Ahmad Saeid: Citizenship that is easy to lose is not a strong citizenship

An open letter to the Canadian Senate
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I have never set a foot in a country where I was considered a citizen. I was born in Kuwait, and so was my father, but we both belong to the more than 100,000 individuals in Kuwait who remain stateless. My nieces and nephews are the third generation of our family who are deprived of many rights everyone in the world takes for granted. These are rights like the right to have an ID (literally, an identity card!), the right to have a passport, the right to be legally equal to everyone else, the right to belong, and the right to have a country that you can call your own, among many others.

Kuwait also happens to be a country where the law allows for multiple classes of citizenship, with each one entitled to rights different from others, based on a legally detailed hierarchy. For example, unlike first-class citizenship (this is the actual legal term), second-class citizenship (a wide concept that includes subcategories) can be revoked.

In the Kuwaiti law, there is no process to acquire citizenship, except when foreign women marry Kuwaiti men. Kuwaiti law also doesn’t allow courts to review citizenship cases. That is why many generations can be born without ever having the opportunity to be naturalized.

This mindset in the Kuwaiti system has led to many legal and social complications that extend even beyond the scope of citizenship. It has changed the whole way Kuwaitis view themselves and others. Kuwait’s human right records on issues of statelessness and the treatment of foreign workers are well documented example for everyone to see. Human Rights Watch published several studies on these issues.

I fled Kuwait and came to Canada because I believed I would join a free society. One where there is tolerance, equality, rule of law, and separation of powers.

I found many of the rights I was looking for, and in the meanwhile I lost few others. But overall I felt more at home, and more “entitled” than I used to be. As a permanent resident I am, in general, legally entitled to the same rights and bound by the same responsibilities as any citizen. This was one of the things I loved most about Canada. It gave me the feeling I am living in a truly free and beautiful society, one that I will be proud to belong to, and one where I can be a full citizen, on equal grounds with everyone else.

But recently, something happened that has the potential to change that.

In February, the minister of citizenship and immigration introduced Bill C-24. Many legal experts said that the so-called “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” will create two classes of Canadian citizens. I agree with them.

The Canadian Bar Association expressed deep concerns about several aspects in the bill.

“The CBA opposes the expansion of the grounds to revoke citizenship and, for the first time, subjecting natural born Canadians who may be entitled to claim citizenship from another country to having their Canadian citizenship removed,” a CBA statement reads.

The law gives any minister of citizenship and immigration the discretionary power to revoke the citizenship of any Canadian who has a claim to any other citizenship, without allowing that person to stand in front of a judge to make his case. The citizen’s side of the story might never be heard.

While speaking as a witness in front of the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, Robin Seligman, an immigration lawyer, said: “Under this legislation, if you were convicted, you are done, with no right of review. You can’t add all the circumstances of your case, so judicial review would be totally inappropriate under these circumstances.”

Seligman also said: “A parking ticket has more rights than Bill C-24. You get your day in court.”

The power to deprive any citizen of his citizenship sounds like something that would come from the Kuwaiti law, or the Iranian law, but not in Canada! If someone told me four years ago that I would be writing this letter, I wouldn’t have believed him.

Is it too much to expect a free society that you intend to join to guarantee a citizen’s right to a fair trial before banishing him from society and completely alienating him?

The proposed bill does forbid the minister from revoking the citizenship of a person who would otherwise be stateless. But it leaves the burden of proofing statelessness on the person in question. I don’t even want to begin speculating how one would go about proving the negative!

However, this is not the biggest question here. A more important question is which kind of a nation Canada really is? Am I escaping to a society that is on its way to become what I escaped from? If that’s the case, then would it be better to remain stateless? At least this is one thing no single person in the world can take away from me at his discretion.

In my opinion, the moment a nation begins dividing people into classes, it begins descending into blindness, ignorance, and inhumanity. I have seen where this leads. It’s ugly.

I hope Canada will be as beautiful a country as I believe it to be, so for the first time in my life I can stand proudly and with certainty call this land my country.

I appeal to the Senate of Canada to amend or turn down Bill C-24, and protect the rights of Canadian citizens to due judicial process before citizenship revocation.

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