October 26, 2007

Slaughter-House Revived for Another Francophone State

by PG

Despite the bad reputation that the concept of "state citizenship" has due to the Slaughter-House cases and measures to limit the rights of African Americans, I'm actually not entirely opposed to the idea that one may have national citizenship without having citizenship in a particular state, e.g. for the purpose of voting or running in local elections. Thus when a McGill friend alerted me to a "Quebec Identity" test required for naturalized citizens, this didn't strike me as horrifyingly as it did the Centre for Research on Race Relations (CRARR) and B'nai Brith Canada. Unless "running for political office, petitioning the government or fundraising for political parties" are rights that people normally have in Canada regardless of citizenship status, the latter's legal consel sounded a bit overheated:

It would inevitably create two classes of citizens, said Steven Slimovich, national legal counsel for B'nai Brith.
"You either have inalienable human rights, or you don't," he said Thursday. "You either have freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and so forth, or you don't.
"It cannot possibly be limited on the basis or the cultural views of any group in the society where you live."
Perhaps they run things differently Up North, but in my experience, "inalienable human rights ... freedom of expression, assembly, religion" are not tied to any kind of citizenship in any case. I have those rights in Canada without being a citizen, just as a Canadian would have them in the U.S. What neither has are certain political rights, specifically the rights to vote and run for office, and to some extent to donate to political campaigns. In Canada, one must be a permanent resident or citizen to be an eligible contributor.

A French-speaking province that has a certain degree of autonomy from the national government ought to be able to require that those who wish to have provincial citizenship rights to run and vote for local office be able to speak French. However, to avoid a racist implementation of the rule, a la the Jim Crow literacy tests, the language test ought to be administered by the national government rather than the provincial one. That is, when someone applies to become a Canadian citizen, he can take a language test at the same time as the regular citizenship test, and if he passes the language test automatically has Quebec citizenship. This helps to avoid a potentially biased implementation of the rule at the provincial level, in which immigrants of color -- even if they are from former French colonies -- are claimed to be insufficiently French-speaking.

October 26, 2007 06:17 PM | TrackBack
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