It's 1997. Quebec has just seceded and there's a federal election in the nine remaining provinces and two territories of Canada. The newly-established Canadian consulate in Montreal finds itself mobbed with thousands of Quebecers demanding their right to vote in the upcoming election. Since the 1993 general election, Canadian citizens living abroad for less than five years have been allowed to vote by mail. So despite Quebec separation, Quebecers retain the right to vote in federal elections under the Canada Elections Act. If a Canadian citizen living in Minneapolis or Milan can vote in a Canadian election, why can't a Canadian citizen living in Montreal?

The prospect of millions of Quebecers seeking the right to vote in a Canadian election even though they no longer live in Canada is one of the more bizarre possiblities resulting from the Parti Quebecois's promise that Quebec citizens can keep their Canadian citizenship if they want to after separation.

Here's another: Quebec may have separated, but every day thousands of Quebecers continue to stream over the Ottawa River from the Quebec suburbs of Hull and Gatineau to their federal jobs in Ottawa. The Public Service Commission is under pressure to fire these employees who manage to claim a federal salary while not even paying Canadian income tax. But Ottawa can't do a thing. The employees have all retained their Canadian citizenship.

In the meantime, a newly-independent Quebec imposes strict rules that insist that everybody from provincial civil servants to teachers and doctors must be Quebec citizens to practice their professions. And Canadians in the rest of the country have no claim on Quebec citizenship.

The prospect of dual citizenship leads to another anomaly. The fledgling Quebec state decides that it can't really afford much of an international diplomatic presence. The new country's tiny diplomatic corps is stretched to the limit, trying to put out brushfires in Washington over trade issues, maintain "fraternal" relations with France and assuage nervous investors in Japan.

There's no money left for missions in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and other favorite Caribbean haunts for Quebec tourists. But no problem. The Quebec government simply advises its 6.5 million citizens (another 300,000 Quebec residents are students, visitors or landed immigrants awaiting qualification for citizenship) to use their Canadian passports abroad and turn to the nearest Canadian diplomatic mission whenever they lose their travellers' cheques or get arrested.

Holding on to Canadian passports has other advantages to Quebecers. They continue to benefit from visa-free access to a range of countries, the fruit of Canada's hard-won reputation as global nice guy. With their trusty passports in hand, Quebec exporters continue to masquerade as Canadians as do Quebec consultants and other professionals looking for work with international agencies.


According to this rosy separatist scenario, millions of Quebecers would be able to keep their Canadian citizenship even though they no longer reside in Canada, as well as profit from any advantages Quebec may want to bestow on them as citizens. Of course, the same benefits wouldn't be available to Canadians residing in the rest of the country. According to the PQ, Canadians could become citizens of Quebec with no waiting period, but there's a small caveat. That's only if a Canadian citizen decides to become "domiciled in Quebec."

So let's go over this again. Quebecers all automatically gain dual citizenship in Quebec and Canada after secession even though they no longer reside in Canada. Meanwhile, Canadians in the rest of the country suddenly find themselves citizens of a diminished Canada with rights to citizenship in Quebec only if they move there. Not a bad deal for Quebecers? Right. And according to the Parti Quebecois, there's nothing the rest of the country can do about it. When Barbara McDougall, the onetime Tory external affairs minister, suggested in 1991 that Quebecers who want to keep their Canadian citizenship after separation would have to move to Canada, Parizeau ridiculed the suggestion that Ottawa could strip Quebecers of their citizenship. He said that Canada's Citizenship Act recognizes dual citizenship and it was absurd to think that Canada would allow dual citizenship to "residents of all the countries of the world, including the Samoa Islands, but not Quebec."

What Parizeau failed to mention is that historical experience and advice from legal experts, including a prominent separatist, confirms that an independent Quebec can't dictate the terms of Canadian citizenship. Dual citizenship "à la Parizeau" is unlikely ever to be permitted by the Canadian Parliament. While Canada recognizes dual citizenship now, that's unlikely to continue when one-quarter of the population suddenly switch allegiance and become citizens of a foreign country.


