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Over 140 000 Sri Lankan citizens in Canada could face the risk of losing their Canadian citizenship or return to Sri Lanka after a new immigration law enacted by the Canadian Government dictates that these ‘second class’ citizens may have their citizenship status stripped at any point.

The new immigration bill which was enacted last week states that new Canadian citizens have lesser rights than those born Canadian.

Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran told The Nation that the law ‘undoubtedly puts a lot of Sri Lankans irrespective of their ethnicity at risk of losing their citizenship.”

“While we acknowledge and respect their government’s laws, if they are allowed to nullify citizenship status at their whims and fancy, it could cause a conundrum and possibly a category of second-class citizens,” he said. “This new law will also deter a lot of Sri Lankans, specially Tamils from seeking to obtain a Canadian citizenship status, a move which could work in their government’s favor.”

Under this law, the only Canadians who can never lose their citizenship are thos born in Canada who do not have another nationality (and are not eligible to apply for another nationality). No matter what crimes they may be accused of, these ‘first-class’ citizens can never have their citizenship taken away. On the other hand, Canadians with another nationality (and those who are eligible to obtain another nationality) now have second-class status, even if they were born in Canada: under Bill C-24, their citizenship can be stripped.

There was stiff opposition to the rule in Canada because many claimed that since this cannot happen to those born in Canada, the new law would be discriminatory. The government of Canada has justified the new law saying that was meant to protect Canadians.

“Our Government knows that there is no higher purpose for any government than to ensure the safety and security of its citizens…that is why we are taking steps to confront the ever evolving threat of jihadi terrorism by revoking citizenship of dual nationals who have been convicted of heinous crimes such as terrorism, espionage for foreign governments or taking up arms against Canada and our brave men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces.” Chris Alexander, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister was quoted as saying.

Legal experts warn that the list of offences that could lead to the removal of citizenship might be expanded in the future. Additionally, Bill C-24 punishes criminal activity with exile – a practice abandoned hundreds of years ago that has no place in today’s democracy
“The Ministry of External Affairs is not at liberty to comment on the matter since it is their right to legislate,” Mahishini Colonne, the spokesperson for the Ministry of external Affairs said. “Sri Lankans who are also citizens of other countries are welcome to come back, but that decision is solely at their discretion, we cannot force them and neither can they be forced to return.” Colonne also briefly spoke of the Dual citizenship program saying that “Sri Lankan expatriates should have the opportunity to return to the country and take part in the country’s developments.”

According to the Organization for Economic Corporation and Development, in 2006, one in three members of the Sri Lankan Diaspora living in the OECD is an educated professional. According to the statics available Sri Lankan citizens of Tamil origin number 143,000 in 2011 alone. Figures for the total Sri Lankan expatriate community are unavailable online.
The Nation also tried to contact the Canadian High Commission in Colombo for further details. However all attempts to reach them via phone proved futile.