Ukrainian News | 26Jul2006 | Andrew Telegdi
Page 07

Citizenship issue is about rule of law and simple fairness

In his "Wiseguys" column in the Hill Times of July 10, 2006, Warren Kinsella made his regular attempt to portray me as a Nazi sympathizer, and anti-Semitic to boot. How he comes up with this nonsense is beyond me. But judge for yourself.

I was not born in Canada. I was born behind the Iron Curtain, in Hungary, and when the 1956 revolution was crushed by Soviet armour, my family was part of the exodus of 200,000 Hungarians who fled to the West.

Since my father was Jewish, we ended up in a Jewish refugee camp in Austria. My family was one of many which comprised the 37,000 refugees who ended up -- eternally grateful -- in Canada.

I was only 10 when we fled Hungary, but I retain a memory of the experience of living under a totalitarian regime. I developed a very strong attachment to civil liberties and human rights, and having a Roman Catholic mother and Jewish father motivated me from an early age to work for inclusiveness.

Growing up in North America during the Sixties, I was very much influenced by the desegregation battle led by Dr. Martin Luther King, who remains one of my icons. I took part in and helped organize numerous demonstrations for many liberal causes. I have never been reluctant to speak up and work for justice.

At the University of Waterloo, I was president of the Federation of Students and worked hard to make the university more responsive to student concerns. After university, I worked in a justice agency and volunteered with many other organizations devoted to justice and empowerment.

I was elected and re-elected to serve on local city and regional councils, and I was never afraid to challenge the status quo.

I was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993. I was then, and am now, a proud Liberal and a proud liberal.

I am also one of six million Canadians who are not citizens of Canada by birth, but by choice.

The present Citizenship Act predates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has many flaws, the worst of which is the process for revoking the citizenship of naturalized Canadians.

Under the current law, the citizenship of naturalized Canadians (like me) can be revoked by politicians, in secret, without the affected party being represented. There is no right of appeal. This is not justice. And it should be anathema in a liberal democracy.

I discovered this situation when I was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Immigration in 1998. I was shocked to discover that instead of bringing the Act into line with Sections 7 to 14 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the government was about to make it even more draconian by lowering the threshold for revocation of citizenship, and even extending the threat of revocation to the dependants of the person whose citizenship was in jeopardy.

That is not what a liberal democracy is all about. Canadians all across the country protested against legislation that could have seen people born outside Canada - Lebanese, Chilean, German, Egyptian, Ukrainian, Congolese, etc - deported to countries they may have never seen without a chance to properly defend themselves.

When the government failed to correct the flaws concerning revocation and refused to bring the proposed Act into compliance with the appropriate provisions of the Charter, I resigned as Parliamentary Secretary and voted against the legislation. The Bill was passed by the Commons in 2000, but I continued to fight the Bill in the Senate, where it stalled and died when an election was called later that year.

A new Bill was introduced later and was condemned in hearings held by the Citizenship and Immigration Committee across the country. That proposed Bill died with the election call of 2004.

I have since continued to fight for fairness and integrity in Canada's citizenship laws. I turned down an offer from Prime Minister Paul Martin to be appointed as his Parliamentary Secretary so I could instead focus my attention on the work of the Citizenship and Immigration Committee.

Under my chairmanship, after cross-Canada consultations, the committee produced a report that dealt specifically with the revocation issue. All parties were on-side and the Commons concurred with the report. Change was imminent, but then came the defeat of the Martin government.

Kinsella accuses me of "defending a member of a Nazi death squad who lied to get into Canada." The case involves an individual [Helmut Oberlander] whose citizenship was unfairly stripped by the government, unjustly and in secret. The decision of the government was overturned by a unanimous decision of the Federal Court of Appeal and the individual's citizenship was restored. Ironically, the case cited by Kinsella is a further compelling reason why the Citizenship Act must be fixed.

It remains to be seen how the Stephen Harper Conservative government will keep its election promise to produce legislation to update the Citizenship Act, but I will continue to press for action, secure in the knowledge that despite occasional cheap shots from the fringe, my work is appreciated by those who value the rule of law and simple fairness.

Andrew Telegdi is MP for Kitchener-Waterloo.
This article was presumably first published in the Mon., July 24, 2006 issue of the Hill Times.