• Wed
  • Apr 16, 2014
  • Updated: 4:41pm
The Hongcouver
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 9:35am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 9:35am

Ex-diplomat has some inconvenient truths for Canadian dual citizens


Ian Young is the SCMP's former International Editor. A journalist for more than 20 years, he worked for Australian newspapers and the London Evening Standard before arriving in Hong Kong in 1997. There he won or shared awards for excellence in investigative reporting and human rights reporting, and the HK News Awards Scoop of the Year. He moved to Canada with his wife in 2010 and is now the SCMP's Vancouver correspondent.

Does a passport make a Canadian? Or do the privileges of nationality demand a certain level of participation in society?

David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China, thinks it’s time for an honest conversation about the obligations of citizenship.

His views, which might serve as a wake-up call to the estimated 295,000 Canadians in Hong Kong, come in the context of a debate in Ottawa about whether dual citizens holding “passports of convenience” deserve full consular protection. Dual citizens make up 88 per cent of the Canadians living in Hong Kong, according to a 2011 survey commissioned by the Asia Pacific Foundation (the survey remains the most comprehensive analysis of the Canadian presence in the SAR).

As one of Canada’s most eminent diplomats, it’s understandable that Mulroney would approach the issue with caution. “It’s a subject fraught with sensitivities,” he said in an interview.

Mulroney, who served as ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012 at the culmination of a 30-year career of public service, weighed in on the debate over consular services last week when he tweeted that limiting such aid to expats with “tenuous” links to Canada “is fair, smart, inevitable”.

Why smart? Because this would reflect the evolving nature of citizenship and mobility, said Mulroney. Such changes have given rise to the phenomenon of “astronaut parents” who work in greater China while leaving a spouse and children back in Canada.

“As the population of people with global lifestyles increases…we need to think about the obligations that the government has to people like that,” Mulroney said.

As the population of people with global lifestyles increases…we need to think about the obligations that the government has to people like that

He cited his experiences as a diplomat in Taiwan, “where it was not uncommon for the dad to be working part of the time in mainland China, mom running a business in Canada or California, kids to be in various places pursuing their education … it’s a post-industrial society where people are part of a global diaspora, and I think that’s also true of Hong Kong.”

Pressure on consular budgets made scrutiny of services inevitable. As to the matter of fairness, said Mulroney, the choices made by Canadians about where and how they lived should come with consequences.

“It is a great privilege to be a Canadian citizen, but there are basic responsibilities that go with that,” said Mulroney, now a senior fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. “There are basic aspects of citizenship, like residency in Canada, like paying taxes or voting, or participating in Canadian society in some way…You can interrupt that for a few years at a time, but for more than, say, five or six years when you are not doing that, then you are effectively making a choice.

“It’s further complicated when a person is residing in another place under another travel document - that choice is even more dramatic.”

Mulroney did not advocate the wholesale denial of diplomatic help to dual citizens abroad; instead he suggested that Canadians who have been non-residents for five years pay an annual fee to entitle them to consular services. “If you want the full protection of your government, then the best way is to travel on that government’s travel document,” he added.

While the creation of second-class citizenship should be avoided “at the same time if you allow people to delink the privileges [of citizenship] from the responsibilities, then you devalue the importance of citizenship,” Mulroney said. “You do some damage to the concept.” The debate over consular service is fuelled by memories of the much-criticised airlift of about 15,000 Canadians from Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel. The exercise cost about C$100 million, but most evacuees catching the free flights turned out to be dual citizens and “some returned to Lebanon the next month”, Mulroney noted.

“I can’t foresee many things in Hong Kong that would lead to that kind of evacuation, but the reality is that simply providing access to consular assistance to, say, 200,000 Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, would exceed the capacity of our office to a considerable degree,” he said.

The cost of catering to so many people created an “inevitable fiscal dimension” to the debate over dual citizenship, but Mulroney said he mainly wanted to “encourage people to better embrace Canadian citizenship”.

“That goes for people living in Canada, long before we take it abroad,” he said.

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email ian.young@scmp.com or on Twitter, Ian Young @ianjamesyoung70.



This article is now closed to comments

Consular insurance for long term expats - a very reasonable proposal.
Especially considering that this group is exempt from income tax.
Let's know more about the concept of dual nationality. The universally accepted practice is that, if a person possesses the passport of Country A and the passport of Country B, and if he/she is in Country C physically, he/she is under consular protection by both Country A and Country B. If he/she is in trouble in Country A, Country B cannot offer consular protection to this person, and vice versa. Of course, there are exceptions, such as a scenario in which he/she wants to flee a civil disorder in, say, Country A and take a flight arranged specially for evacuation of nationals by Country B.
I personally know a lot of Hong Kong people taking advantage of Canada's generous immigration policy. Buying a house in Toronto alone is hardly sufficient justification to leave behind a bunch of kids to enjoy the free high quality education there, and free medication. One may even push further, by skewing the true values of property, leaving many 'locals' not able to own affordable housing, these 'yacht' people introduced unhealthy elements into Canada's otherwise pretty sound economy. Hong Kong was just rated the most unaffordable place to own a home in the whole world, and Vancouver has the unenviable distinction of being in second place. Give me a break.
It's preposterous to bring up the Lebanese incident of 2006 and compared them with Canadian Chinese. Most Chinese immigrants have literally injected cash into the country. You look at Toronto, Vancouver and other major cities and there is no denying we have made the economy flourished by vast economic investments whether it be housing or businesses.
These bureaucrats have meticulously made an effort to steer away from profiling. They have a list of people black listed alright, but it ain't the Chinese. We are used as props to make the whole charade look impartial and unbiased. Obviously they need to make a statement to protect their precious national coffer from being ripped off again by those that had made "little contribution" to the country. Without naming countries of origin, we all have a general idea who these people are. But it ain't us. So don't take this article too serious.
interesting thought - meaning of being a citizen. very hard to enforce substantively in this age. look at multi-national north american and european firms who do not pay home taxes.
So be it
Well, do it like the Americans do. Tax them as rescue actions like when they had to fly Canadian citizens out of Lebanon did costs millions of Canadians tax money. If they enjoy the advantages of a Candadian citizenship, they should contribute to the country as well by paying taxes no matter what status they are currently possess. As far as I know Canadian citizen if they live abroad (emmigrate) for a unspecific time and do not reside in Canada for a tax year, do not need to pay taxes. But still, they enjoy the protection of the Canadian state and so they should pay for it. I think that is only fair.
Like, many Chinese who have obtained an US citizenship through naturalization now try to get rid of this citizenship as before they never have thought about that they need to pay US taxes no matter where in the world they live.
Kind of dangerously prophetic. Evacuation of Canadian citizens out of HK. How would that scenario happen? Possibly 2017, no universal sufferage, mass protests and the PLA comes out of their barracks to suppress dissent, guns blazing.
Nationality law either allows dual-citizenship or it does not. There is no such thing as an "half-way house" or "passport of convenience". If a country allows dual-citizenship then all citizens should be treated equally otherwise adopt what countries like Singapore have, which does not allow dual-citizenship.
Laws can be changed if there is enough people feeling strongly about them. It's about time to bring this issue to the front.



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