My Take

Canadian consular officials can't shirk their duty to so-called dual citizens

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 12:37pm

Canadian officials periodically worry about granting too many free services to their "dual" citizens, people who hold a Canadian passport yet are permanent residents elsewhere. They pay no taxes, rarely if ever vote, and generally have little or no commitment to Canada, so the argument runs.

There is now a debate - an old one that periodically flares up - about whether such citizens holding "passports of convenience" deserve full consular protection. Let me declare I am such a dual citizen, one of an estimated 295,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, of whom 88 per cent have dual citizenship. Let me put things in context. Expatriate Canadians lose most benefits that "normal" citizens enjoy. If I return to live in Canada and am unemployed, I will receive little welfare benefit because of the low amounts of tax and pension contributions I have made previously. I will not have free medical coverage for at least six months. Canada is not alone. Many countries have similar restrictions on their expatriate citizens.

Meanwhile, Canadian consular services have become more expensive. Nothing is free. The most common service is probably a passport application or renewal. It now costs C$190 (HK$1,330) for a five-year passport and C$260 for a 10-year one. I imagine having 295,000 Canadians who have to renew periodically their travel documents contribute to a rather profitable business.

Consular protection is just about the last thing that may be offered for free. But it only happens in an emergency such as a war, riot or natural disaster. In a stable society like Hong Kong, how often does that happen? In any case, consular protection goes back to the raison d'être of state, which at the most basic level is to offer physical protection for its citizens, living abroad or not. That is a government's most basic responsibility.

The current debate stems from the much-criticised airlift of about 15,000 Canadians - most were dual citizens - from Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel. The exercise cost about C$100 million.

Ottawa can ban dual citizenship or restrict immigrants from poor or war-torn countries. But once they are accepted, you cannot offer them second-class protection.