Canadians who prize their citizenship today may be under the mistaken impression that citizenship came with Confederation in 1867. But like the Maple Leaf flag and O Canada as national anthem, Canadian citizenship is a relatively recent invention, a reflection of Canada's slow and sometimes reluctant march to asserting its own identity. Until the first Citizenship Act was passed in 1947, Canadians were defined simply as British subjects. That first Citizenship Act wasn't without controversy. Many English Canadians resisted the idea of a separate Canadian citizenship, fearing it would weaken Commonwealth ties. In what would seem ironic today, it was French Canadian nationalists who argued most forcefully that the primary loyalty of Canadians should be to Canada and not to the British Empire.

Until Citizenship Act regulations were changed in 1973, anybody who became naturalized as a Canadian was required to renounce their previous citizenship. But this so-called ban on dual citizenship didn't work very well because of the way other countries look at their citizenship. France, for example, didn't permit its citizens to renounce their citizenship at all so the ban on dual citizenship didn't work when a Frenchman was naturalized as a Canadian. The flip side of this rule was that if a Canadian were naturalized abroad, except in the case of marriage, he or she automatically lost their Canadian citizenship. But this became increasingly complicated to administer because it demanded that Ottawa keep track not only of who is a citizen but who isn't one as well.

So the 1977 Citizenship Act dropped the objection to dual citizenship. Once born a Canadian, you're always a Canadian, even if you accept another citizenship. Although most Canadians value their citizenship, the list of privileges that citizenship brings is shorter than many would think. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives citizens only three specific rights but they are important--the right to vote and hold public office federally and provincially, the right to enter and leave Canada (that means you can't be deported from Canada if you're found guilty of a criminal offence) and the right to minority language education. The Charter grants other rights to everyone, which has prompted Charter challenges of a variety of rules that favour citizens over landed immigrants and others. In one well-known case, the Charter was used to strike down a rule which allowed only citizens to practice law in British Columbia.

Though the list of privileges may not be long, Canadian citizenship and Canadian passports are highly valued around the world.


The Quebec situation when it comes to citizenship is far from unique. Changes in citizenship have affected millions of people since the Second World War, first with the decolonization process in Africa and Asia, and more lately as the map of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has been reshaped in the wake of Communism's collapse.

Questions of citizenship are often fraught with tension, particularly when ethnic and linguistic differences are at stake. But dual citizenship is seldom part of the outcome. When Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965, dual citizenship lasted only for several years as Singapore built its separate identity. Dual citizenship is now banned by both countries. "You can be one or the other," says a Singapore diplomat.

Conflict over citizenship has been most evident in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia where these newly-independent states are reluctant to offer full citizenship rights to their large Russian minorities, who are regarded by many as vestiges of the hated Soviet rule. In Estonia, non-Estonians, most of them Russians, make up 37 per cent of the country's population of 1.6 million. Most of the Russians want to stay in the country but the Estonians are insisting that they demonstrate knowledge of Estonian before they can take out citizenship or even keep their jobs. Some Russians are worried about being deported.

Faced with a similar problem of what to do with its Russian residents, the Latvian Parliament recently set a quota system that would allow only 2,000 resident aliens a year to become Latvian citizens. Under pressure from the Council of Europe, from Russia, and even the U.S., the Latvians amended the law to allow the naturalization of most non-Russians born in Latvia by 2000; those born outside Latvia can become citizens starting in 2000. But Russians will have to know some Latvian language, know the basic principles of the Latvian Constitution, the National Anthem and history of Latvia and swear an oath of loyalty to Latvia. For the Latvian government, dual citizenship doesn't exist. Even if a Latvian citizen is considered a citizen by another state, that person remains a Latvian only in the eyes of Latvia.

