Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Canada As A Hotel: Questions Of Immigrant Commitment As Canadian Residents Seek Office In Foreign Parliaments.

I recently read in the Toronto Star an article about a "Mississauga man" running for President of the Islamic state of Puntland in Somalia. You can read it here.

Mississauga man vying for power in Somalia

Candidate for president of Puntland vows to end piracy in Gulf
Jan 06, 2009 04:30 AM
John Goddard
STAFF REPORTER


A Mississauga man running for president of Puntland, an Islamic state within Somalia at the Horn of Africa, promises to end piracy against international shipping by creating jobs.

[...]

Esse is up against 10 other candidates, including incumbent Mohamed Musa Hersi, who also holds a Canadian passport. The winner must get the most votes in a 66-member parliament made up of appointed members from various clans, sub-clans and sub-sub-clans.

Esse, 45, is a controversial figure in the GTA. He was born in Puntland and attended post-secondary schools in Saudi Arabia, the United States and Canada.

These two men aren't the only Somalis with Canadian passports who seek or hold a position in Somali political affairs. According to this Macleans magazine article of 2006, Is It Time To Close Hotel Canada?, there are or were several Somali political figures who also held a Canadian passport.

But for all the attention accorded those well-known cases, hardly a public word has been uttered about the many members of parliament, the speaker, two cabinet ministers, two deputy ministers and innumerable political staff, all Canadian citizens, sitting, at one time or another, in the Transitional Federal Government Parliament in Baidoa, Somalia, 250 km from the capital, Mogadishu. There is informed speculation that many other Somali parliamentarians are also Canadians. While the president of the transitional government is not a Canadian, his wife, children and grandchildren all hold Canadian citizenship.

This is perhaps not surprising. Many of the best educated people left Somalia after 1991, when brutal dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown by a coalition of equally murderous warlords. About 100,000 made their way to Canada, the largest diaspora of Somalis outside of Africa. The 2004 formation of a transitional federal government brought a semblance of order to the country, and countless Somali Canadians headed home.

As I have always been saying on this blog it is typically the middle and upper classes of the developing world who come here as refugees and Somalis are no exception. The Macleans article failed to mention that relatives of Somali warlords came to Canada as refugees as well to flee the fighting their husbands, uncles, brothers, or fathers were instigating and perpetrating. (See? Canada is a compassionate and enlightened country. Seriously, we are!) That figure of 100,000 is probably higher now and it comes to no shock to me to learn that Canada has the highest concentration of Somalis outside of Africa for the same reason that Canada has the highest concentration of Sri Lankan Tamils outside of Sri Lanka: that Canada has the most lax, gullible, and easily abusable refugee system in the entire world.

There is another example that sets a more troubling precedent. Being born in a foreign country only to return to one's nation of birth to seek high office is one thing (Michael Ignatieff comes to mind). But to be born, raised, and reside in one country but seek office in another country is bizarre to say the least but nevertheless happened here in Canada.

Dr. Gino Bucchino is a Canadian of Italian ancestry who was elected to the Italian Parliament even though he wasn't born in Italy nor does he reside there. He was elected as an official to represent Italy's foreign nationals living abroad in the Americas. The following is from the Macleans magazine article linked above.

...The Italian government set the wheels in motion for Bucchino's bizarre political career in 2001 when it passed a law giving Italian citizens(who acquire their citizenship by descent)living overseas the right to run as candidates. The same law created the Ministry of Italians Abroad. The Italian diaspora around the world -- some 3.5 million strong -- was divided into quarters, and North and Central America were allocated two seats in the lower house, like our House of Commons, and one in the Senate.

However this is the part that I find irksome.

Even before that, some Italian Canadians had been lobbying the Canadian government for the right to run in Italian elections. Ottawa had consistently said no.... Whatever the cause of Ottawa's initial reluctance,the lobbying eventually worked. On Nov. 24, 2005, then-foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew announced that Canada would allow Italian citizens and dual citizens resident in Canada since 1981 to stand as candidates for overseas seats in the next Italian election.

The desire to run for office in one's former homeland is really a statement on an individual's commitment to their adopted country. In that case one country, my country, becomes nothing more than the mistress in an affair that served its purpose, satisfied needs, but now it's time to return and make up with the wife who I really loved all along.

There are other problems as well as noted in the Macleans piece.

Somalia is a failed state, and the Transitional Federal Government needs all the help it can get. It is only a matter of time before a full-scale civil war breaks out, with Canadians, in the TFG and the Islamic Courts, front and centre, fighting each other, and with other Canadians, quite possibly being called upon as part of another international effort to save that country, becoming involved-on one side of the conflict.

It wouldn't be the first time that Canadians would be fighting Canadians overseas. Consider the case of Gojko Susak, one of a quarter-million Croats who fled to Canada from the 1960s on. When Franco Tudjman took over the Croatian government in 1990, Susak, a house painter who had lived in Canada for 20 years, went back, and before long was Croatia's minister of defence, presiding over the "ethnic cleansing" of Serbs in the Medak pocket at the same time Canadian soldiers were trying to prevent that slaughter.

And who can forget this?

...The truth is, though, that we actually don't even know how many dual citizens there are living in Canada and how many dual citizens are living overseas. For sure, the numbers are in the millions. And unlike the Americans, who require all of their citizens, no matter where they live, to file an income tax return every year, we do not keep rigorous tabs on hyphenated Canadians.

What is now obvious is that holding a Canadian passport proved particularly beneficial to 15,000 Lebanese Canadians evacuated from Beirut last summer at the cost, to Canadian taxpayers, of some $94 million. For some of these Canadian citizens, who had not lived in Canada for years, or filed a Canadian income tax return, it was an all-expenses paid trip, not "home," but to a safe haven at Canadian government expense. Within a matter of weeks, 7,000 of these evacuees were said to have returned home -- to their real home, that is. Among the evacuees were Canadians of convenience: men, women and children with no ties whatsoever to this country except a passport.
At the same time, many of the evacuees from Lebanon had worked and lived and paid taxes in this country. Some even receive old age pensions after a lifetime of employment in Canada. Were their claims for assistance any more meritorious than those with barely any connection to Canada?

I am not certain to the legality of the Somalis with Canadian passport holding office in Somalia because it seems the Harper government was set to ban all Canadian citizens and permanent residents from running in foreign parliaments. Is it wrong to do so? As the Macleans piece also points out allowing Canadians to hold positions in foreign governments may be an opportunity for immigrants to spread Canadian values to their troubled homelands. And maybe that's just wishful thinking. Perhaps Canada is just a hotel where people come and go as they please, where some stay longer than others. Sadly, I think that's what Canada has been turned into where accommodation trumps integration and entitlement beats commitment.

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