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Is Canadian Citizenship a « clean slate »?

by Felipe Morales

This case involves a very sensitive and potentially divisive question: when a refugee becomes a Canadian Citizen, does he cease to be a « refugee »? Miodrag Zaric, a Bosnian Serb came to Canada in the 1990’s as refugee claiming he had deserted the Bosnian Serb forces. In 2001 he was granted Canadian citizenship.

Subsequent information revealed he may have committed crimes and had not been forthcoming and truthful at his refugee hearings or in his citizenship applications. Thus the Minister of Public Security under s.109 of the IRPA filed an application to Vacate his refugee status. Mr. Zaric contested arguing that the application was moot since he was now a Canadian Citizen.

The IRB agreed and dismissed the Minister’s application, where application for Judicial Review was submitted to the Federal Court.

In a strangely reasoned decision, Judge Fothergill found that « There is nothing in the language of s 109 to suggest that an application by the Minister to vacate refugee protection cannot be made if the claimant has subsequently become a citizen of Canada. »

This reasoning opens a dangerous door: is Canadian Citizenship a relative concept? Once a refugee becomes a Canadian citizen, does the need for « refuge » stop and hence the person is no longer a « refugee » being sheltered and kept by Canada and belong thereafter to Canada?

The Citizenship Act already has provisions to cancel or annul citizenship if obtained by misrepresentation and fraud. This decision causes trouble on two fronts: 1) First it may create a legal requirement to first cancel a person’s past refugee status as a condition precedent to removal of citizenship and most important 2) Second it creates a legal devaluation of Canadian Citizenship since the naturalization process itself will no longer be deemed sufficient to render permanent residents or refugees equal in the eyes of their government to native born Canadians.

Thankfully, the issue was certified and hopefully the Federal Court of Appeal will overturn this reasoning.