Justin Trudeau. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” is a popular statement used by many people these days, and a view shared by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
However, while this might describe Canada’s official attitude towards its citizens, no matter where they come from (and some in Québec would even disagree with that), I find it hard to see it accurately applied to every single Canadian.
For example, while Canadian law tells me that “I am Canadian, I am Canadian, I am Canadian”, it also allows me to assert that, “I am Italian, I am Italian, I am Italian.”
I’m not aware of any switch hidden in my body that allows me to be Canadian, Italian, or both, at the same time.
To be clear, I do believe in dual citizenship because it is not my passports that define who I am.
A passport is a bureaucratic piece of paper that allows us to cross traditional and ever more obsolete national barriers.
For example, the increase in requests for Italian (and other countries’) citizenship by Canadians whose origins are in other countries, doesn’t mean more people have suddenly come to appreciate Italy’s culture more than in the past.
Most just want the Italian passport to reduce the hassles of traveling and working in Europe.
By contrast, what defines us is how we relate to the country in which we choose to live.
I can’t go to Italy, using my Italian citizenship, to sign up with, say, the Red Brigades or mafia and, when arrested by Italian authorities, flash my other passport, saying, “I’m a Canadian, I’m a Canadian, I’m a Canadian.”
On the other hand, a Canadian of Italian origin, or of any other origin, can go back to their mother country to fight against dictators.
In fact, many did exactly that during WWII.
But they did it as Canadians and they were sent there by the Canadian government.
By contrast, can you imagine a Canadian of Italian origin going back to Italy after June 10, 1940, to join the fascist army, fighting against Canadian soldiers and, when captured, flashing a Canadian passport while invoking Canada’s principles of freedom and democracy?
That is, the same principles he or she was fighting against and which Canadian soldiers were dying for?
Within the past century, the Canadian government went well beyond merely arresting law-abiding Canadian citizens, simply because they were of Italian, German or of Japanese origin.
Hundreds of Italian Canadians, for example. were wrongfully detained in Petawawa, the then “Canadian Guantanamo”, their property confiscated.
No trial and no specific accusations were ever levelled against them.
The sole reason was their country of origin in a time of war.
Indeed, Liberal Canadian governments of the day refused to apologize or even talk about nominal compensation for properties that the government had illegally confiscated. I don’t even dispute that.
But what we should not have today is governments arbitrarily changing the criteria of what it means to be a citizen, according to their political needs or whims.
After all, a principle is a principle, is a principle.
Citizenship is not defined only by a piece of paper.
History and present realities tell us that being a Canadian is much more than that.
In May, 1984, the then Italian world soccer champion team played against Canada.
Then leader of the Ontario Liberal party, David Peterson, (a year before he would become premier), invited me and my family to watch the game with him.
My little son, knowing my passion for soccer and for the Italian team, asked me if he could bring the Canadian flag.
I said, “you don’t have too, you must.”
As a citizenship judge, I was always saying in my addresses to new Canadians that the swearing-in ceremony was not the moment to choose between being Canadian, or Italian, or any other nationality.
It was simply a bureaucratic event allowing us to choose between being Canadian, or remaining an immigrant to Canada.
Most of us make the choice to stay and truly become Canadians.
Some take their Canadian passport and leave, flashing it as a form of international life insurance abroad should they run into legal or other difficulties and then asking the Canadian government for help, in some cases millions of dollars worth of help.
The Canadian Charter of Rights allows them to do so.
And I respect that.
But it’s too bad Canada doesn’t have a Charter of Duties and Responsibilities as well.
Persichilli is a Toronto journalist and a former communications director for then Prime Minister Stephen Harper