Allan Thompson, whose "World Citizen" column in the Toronto Star I recently quoted at length, has been revisiting the subject of Stéphane Dion's dual citizenship. I'm disturbed by what some his readers have to say.
The revelation that new Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion holds French nationality triggered a new twist on the dual citizenship debate: Should the person who seeks to lead this country also hold the citizenship of another?

The answer from many quarters — including the editorial board of this newspaper — was "no."

And after a few days of media attention to the issue, Dion conceded that he would forfeit his French nationality if the dual citizenship bestowed upon him at birth by his Paris-born mother proved to be a political liability.

For what it's worth, I would like to give some space to readers who sent email messages about this issue to World Citizen.

Several pointed out an error in last week's column: If Dion were to win the next election, he would not be the first dual citizen to be prime minister of Canada.

Former prime minister John Turner, who was born in England, was a dual citizen during his time in office and remains one to this day.

As a British subject domiciled in Canada, Turner became a Canadian citizen on Jan. 1, 1947, by operation of law. He remained a U.K. citizen by birth. Indeed, Turner bestowed dual citizenship on his children.

Interesting that no one seemed to notice or care that Turner was a citizen of the United Kingdom while also serving as Canada's prime minister.

Could it be that public attitudes toward citizenship, loyalty and what it means to be Canadian are hardening?

Or was it the fact that Dion is a citizen of France — not the United Kingdom — that triggered the public response?

Readers who contacted World Citizen were split on the issue.

"People born in this country are becoming more small-minded every day ... In my opinion, the people who are complaining are very insecure in themselves," one reader said.

"The question of Dion's French citizenship, which is a symbolic and emotional attachment to the birthplace of his mother, is a non-issue and the fact that it only arises now that he has become leader of the Liberal party is confirmation of that," said another.

It goes on: "Dion was born in Canada, has a very public profile and a long track record of defending Canadian unity. Question any issue you like, but his patriotism? Please."

But another reader took issue with last week's column.

"I'm a bit troubled by the implication in your column that any who are concerned about a country's leader having dual citizenship are petty.

"It's important for Canadians to trust when their leader is representing them internationally that s/he is representing Canada's interests, not Canada's interests as well as (that of) Country X.

"The issue is not dual citizenship in France per se, but dual citizenship in any other country — be it Syria, Israel, North Korea, Britain, or wherever. Would you be comfortable with a prime minister who was also an American citizen?"

The reader goes on to draw a parallel with marriage:

"Before we were married my husband was tolerant of my relationships with other men, but after we were married he expected some exclusivity on my part, although certainly not that I would give up platonic friendships with other men. Just that I wouldn't be married to anyone else or sexually involved elsewhere. And needless to say I would be absolutely appalled were he to announce he had another wife ...

"Nor am I suggesting that Canada ought to do away with dual citizenship entirely. Clearly it serves a practical economic purpose for some Canadians. Nevertheless, not all jobs are the same with respect to the responsibilities involved — the job of prime minister is one in which there must be no suggestion that the holder's loyalties are divided. It is a matter of confidence in the truest parliamentary sense.

"We are all citizens of the world — but that's an abstraction which suggests a commitment to universal principles, transcending all borders. Mr. Dion's retention of dual citizenship doesn't speak to that grand idea but to something else."

Another reader provided the link to the list of current MPs who were born in other countries, some of whom are eligible for dual citizenship.

(You can consult the list here.)

Another reader follows the marriage theme:

"Stéphane Dion, in proclaiming 'One Canada' should reconsider his dual citizenship status. One spouse. One country. One citizenship."

And in reflecting on the Dion issue, another reader suggested the name of this column, World Citizen, is an oxymoron: "World Traveller would be more appropriate. The fact is, citizenship ends at the boundaries of one's country."

With all due respect, World Traveller sounds to me like a brand of luggage. No, I like World Citizen just fine, precisely because it does transcend borders.

As for dual citizen Stéphane Dion, he will almost certainly be browbeaten into relinquishing his French citizenship.

So does that mean we've gone forward, or back, since the time two decades ago when dual citizen John Turner held the highest elected office in the land — without anyone asking to see his passport?
I find the "one spouse" analogy particularly repugnant. As if monogamy were some kind of higher evolved state, or something to aspire to, or the only way to live. As if a person who chooses not to have "one spouse" and "one country" is less trustworthy, less upstanding... or simply less.

Thompson believes that Dion "will be browbeaten" into giving up his French citizenship. It seems very likely, and very sad.

A few days ago, this letter ran in the Star:
I am an English-speaking, single-citizenship Canadian who can't help but wonder about the nature of the concerns regarding Stéphane Dion's French citizenship. I have a funny feeling these issues would not be raised if he were Anglo and his second citizenship were British. I am embarassed at my fellow Canadians for trying to make this an issue at all. Dion has never voted in a French election and does not even hold a French passport.

Asking this person to rescind the legacy of his mother's French nationality is mean-spirited and, I suspect, racist. Why would we be disturbed that he maintains a link to his mother's native country? This counters so many important Canadian values that I think we owe him an apology. - Janine Robinson, Toronto
I agree.


impudent strumpet said...

After reading that article, I came up with a half-formed analogy to adapt the marriage parallel specifically to Dion's situation. It's still imperfect, but I'm going to leave it here for anyone to use or improve upon:

Suppose you were born in some exotic culture where marriages are arranged pre-natally and people are married as infants. (I don't know if there's such thing in reality, but bear with me here.) Your parents arranged your marriage as per the culture's standard, and you were married to another infant a few days after your birth. Shortly thereafter, your parents moved here to Canada. You integrated into Canadian culture, and never went back to the place or culture that you came from. You grew up and met someone who would make a compatible spouse. Since your birth culture has no mechanism for divorce, and Canada doesn't recognize the legality of your infant marriage, you simply marry your chosen spouse the usual way. You are married to someone else, but it's not your fault, you can't do anything about it, and you clearly are married to your chosen spouse.

Lone Primate said...

It's interesting that the person who first brought up the marriage issue did so to demonstrate that she and people like her are not petty. No, they're just looking out for their own interests.

Sheesh, what happened to love?

But I'd counter with another argument. Before this person got married to her husband, she was a member of a particular family. When she married, did her husband demand of her that she cease to be a member of that family when she became part of his? Because that's precisesly what she's asking of dual citizens. And what's more, Dion didn't 'become' a member of Canada's family. He always has been, just as he has been of France's.

This woman denies she and those like her are petty. But it's obvious that jealousy and insecurity are at the heart of her husband's expectations of her, and hers of Canadians of recent immigrant stock who would seek office in this country.

L-girl said...

When she married, did her husband demand of her that she cease to be a member of that family when she became part of his?

In fact, there are men who do this, and they're called abusers. This is one of the five kinds of relationship abuse - social abuse, restricting the partner's other associations and relationships.

A healthy relationship doesn't need to do this. And if Canada wants to have a healthy, open attitude towards this issue, it won't need to restrict Dion's relationship with his birth family, either.

Imp Strump and LP, I like your improvements on the marriage analogy!

Anonymous said...

Long time (silent) reader. Just wanted to de-lurk and point out to you that Paul Wells, the Macleans political columnist, has a
humorous take
on the ridiculousness of the arguments being tossed around against Dion's dual-citizenship.

L-girl said...

Hi MJ! Thanks for this. I'll post it soon. I guess you're slipping back into lurkland now. Our loss...

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll be sure to make the effort to leave a few more comments in the future. ^_^