Maryam Monsef controversy highlights absurd citizenship law: Editorial
The case of the democratic institutions minister’s birthplace confusion illustrates well the absurdity of a piece of Harper-era legislation still being applied today.
Wed., Sept. 28, 2016
What is to be done in the wake of the Maryam Monsef birthplace controversy?
By now the story is well known: The democratic engagement minister turns out not to be Canada’s first Afghan-born Member of Parliament, as both she and the prime minister had claimed. Rather, she was born in Iran, near the Afghan border. Monsef says she didn’t know the truth, that her mother never thought it necessary to tell her. But, wittingly or not, she distorted her biography. So should she apologize? Resign? Have her citizenship revoked?
If that last option seems cruelly disproportionate, you might be surprised to learn that such action is permissible under Canadian law and even common in situations like Monsef’s. The minister’s case illustrates well the absurdity of a piece of Harper-era legislation that is still being applied today.
According to the law, if a person misrepresents their birthplace on a refugee claim, they may lose their citizenship and be deported regardless of whether they had any intent to deceive. The determination is made by a single government official and the refugee is given no hearing or recourse.
“When we get a parking ticket, we have a right to a court hearing,” says Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. “And yet for citizens to lose their entitlement to membership in Canada based on allegations of something they may or may not have said 20 years ago, they have no hearing? It just doesn’t make any sense.” Paterson is part of a group that launched a constitutional challenge to the law on Monday.
Immigration Minister John McCallum at one time agreed that the process was unfair. When he was in opposition, he called the law “dictatorial” and promised to amend it once elected. Yet in their first months in office, the Liberals have continued to aggressively apply the law – at a rate of roughly 18 citizenship revocations per month – and have ignored calls to put a hold on the process until they revise the policy as promised.
Refugee applicants should not be allowed to lie their way into Canada. But nor should innocent mistakes or the mendacity of family members cost long-time Canadians their citizenship or put people back in harm’s way – and certainly not without a hearing.
Of course, the Liberal government will not deport its minister for her mistake. The silliness of the suggestion should force it finally to make good on its sensible promise to revise the law and to put a hold on the process in the meantime. Of all the possible outcomes of this tempest in a teapot over Monsef’s birthplace, that would be by far the most just.