The most relevant example for Canadians comes in the former Czechoslovakia which split to become the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic in 1993. The old Czechoslovak citizenship disappeared with Czechs becoming citizens of the Czech Republic and Slovaks citizens of the Slovak Republic. Slovakia, which was less populous and less prosperous than the Czech Republic, suggested a joint form of citizenship but the Czechs, anxious to be rid of the Slovaks and concerned that Slovaks might flood the Czech lands looking for work, refused the suggestion. The Czechs also rejected any form of dual citizenship, even though the idea was fine with the Slovaks.

This became a problem for the estimated 300,000 Slovaks living in the Czech Republic, who had to choose between Czech and Slovak citizenship. Most opted for Czech citizenship. As for the 40,000 Czechs in Slovakia, they were allowed to remain as dual citizens.

But dual citizenship in the case of secessionist states is definitely the exception.


The special committee of the Quebec legislative committee on sovereignty concluded in its 1992 report that if Canada followed international practice, it would simply withdraw Canadian citizenship from its citizens resident in Quebec after separation. "Whatever happens, it appears to be in the interest of both Quebec and of Canada to avoid a situation where all Quebec residents would still hold Canadian nationality in a sovereign Quebec, in addition to or in place of Quebec nationality," the report concluded.

The committee based its conclusions on the testimony of Claude Emanuelli, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, who detailed all the ins and outs of what happens to citizenship where one state takes over the sovereignty of another. Normally, when a new country takes over control from an existing nation, it automatically accords its citizenship to all or part of the the inhabitants of the new territory. At the same time, the old country usually withdraws its citizenship from the inhabitants of the territory when they get their new citizenship. That's what happened in old British and French colonies. When colonies gained their independence, their residents generally lost their British and French citizenship.

Emaneuelli concluded in this way, "If Quebec becomes sovereign, Canada would be free to determine which individuals lose Canadian citizenship and Quebec would be free to say which of them gets Quebec nationality." Even Daniel Turp, an adviser to the Bloc Quebecois, said it's up to Quebec to decide who its citizens will be and it's the prerogative of the Canadian Parliament to determine whether Quebec citizens remain Canadian citizens. But Turp argues that if Canada keeps allowing dual citizenship, there's no reason for Quebec to refuse Quebec citizens the right to hold on to their old Canadian citizenship. In fact, he says it's best to leave Ottawa "the burden of this withdrawal and to apply to Quebecers a rule that wouldn't apply elsewhere to people obtaining the nationality of another sovereign nation."

Citizenship remains the ultimate prerogative of a sovereign state. The Parliament of Canada won't be deciding on the definition of Quebec citizenship. But neither will the Quebec National Assembly decide on who will or won't be a Canadian citizen.


It's fair to say that most Quebec separatists have little use for Canada and Canadian symbols. In fact, a favorite sport of theirs is to deride things Canadians, whether it's the Mounties, the Rocky Mountains or official bilingualism. So why insist on holding on to Canadian citizenship? In large part, it's a matter of reassuring Quebecers who aren't sure they want to risk the adventure of independence. What they're being told is that while separation allows them to get rid of the things they don't like about Canada, they can still keep the parts of Canada that make them feel secure, like citizenship, the dollar and the Canadian economic union.

This approach reflects a certain lack of confidence on the part of separatists in the value of their new Quebec citizenship. While developing their new reputation as a nation internationally, the separatists figure they may as well keep on using the tried and true product of Canadian citizenship and Canadian passports, especially abroad. They don't seem to worry that doing so would border on false advertising. It's a little like a former employee of IBM using his old IBM business card as he tries to rustle up business for his start-up computer company.

Maintaining Canadian citizenship means keeping the right to establish yourself anywhere in Canada, something Quebecers are likely to hold dear, particularly if the first years after separation prove to be lean ones. With the Quebec economy facing uncertain times, young Quebecers would want to keep the insurance policy that they can always move to Toronto or Vancouver to look for work. The reverse isn't true. It will be hard to convince a Canadian from Ontario or Alberta of the great opportunities presented by Quebec citizenship.

