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How not to oppose Bill C-24

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Photo: flickr/ Jeff Nelson

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On the campaign trail, Justin Trudeau promised to overturn Bill C-24 -- or, rather, "elements" of it. A Liberal Party petition that is still being circulated elaborates on this vow ever so slightly: Trudeau will repeal "the unfair sections of Bill C-24". (So I guess that means we're scrapping the whole Citizenship Act, right?)

It remains to be seen what Prime Minister Trudeau will do about C-24, which was brought to Parliament by newly ousted MP and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander. What exactly can we expect from someone who speaks forcefully against it on the campaign trail, yet who was in fact absent for the final vote on this bill? What we do know, at least, is that the jubilation over Harper's dethroning -- and for many, the cautious optimism at Trudeau's ascent -- does not signal that the organized opposition to C-24 is finished.

In the days leading up to the election, the Toronto Star published an op-ed against the so-called "Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act" that demonstrates just how far off-course the conversation around Bill C-24 can get.

With their Oct. 14 opinion piece, "New law makes Canadian Jews second-class citizens," David Berger, Philip Berger, Tzeporah Berman, and Mitchell Goldberg are hoping to galvanize people like me. I'm Jewish, Canadian, and currently living in Europe on account of my second, British passport. I'm among the millions of Canadians who now hold second-class citizenship, thanks to Bill C-24. I'm also among the many whose citizenship has taken a hit from the July Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that disenfranchises Canadians living abroad longer than five years.

I was hopeful when I began reading this article that the authors would use the bizarre fact of Jews' right of return in Israel as a channel, not as a trench; that they would raise the issue of Jews' standing potential for Israeli citizenship in order to build connections to other communities who are impacted by Bill C-24. Perhaps reminding more Canadians that they too are personally implicated in this debate would put into stark relief the insufficiently acknowledged fact that some Canadians are far more threatened by C-24 than are others.

Unfortunately, beyond a cursory mention of Canadians hailing from "Italy, Ireland, and India," the article did not stray from its focus: how C-24 might, theoretically, affect Canadian Jews.

Not a word about Islamophobia or racism. Not a word about the Canadians whose citizenship has already been revoked or is in the process of being revoked: Zakaria Amara, Asad Ansari, Saad Khalid, Saad Gaya, and Misbahuddin Ahmed. It is Muslims, Arabs, and people of colour who are going to bear the brunt of Bill C-24, but there was not a word about the communities who are actually being targeted and marginalized by these amendments to the Citizenship Act.

The authors remark, "Jews are second-class citizens under this law. That's because the Law of Return gives an almost automatic right of Israeli residency and citizenship to any Jew." In the same paragraph, but a moment later, they acknowledge that "it doesn't even matter that you or your ancestral family have not lived in Israel for the past 2,000 years."

To taper the conversation around Bill C-24 such that it focuses on Canadian Jews is one thing, but the lack of perspective demonstrated by this particular grievance is quite another.

They are correct that any Jew from around the world can move to Israel and receive citizenship nearly instantaneously -- yet Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948 and 1967 and any of the years in between and after, many of whom have land titles and property claims within Israel, cannot. Bemoaning their perceived inability to immigrate to a nation where lived-and-breathed second-class citizenship is the law of the land, and has been since that state's inception, is both callous and ironic.

It's interesting that the op-ed's authors failed to address one of the ways Canadian Jews would most likely become ensnared in Bill C-24's web: those who currently fight or have fought in the Israeli army. The so-called "lone soldiers" -- Jewish foreign nationals who join the Israel Defense Forces -- should consider themselves lucky that Canada has so closely aligned itself with Israel, since C-24 can be applied when the Canadian in question "served as a member of an armed force of a country or as a member of an organized armed group and that country or group was engaged in an armed conflict with Canada."

War between Canada and Israel is extremely unlikely (again, reminding us of how faint C-24's threat toward Canadian Jews is), but it's good to be reminded of the oddity in Canadian law that deems fighting for some foreign armed groups acceptable, yet not others.

Bill C-24 is galling, to be sure, and it must be resolutely opposed. But organized opposition is empty of meaning and force unless our sights are clearly set on the communities and individuals among us who are most affected. I certainly have a personal stake in seeing C-24 overturned, but as a white, educated, upper-middle-class Jew who has never been targeted by the police or law enforcement beyond my engagement in protest movements, I also know that the bill does not pose a substantial threat to me -- as it most certainly does to others.

To put it bluntly: let's avoid making Bill C-24 and our objections to it about white Canadian Jews, shall we?

As he made the rounds during the election campaign, Trudeau habitually capped off his vigorous denouncements of C-24 with the line "a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian." This slogan was affecting, and frequently met with hearty applause.

However, it and the broader conversation around C-24 have skirted a fundamental issue: Canada already has tiered citizenship. Gradations of citizenship have existed in Canada as long as the nation-state itself, with Indigenous people least able to access its attendant rights and privileges.

It's important that we continue to talk about C-24 and the myriad ways it has, can, and will impact Canadians. But second-class citizenship is not a phenomenon of 2015, so as the battle against the Conservatives' Citizenship Act moves onto new, uncertain terrain post-election, let's ensure that settler colonialism is a bigger part of the conversation.

And to my fellow Canadian Jews, Berger et al. included: this is a moment to take up solidarity with communities who are being targeted by C-24 and the innumerable other ways Islamophobia, racism, and social and economic marginalization consistently threaten the "class" of their citizenship. It is not a moment to mourn the perceived loss of access to first-class citizenship in an apartheid state.

 

Sarah Woolf is a writer, editor, and community organizer living in Berlin.

Photo: flickr/ Jeff Nelson

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