Citizenship is a state of the mind. It is about personal identity and loyalty. Citizenship does not exist in a plastic card or a little blue covered booklet. It is not what other people say who you are, but who you think you are.
Canada has a long history of accepting people holding dual allegiances. Indeed, this country was founded by people who had a strong desire to swear allegiance to the British monarch as a colony rather than as an independent state. The French population in the formative years of Canada held similar allegiance to France. The aboriginal people of Canada have never given up their hope of nationhood.
When the First World War broke out, although Canada was not directly attacked, our forefathers proudly went to the aid of England, the homeland of many of the Canadians of the time. By action and by deed, we, as a country, had demonstrated that dual allegiance was not only acceptable, but honoured.
In the last three decades, we, as a nation, have grown up. We are now more confident of ourselves. We now have our own Constitution. Our Supreme Court is now the final Court of Appeal. We no longer need to seek the approval of another country to change our Constitution.
Some think that with that we need to cut our ties with the country whence we came. Still others argue that Canadians should swear allegiance only to Canada and no other country.
Some people also point out that Canadians should be allowed to carry only one plastic card proclaiming their Canadian citizenship. Canadians, these critics say, should not be allowed to carry another little booklet that identifies them as citizens of another country.
But is this what citizenship is all about?
During the Second World War, our soldiers did not fight to defend our territory. They fought to defend our way of life. They laid down their lives so we could enjoy our freedom. Their sacrifices allow us to live in a society that is ruled by law. Laws that are enacted by a freely elected assembly; interpreted by an independent judiciary; and applied by corruption free law enforcement bodies.
In other words, they fought to defend our values. The values that they fought for include equity, due process of the law and fairness.
In my mind, citizenship is about sharing and subscribing to these set of commonly held values. Canadians may express these values in a variety of ways based on their cultural, economical and religious background. People may have different priorities when it comes to these values, but these values set us apart as Canadians.
So as long as people subscribe to and willing to defend such values, why should we care if they also hold citizenship of another country? And if people do not share or subscribe to such values, what good is it for us to limit them to just holding a Canadian citizenship to the exclusion of all others?
Of course, there are practical matters to consider. Things like the cost of providing consular services to Canadians of dual citizenship who chose to live abroad. Matters like the cost of providing medical services to the Canadian Diaspora population when they grow old and decide to return to Canada to live. Issues like the cost of providing education to the children of Canadians who chose to live and work abroad, but leave their children behind.
I believe there is a simple solution to these economic concerns. Canada should implement an income tax regime similar to the United States. As long as a person is a Canadian citizen, he or she should be required to file annual Canadian income tax returns regardless of his or her place of residence.
With close to 2.7 million Canadians living abroad according Asia Pacific Foundation, our government should be able to collect sufficient tax revenues to look after current and future services to the Canadian Diaspora population.
Since we cannot have taxation without representation, we should put programs in place to encourage Canadian overseas to participate in federal and provincial elections based on their last place of residence in Canada. In so doing, we will ensure that they stay connected to Canada and we stay connected to them.
The positive effects of having 2.7 million committed, connected and concerned Canadians living abroad can only be limited by one’s imagination.
These people could promote two way trades with their current place of residence. They could encourage cultural exchanges. They could act as our good will ambassadors.
For all these reasons, I am in favour of keeping our proud tradition of allowing people to have dual citizenship.