OTTAWA - A new law allowing the government to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of certain serious crimes is prompting fears among some ethnic communities that they'll be unfairly stigmatized.
Those from countries that don't allow dual citizenship told government focus groups last year they had no issue with the law stripping of Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or spying offences.
But other participants said while they agreed people convicted of such offences should be punished, they were alarmed by the potential longer-term implications of the measures.
"For participants from places where dual citizenship is permitted, such as India or the Philippines, there were clear concerns that dual citizens as a whole were being stigmatized and singled out," says a newly-published report on the Citizenship and Immigration department sessions.
"...It also left many wondering whether they should still consider retaining dual citizenship with their original home country out of fear that their Canadian citizenship could be revoked more easily by virtue of the fact that they are dual citizens or out of fear that with time, the criteria for revoking citizenship for a dual citizen is expanded."
The ability to revoke a dual national's Canadian citizenship was contained in a law passed last year that overhauled many elements of the Canadian citizenship program. The revocation provisions only came into effect last month.
The government has given no indication that the Strengthening Citizenship Act would be expanded to apply to other crimes; the revocation measures were explained as a direct response to ongoing global terrorist threats.
"For these serious crimes, we think there is a need to send a very clear message that citizenship is a responsibility that we all have, and in the case of dual nationals they can lose the privilege of being a citizen if they engage in these signal acts of disloyalty," Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told the immigration committee last year.
But human rights groups have argued the new provisions effectively create two tiers of Canadian citizenship, one for those born in Canada and one for those born elsewhere.
Several have included the issue as part of their briefs to the United Nations Human Rights Committee's scheduled review this week of how well Canada is meeting its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In the focus groups, however, what seemed to be more on participants' minds were the other changes to the citizenship process, including the longer residency requirement and new fees.
So they wondered why, in a proposed television ad they were asked to review discussing the changes, the government was focused elsewhere.
"The main criticism participants had about the television concept was the reference to protecting all Canadians from dual citizens who commit terrorist acts. This was seen as out of place in an otherwise 'feel good ad'," the report said.
"On a related note, participants questioned why the advertisement provided detail regarding the revocation policy, which applies to the few, while being vague on other changes that would impact on more individuals who are applying for citizenship."
The series of 14 focus groups were held in December in B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec to solicit the views of those who have been in Canada less than 10 years on a range of issues.