In the Blog
Bill C-24 and the Ongoing Criminalization of Migrants in Canada
Illustration by Erin McPhee
On June 11, 2015 a set of changes to the Canadian Citizenship Act came in to effect under Bill C-24. Both the Liberals and NDP showed their opposition to the amendments last year but the Conservative party succeeded in pushing the bill through Parliament. The Conservative government labeled these amendments the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. However, these changes further undermine the limited rights of migrants in Canada.
What is Bill C-24?
The two most concerning aspects of Bill C-24 are the creation of two-tier citizenship and its lack of due process.
According to the new bill, certain Canadian citizens can have their citizenship revoked while others cannot. Citizenship can be rescinded for a number of reasons including fraud and treason. This creates a tiered system where those who hold dual citizenship are at risk of losing their citizenship in Canada while others are not. It is important to remember that not everyone knows they have dual citizenship (it is often determined by a family member’s birthplace, marriage or residency). Additionally, some do not have the option of changing their dual citizenship status.
In May 2015 the Canadian government put out an alarming press release defending their bill. In it they stated, “we are taking steps to confront the ever evolving threat of jihadi terrorism by revoking citizenship of dual nationals.” Protecting citizens from “terrorism” continues to be the basis for racist laws and practices (like racial-profiling and Bill C-51, the Conservatives’ recent “anti-terrorism” act). Beyond that, there are no provisions in the bill that prevent it from being used against supposed “non-terrorists.” So for dual citizens, citizenship has become precarious and revocable. While on the other hand, Canadian citizens who were born in Canada and who are not eligible for another citizenship will never confront the same punishment. In a brief on the bill, Amnesty International warned,
These provisions risk fueling stereotypes that view Canadians of certain national origins and who maintain (voluntarily or not) citizenship of those other countries, as being less loyal to Canada; stereotypes that equate their particular foreignness with terrorism. Individuals who do not carry additional nationalities are seen as the “true” or “pure” Canadians; while individuals who carry other nationalities in addition to their Canadian citizenship are perceived to have suspect or divided loyalties.
As though this was not bad enough, Bill C-24’s lack of due process makes the dangers of citizenship revocation even more severe. Despite an imperfect criminal justice system, Canadian law has already established that it is the judicial system that deals with punishment. But according to Bill C-24 the majority of citizenship cases will be decided by the immigration minister (or their representative) rather than a judge. According to the Conservatives, this is a time and money-saving decision. However, Bill C-24’s provisions uphold a certain narrative about what it means to be Canadian. This narrative equates being non-Canadian nationalities with terrorism and disregards the right to a fair judicial process.
Criminalizing and Punishing Migrants
When the Multiculturalism Policy was introduced in 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to promise “a multicultural, integrated and inclusive citizenship”. Unfortunately, the reality of Canadian citizenship is far from inclusive. It is in fact characterized by racist and ethnocentric policies that enable the harmful treatment of migrants. The passage of Bill C-24 is just one in a long list of ways the Conservative government has criminalized and exploited migrants. An earlier piece of Conservative legislation, Bill C-31 (Refugee Exclusion Act), was introduced in 2012, and succeeded in bring the number of refugees in Canada to an all time low. Yet another practice that has deteriorated migrant’s rights in Canada is double punishment – the implementation of two sanctions for one crime. Similar to the provisions in Bill C-24, cases of double punishment exemplify how immigrants are deemed second-class citizens.
In 2013, Justice for Deepan was launched in support of Deepan Budlakoti, an Ottawa-born man facing deportation to India. In 2009, Deepan was sentenced to four months in jail on breaking and entering charges. In 2010, Deepan faced double punishment when notified that he was no longer considered a Canadian citizen. Because his parents were employed by a foreign diplomat at the time of his birth, the citizenship he had known his entire life was being revoked. Deepan’s story is complicated by the fact that India has refused to grant him citizenship and so he faces statelessness, which directly infringes on his human rights. However, Deepan continues to fight for his right to live and work in Canada. As long as deportation is used as a punitive measure, certain people are considered true and permanent Canadians while others, like Deepan, are disposable.
In recent years, the detention practices of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) have been the topic of international coverage. The death of 42 year-old Lucia Vega Jimenez in 2013 brought in to focus the cruel detention measures migrants face. Lucia was arrested by a transit police officer after failing to pay her transit fare. She was then turned over to the CBSA and subsequently detained while awaiting deportation to Mexico. During her time in custody, Lucia explained that she feared returning to Mexico due to domestic violence. However, in 2012, with the enactment of Bill C-31, the Conservative government deemed Mexico a “safe” country. While awaiting deportation, Lucia hanged herself in a CBSA holding cell at the Vancouver airport. Her death was covered up for over a month until friends, family and activists exposed the tragedy and began to demand answers. In 2014, No One Is Illegal organizer Harsha Walia wrote of the inquest in to Lucia’s death:
But CBSA does not care for refugees like Lucia; their mandate is to callously enforce deportations. The holding cells below the Vancouver International Airport and Vancouver Public Library are a grim metaphor of the invisible underclass of 11,000 migrant detainees, including children, held in CBSA custody every year. The inquest does not insist on an end to these coercive practices nor does it interrogate the criminalization of migration.
More recently, 39-year-old Somali refugee Abdurrahman Ibrahim Hussan died after being “restrained” while in the custody of the immigration officials. Hussan had been denied permanent residency and had his refugee status revoked due to his mental health. He was detained for three years without trial or charges and was denied sufficient medical attention. Hussan was one of 12 people to die in immigration detention custody since 2000. There are many people demanding an inquest and the end of immigrant detention.
In a recent UN report, the immigration and refugee system imposed by the federal government was criticized for its long detention, denial of appeals, and insufficient medical care. Bill C-24 is just one of many cruel policies that deny migrants just and dignified lives in Canada. Deeply complicit in racist attitudes towards migrants, Bill C-24 upholds notions of who is a “true” Canadian. Throughout his campaign, Justin Trudeau promised to repeal parts of Bill C-24. For now, the immigration and refugee system in Canada remains, not only unjust, but violent.
Check out No One Is Illegal to find out more about ongoing migrant justice struggles across the country.