While Parizeau may huff and puff about Quebecers being able to keep their Canadian citizenship, it probably isn't in the long-term interests of Quebec itself to leave that option open. If millions of Quebecers remain Canadian citizens after independence, it would simply keep alive the prospect of rejoining Confederation and convince some Quebecers that there was a way of turning back the clock. Federalism and attachment to Canada aren't about to die in Quebec just because Quebec has become sovereign and Canadian citizenship would certainly help keep the flame alive.

And what will happen if large numbers of Quebecers simply refuse Quebec citizenship and opt to remain as Canadians only? Rare is the country that happily has big chunks of its population within its border who have loyalties to another country.


One suggestion making the rounds in separatist circles is that after separation, Quebec could share citizenship with Canada through a joint citizenship based on the European Community model. It's an argument made by Turp, the Bloc Quebecois adviser. He envisages a European-style union between a sovereign Quebec and Canada, which could be not only an economic union but a political one as well with a common Parliament and a common passport that would be based on the European model. Before Czechoslovakia split, the Slovaks had the same suggestion for joint citizenship in a Czech-Slovak union. The Czechs said no.

The chances of this same sort of idea flying in Canada is about as likely as seeing a return of Brian Mulroney as prime minister. It's clear that Quebecers would be the major beneficiaries of a joint citizenship that continued to confer a form of Canadian citizenship on them. Finally, why should we go through the economic and psychological turmoil of splitting the country and dissolving the historic union established in 1867 only to reconstitute it in a new guise? We've already got a common Parliament. It's in Ottawa. And we've got common citizenship in an economic and political union between Quebec and nine other provinces. It's called Canada.

An Early End to Dual Citizenship?

While the separatists continue to promise Quebecers citizenship in a country they don't want to be part of, the right to dual citizenship is already being questioned in Ottawa and the debate over Quebec sovereignty will only intensify the pressure to see it ended. Following public hearings in the spring of 1994, the House of Commons Standing Committee of Citizenship and Immigration suggested bringing back some of the pre-1977 rules on dual citizenship.

Witnesses before the committee questioned how it was possible to swear allegiance to more than one country and worried that dual citizenship was already reducing the value of Canadian citizenship. The committee also was concerned about turning Canadian citizenship into "a convenient commodity," which holders use for international travel and business or as an insurance policy, providing health care to citizens who spend their working lives outside Canada and return to retire, without having paid the taxes that make these programs possible.

The MPs recommended that the government consider restoring the old provisions of the Citizenship Act that forced Canadians who voluntarily acquire another citizenship, except by marriage, to give up their Canadian citizenship. Although the report doesn't mention the possibility of Quebec secession, it was clearly on the mind of committee members in drafting the report. Ontario Liberal MP John Bryden pushed the dual citizenship issue throughout the deliberations of the committee, with his eye on Quebec separatism. "A great many Quebecers believe they can have Quebec sovereignty and be Canadians," Bryden said. But it's essential that Quebecers be told that "you can't have your cake and eat it too."

"If they want to separate, okay," Bryden says. "If you want to reject us, reject us entirely. You can't boo the rest of Canada and then retain the great respect Canada has worldwide." Bryden argues that a simple change to the law bringing back the pre-1977 ban on dual citizenship will make it clear that Quebecers can't have it both ways. Quebecers wouldn't be singled out. Dual citizenship would disappear not just for Quebec citizens but for any Canadian citizens who acquired another nationality.(The federal government is now preparing draft amendments to the Citizenship Act that may implement some of the Committee's suggestions, but it is far from certain that this legislation will ever be introduced.)

The Bloc Québécois refused to sign on to the report and the party's spokesman on the committee, MP Osvaldo Nunez, a native of Chile who has embraced Quebec separatism, said that elimination of dual citizenship would be "a fantastic provocation against Quebec." Nunez said the rule was clearly aimed at Quebec's push for separatism and the PQ's promise that Canadian citizenship wouldn't be lost to Quebecers even if they decide to go. "We are in favour of dual citizenship without any restriction," Nunez said.


