What Does it Mean to be a Canadian Citizen?

27 Nov 2005

For many immigrants, Canada represents a chance for freedom; a country of new opportunities and for some, a place of refuge from violent and impoverished homelands. However, getting your Canadian Citizenship doesn’t necessarily mean that you have full access to the rights that every Canadian should have.

In the past two weeks, with the indictment of Lord Conrad Black in the American courts and the ongoing case against the U.S government by Maher Arar, the liberties that should be granted to Canadians have been both abused and ignored.

Conrad Black, 61, was born in Montreal, Quebec. In 2001, after living in London, England for twelve years and where his newspaper offices were located, he relinquished his Canadian Citizenship in order to claim British Citizenship and the title of Lordship. In May of 1999, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair told Black that he would be elevated to a peerage, which would give him an appointment to the British House of Lords, on the condition that he became a U.K. citizen.

Then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien tried to block Black’s appointment, but the Ontario Superior Court ruled in March of 2000 that Chrétien’s attempt was beyond judicial review. Black became ‘Lord Black of Cross Harbour’ keeping a residence in Toronto and remaining as then CEO of the National Post.

After being ousted as CEO of Hollinger International, the Chicago- based corporation in 2003, Lord Black was indicted on November 17th of this year on eight counts of fraud in relation to his tenure at Hollinger. If he is found guilty, he faces up to 40 years in an American prison. While defending himself on all charges, he has decided that, if found guilty, he would rather spend his time in a Canadian prison. So he has decided that he wants his Canadian Citizenship back.

In September 2002, Canadian Citizen Maher Arar was stopped by airport officials at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City on his way back to Canada, after traveling to Tunisia on vacation. He was then arrested and deported back to Syria, the home of his birth. A Canadian citizen since arriving in Montreal as a teenager, he had studied at McGill University and graduated from the Engineering Department.

After he was notified that his name was on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects, he was initially held in an American prison for thirteen days and soon found himself on a plane, filled with members of the Special Removal Unit. When arriving in Syria, he was tortured to the point where he felt that complying with what the interrogators wanted him to say was the only way to save his life. A year later, in October, 2003, he was released without charges, after the Canadian Government finally acted upon the protests of his family.

It was later revealed that he was arrested under a covert program which was devised as a means of transferring terrorist suspects from one country to another for interrogation or prosecution. It was also found that the reason why Arar was flagged at the airport was because of the presumption that he had known the brother of another suspected terrorist. Arar is currently suing the U.S government for his deportation and torture, based on the argument that the U.S was ‘outsourcing’ individuals to countries that practiced torture, as it is illegal to use physical interrogation in America.

Canada operates an immigration system which, in part, allows wealthy immigrants to obtain permanent residency status if they are willing to invest into Canadian enterprises. Under this law, Black could certainly regain his Canadian status, but only if he can get his citizenship back before he is convicted in the U.S courts. Otherwise, as a convicted criminal, he cannot be granted permanent residency.

But unlike Arar, Black, if convicted after if his residency request is granted, will serve his time in a prison which has luxuries that the prison in which Arar, who was held illegally, did not. Black will not be tortured or interrogated, or as Arar described his experience, as being ‘treated like an animal.’

Arar, whose rights as a Canadian citizen mysteriously disappeared as soon as he landed in New York, has and will spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to clear his name by complying with the federal government’s help – help that only came after Jean Chrétien intervened on his behalf. Hopefully his case will also shed light on the injustices that other non-Canadian born citizens, such as such as Muayyed Nurreddin, a Torontonian who was also detained in Syria, and whom some critics believe that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) tipped his information to Syrian authorities, who detained him at the airport on his way to Toronto.

Granted, the relationship between the U.S and Canada in regards to national security has been tense at best. According to a report presented by Joe Bissett, former Executive Director of the Canadian Immigration Service at a 2003 North American meeting of the Trilateral Commission, even before 9/11, Americans had concerns that Canada was not “pulling it’s weight” in regards to military spending. After the terrorist attack, Bissett adds that then Prime Minister Chrétien’s opinion of the terrorist attack, which focused on economic disparity between the regions of the world was perceived as an “unsympathetic and misguided” response by the U.S government. The relationship was also strained when Canada chose not to provide soldiers in active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, but instead, provided soldiers for peacekeeping and humanitarian duties. While Canada did not face the vitriolic smear campaign from the media that France did after they chose not to support the U.S invasions, the case of Arar’s flight to Syria as a Canadian Citizen remain suspicious.

As of now, the Canadian public is at odds whether Black’s request for Canadian Citizenship should be reinstated, but most likely, it will as the Immigration system, as featured in the National Film Board’s 1989 documentary, Who Gets In? can be bought and sold. Money talks and discrimination and fear, seem to have overpowered common rationality and most importantly, democracy.

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