By ignoring the human side of citizenship, the government promotes the idea that being Canadian is only about paperwork and money.
Citizenship is an important part of all our identities and a fundamental right, yet for governments, citizenship is increasingly a tool of control. Nowhere is this better shown than in debates over “Lost Canadians,” second generation Canadians born abroad. Thanks to advocacy and news coverage, the problem of “Lost Canadians” is again before the government, which has long struggled to balance its view of citizenship, as a valuable commodity and means of control to be doled out parsimoniously to the worthy, with the human view of citizenship as a right derived from natural law. Because of these competing views, the Canadian government is struggling to preserve its prerogatives while protecting individual rights and preventing statelessness. This struggle has exposed an uncomfortable truth about modern citizenship. What most of us feel deeply in our bones that citizenship is an important part of our most private selves, for the government, citizenship is a means to control and shape their subjects, excluding those who, for example, don’t pay taxes. Where you might see family history and a deep sense of community and belonging, the government sees only money and forms.
The global trend of government’s viewing citizenship as a tool of exclusion and control, rather than a right, is creating a serious breakdown in the relationship between humans and governments. This breakdown, in turn, is placing strain on the very idea of democracy. Governments decide who gets to be included and who is excluded, yet people continue to feel in their bones that their membership in a community or a body politic is a fact of natural law, not a gift to be given, or taken away, by politicians. No amount of politicking by the government will ever take this feeling away.