Not-so-new issues in Canadian citizenship and democracy

Currently, there is a meme going around on Facebook that states: “For the first time in Canadian history, the Canadian government can now revoke Canadian citizenship even for those that were born here, if they are convicted of a terrorism charge.”  One person who shared the meme comments: “With restricted debate, little fanfare, and no significant revisions, a new law that gives the Harper government the ability to revoke citizenship from people that were born here, unprecedented in our entire national history, has just been passed” (emphasis my own).

In 1945, the Vancouver Consultative Council and the Co-operative Committee on Japanese Canadians were busy petitioning government, drawing public attention, and seeking support to sound alarm bells about the sweeping powers of “Orders-in-Council”.  “Orders-in-Council,” they state, “threaten your citizenship!”  Specifically, they highlight Clause ‘g’ of Bill 15 that “threatened the liberty of every Canadian citizen, but its immediate purpose was to make legally possible the revocation of citizenship and the deportation of Canadian citizens of Japanese origin.”  The document that I am referring to, which is featured below and can be accessed here:, goes on to underscore that “[w]hen the clause was rejected, by public and Parliament, the Government passed Orders-in Council authorizing the very action which Parliament had refused to sanction.”

Orders in Council
The meme and the comments of the person who shared it are incorrect in saying the government’s ability to revoke citizenship is “unprecedented in our entire national history”.  This is NOT new; this is a different shade of something else.  Canadians were fighting over these issues some seventy years ago.  The case of “repatriating” (read: exile and deportation) Japanese Canadians meant loss of Canadian citizenship. Most Japanese Canadians who “willingly” chose the option of “repatriation” did so under duress because of forced internment, and because the government gave no other option than to move east of the Rockies -never to return to their homes/lives in BC-, AND because of coercion insofar as it was emphasized that loyalty to Canada would be questioned by authorities if they didn’t “choose” either option.

At no point was a “person of Japanese origin” charged with a crime/treason and RCMP reports state they found no threat.  PM Mackenzie King himself stated: “It is a fact that no person of Japanese race born in Canada has been charged with any act of sabotage or disloyalty during the years of war.”

A key part of the redress package in 1988 was to find the people whose citizenship was stripped from this post-internment, “repatriate” or relocate ultimatum and reinstate that citizenship.  Nearly 4000 Japanese Canadians left Canada, half of whom were Canadian-born and one-third were under the age of sixteen.

This protest concerning Orders-in-Council directly and systematically targeted “persons of Japanese origin”; however, non-Japanese Canadians flagged that it could be used against any Canadian.  What the meme and the people sharing the meme rightly emphasize are the vast swathes of Canadians that could potentially be targeted by the new legislation -especially as it relates to environmental activism-; however, it should be noted that the emphasis the current bill places on terrorism in this ‘post-9/11 era’ with its deeply ingrained islamophobia is decidedly ethnically focused.

There is no quick and simple conclusion, explanation, or neat way to wrap this up, but, I will end with this:  Ottawa would like to close every Canadian book that contains “sad”, “shameful”, and “unfortunate” chapters ( in order to “move on” and celebrate progress.  The problem is that those chapters are still in print and circulation today.  An artist might have re-interpreted the cover art; a publicist might have found a different spin for today’s market; an editor might have changed a bit of wording or asked for an update…  But the author doesn’t appear to have changed much.  We desperately need new authors, Canada.