ride — a sealift from Beirut to Cyprus or Turkey and then a flight back to Canada — and who don’t pay taxes in Canada, Bejjani said they probably should have been billed. Last fall, then-immigration minister Monte Solberg served notice that the government was going to review dual citizenship because Canadians want to know “that we’re not just a port in a storm” for people who don’t pay taxes from abroad but are “going to be using our social programs down the road.” The review is continuing under current Immigration Minister Diane Finley.
The issue was stoked by a television report, citing unnamed sources, that 7,000 of the 15,000 rescued Lebanese-Canadians went back to Lebanon within a month of their rescue. In all, the rescue effort cost the federal government nearly $100 million. That figure of 7,000, cited by CTV News, has been bandied about publicly, but the people in government you would expect would be aware of such a number simply do not know where it came from.
Ever notice how when you leave Canada, no government official asks you where you are going, said Dan Dugas, the spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.“Canada does not have exit controls so it doesn’t track the movement of its citizens.”
The one federal public servant who knows most about this subject agrees, and
explains further. Tina Chiu is the chief of the immigration and ethno-cultural
statistics program for Statistics Canada.
“There are a number of methodological challenges to that,” Chiu explained.
For one, it is voluntary for Canadians to report where they are going to their government, she said. That means signing your name at the Canadian Embassy of a country in which you have just landed, or registering your presence on-line. There are other considerations for Canadians, added Chiu. Should you register when taking a holiday, or for a “longer term migration?”“It’s hard to demand of the population to do that, so it’s up to the individual to decide whether to register,” said Chiu.“At the same time, people need to deregister when they leave, so there’s a challenge with that too.” Liberal immigration critic Omar Alghbra said the government should study how citizenship is acquired, and whether some people are exploiting it to gain access to Canada’s social safety net or other benefits. But he thinks the government’s study of dual citizenship is unduly divisive and unfair to immigrants and Canadians who have chosen to live abroad for valid family or professional reasons.
“What I was concerned about was how it was stereotyped and generalized to thousands and thousands of Canadians who have earned their citizenship and have been loyal to their country, yet they are made to feel guilty."
Liberal foreign affairs critic Ujjal Dosanjh wondered whether the same objections would have been raised if 100,000 Canadians living in the U.S. fled north after some catastrophe only to go back later when the situation improved. As the former premier of British Columbia, Dosanjh has watched this debate unfold as the flood of Asians from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan raised similar concerns in his province.
Dosanjh does not favour a review of dual citizenship. “When you’re a Canadian citizen, you’re a Canadian citizen. You can’t have gradations of citizenship. We have decided as a country, along with 59 other countries that we are going to have dual citizenship.”
Neither Dosanjh nor Bejjani, who lives in Toronto after arriving from Lebanon via Kuwait 22 years ago, believes that 7,000 Lebanese-Canadians actually went back to Lebanon last summer. Bejjani said the number is likely closer to 4,000 but he admits he has no way of knowing despite strong contacts in the Lebanese community. He said he is aware of only two families in the Toronto area that went back after they were rescued.
Even so, Bejjani said Canada benefited from the return of these people even if
the government spent money rescuing them in the first place.
“If they had stayed here they would have been jobless, they would have been on welfare. While in Lebanon, they had their businesses. I believe if you calculate the expenses — what we would have paid as Canadian taxpayers — it is much better that these people left,” said Bejjani.
He said the evacuation was well worth the cost.
“It proved to the whole world that the Canadian government, the Canadian people, the Canadian taxpayers, are caring people and they come to the rescue of their own people when there is a need or an emergency.”
Ottawa Citizen © CanWest News Service 2007