The bottom line on citizenship is that once Quebec leaves Confederation, so do its citizens. Otherwise, Canadian citizenship loses all meaning. There is nothing to negotiate. That would effectively mean stripping Canadian citizenship from the hundreds of thousands of loyal Canadians in Quebec who vote against secession and desparately want to stay Canadian. Indeed, one can envisage thousands of English-speaking Quebecers, recently-naturalized Canadians and French Canadians still loyal to Canada refusing their new Quebec citizenship and stubbornly holding on to their Canadian citizenship.

That would put both governments in an awkward position, with Canada having a large concentration of its citizens resident in another country, perhaps demanding diplomatic intervention from Canada to defend their rights before the Quebec government. For Quebec, mass refusal to accept Quebec citizenship would be a sign of resistance from its own citizens to the new state's very existence. Whatever the Canadian Parliament decides to do, it won't be easy to strip Canadian citizenship from loyal Canadians whose only misfortune is to live in Quebec. One can see on the TV news the loyal veteran of the Normandy invasion from his home in Sherbrooke teary-eyed at the loss of his beloved citizenship. Or the Italian-Canadian resident of the Montreal suburb of St. Leonard proudly showing the tattered Canadian naturalization papers and crying out in front of the cameras, "Canada has abandoned me."

One can also anticipate a large exodus of English-speaking Quebecers as well as many francophones if suddenly access to Canadian citizenship becomes conditional on residence in Canada. Are Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia ready for an influx of these groups of new residents? These newcomers, with their generally high educational attainment, their knowledge of English and their Canadian roots, will be easier and less costly to integrate than most international immigrants. As for immigrants, one can also anticipate a big migration of landed immigrants out of Quebec in the leadup to secession. When these immigrants realize that once sovereignty arrives, they will eligible only to become citizens of Quebec, they may opt to remain in Canada and not close off their opportunities.

One possible solution to the citizenship dilemma might be to include an option clause that would allow Quebecers to elect to remain Canadian citizens for a period of up to two or three years, if they filled certain strict conditions. They could be asked to move to Canada within that time to maintain their Canadian citizenship. If an immediate move out of Quebec would cause hardship, they could still remain Canadian citizens, provided they continue to file Canadian income tax returns, the way the United States forces its citizens to file returns no matter where they live. Canada could even place a fee of several hundred dollars on whoever registers to maintain Canadian citizenship. It could also require Quebecers who want to remain Canadian citizens to swear a loyalty oath to Canada. How about an oath to the Queen? The hurdles must be made high enough to make sure that only a minority of Quebeckers opt to retain their Canadian citizenship.

If Canadians believe that withdrawing citizenship is still too drastic, Parliament could decide to maintain a distinct status for Canadian citizens resident in Quebec, with no right to vote in federal elections, no right to seek public office or work in the federal public service and no right to a Canadian passport until such time as they become resident in Canada. These rights could be reinstated with no waiting period as soon as the Quebecker becomes a resident of Canada.

In any case, Quebec secession would require at least some border controls, similar to the controls existing between Canada and the U.S. For one thing, once Quebec gains full jurisidiction over immigration, completely free circulation of people within Canada would make Quebec into nothing but a giant back door into Canada. Even under the current arrangement where Quebec has partial control over immigration, thousands of immigrants who choose Quebec as their initial destination merely use Montreal as a way-station before moving to Toronto and Vancouver, where jobs are more plentiful. A system of work permits would also be necessary to make sure that border areas in Ontario and New Brunswick are not overrun with commuting Quebec residents. At the same time, Canada would likely wish to keep out some Quebec residents, such as those with a criminal record.

Canada has to remember to keep its own interests at heart throughout this debate. Allowing more than six million residents of another country who are paying taxes to a foreign government to continue benefiting from all the advantages of Canadian citizenship would be out of the question.

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