Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Mountains, molehills, and the citizenship of the Queen's viceregal representative

Babble on.

I started to reply in comments to this post by Chris Selley on the whole Michaëlle Jean dual citizenship issue, but realized about two paragraphs in that I should really post my diatribe on my own site and not hijack Tart Cider.

Chris' argument seems to boil down to the idea that dual citizenship doesn't divide any loyalties, and besides, the idea that French and Canadian interests would diverge in a such a way that they would put Ms. Jean in a position to be disloyal to Canada is ludicrous. The second passport is simply a convenience to bolster her job prospects, as Chris sees it.

That's certainly one way of looking at it.

I don't have a problem with dual citizenship as a practical matter. While I believe the benefits of citizenship should come with an obligation of loyalty to the nation providing it, I understand that in everyday life there's no conflict of interest between being Canadian and being say, French. But I do think it should disqualify a person from certain public offices, because both the duties and the symbolism of those offices go far beyond everyday life.

Call me old-fashioned - and if that's the worst you can do, you need to get out more - but one of those positions is Governor General. I think the Canadian representative of our Head of State, the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian military should be solely Canadian. Solely.

Ms. Jean seems to be well-respected for both her work, and her volunteer efforts on behalf of women's shelters, and I have no reason to cast aspersions on her sincerity when she professes her willingness to discharge the duties of Governor General in exemplary fashion. In fact, I'd guess she will exceed the expectations of her critics in much the same way Adrienne Clarkson has (champagne socialist and overspending elitist that she is, Clarkson has also been the best Commander-in-Chief to our men and women in uniform in decades).

Nonetheless, it seems to me that Ms. Jean and her sponsors at the PMO don't quite understand that if push comes to shove, if the interests her two nations diverge, they will all have put her in a position where she will have to ignore her duty as a Canadian stateswoman, or ignore her duty as a French citizen. And yes, I understand the chances of this sort of a conflict arising are infinitessimal. So were the chances of her becoming Governor General in the first place. Never tell me the odds, Goldenrod. Ask Peter Milliken about the odds. Positions like Speaker and Governor General are lightning rods for legal and moral exceptions and anomalies, and the consequences of decisions taken by a constitutional nexus are not negligible.

To be blunt: if Ms. Jean feels no duty to France, then she has no business holding that citizenship. Of course, that's between her and France. But as a Canadian, I feel she should have a little more respect for the institution than that. Otherwise, how do we know what the Canadian oath meant to her? Citizenships should not be like a pair of shoes that happen to coordinate with tonight's outfit, to be lined up upon a shelf and chosen from at whim. At least, they shouldn't be if you wish to represent the monarch to whom new citizens swear their allegiance.

If Ms. Jean's French citizenship was obtained, as Chris suggests, only as a matter of convenience to enhance the job prospects of a multilingual journalist, then she should simply renounce it. It has become a hindrance to the faithful execution of her new duties. For a position so rife with symbolism and ceremony, one would expect a candidate who understood that even the appearance of divided loyalties is inappropriate.

Besides, this sets a tricky precedent. Chris suggested that the fact her second passport is French and not Australian, or British, or - gasp! - American is the sticking point for many right-of-centre critics, and he's probably right. But that line of thought cuts both ways: if French citizenship shouldn't be a big deal, should Russian? What about Brazilian, or Chinese, or Indian? Or Zimbabwean, or Indonesian, or Colombian? How about Kazakh, or Nepalese, or Sudanese? Is there a second nationality that would give us pause? And how would we justify that pause to our multicultural society? "Excuse me, but your dual citizenship isn't nearly as acceptable as hers. Greek citizenship is palatable in Canadian public office, Turkish is not. So sorry." Tell me how we could avoid the phrase 'second-class citizen' at that point.

At the end of the day, citizenship - Canadian, French, or Ethiopian for heaven's sake - either means something or it doesn't. Likewise, the office of Governor General either means something or it doesn't. To say that one can simultaneously be a French citizen and a Canadian Governor General denies the obligations of those institutions, and diminishes them both.

The position of Governor General symbolizes the Canadian state. While Ms. Jean acts in that capacity, we have the right to ask her to be exclusively Canadian.

Babble off.

Update: Apparently the French see the conflict of interest even if Ms. Jean and Paul Martin's oxymoronic brain-trust don't (ht:Greg Staples via VW):

Late Thursday, one well-placed source confided to Bourque that "the situation is untenable, how can a citizen of La Republique be the Monarch's representative of another country?"

How indeed?


At 2:54 p.m., Blogger VW said...

It should be pointed out that Ms. Jean became a French citizen through marriage to Jean-Daniel Lafond, who was born in France and retained his native citizenship when he became a Canadian citizen in 1981.

It should also be pointed out the the French government is working on revoking Ms. Jean's citizenship, because French law forbids a citizen from holding a government posting on behalf of another power.

At 3:03 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

VW, from what I understand, French citizenship is not automatic through marriage. There's a declaration process that must be undertaken. In other words, it requires at least a modicum of effort, a conscious choice.

Do you have a link for the French government revoking citizenship, or even just pointing to the law that requires it? I've found the French government sites less than easy to navigate, myself.

At 3:40 p.m., Blogger Ghost of a flea said...

I suppose I am even more old fashioned than you. We did not have a Canadian Governor General * at all * until Vincent Massey in 1952.

Too small points. First, the GG's job is not to represent Canada. Her job is to represent the Queen in Canada. As such, it is Her Majesty's pleasure rather than a passport which would be the sticking point for me.

And speaking of me, I come to my second small point which is that your regulation would bar me from the job. The very thought! I shall not give up my plans for a sinecure and view of the Ottawa River so easily.

At 3:40 p.m., Blogger Ghost of a flea said...

That would be "two" small points.

At 4:21 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

I was thinking specifically of a Flea drunk with viceregal power when I suggested dual citizenship be a bar to the office. You're a very nice man when you're helpless as a newborn baby, but giving you a fancy-schmancy title and posh residence would be like feeding a Gremlin after midnight. :P

As far as the GG being the Queen's representative, I'm with you. But just as the Head of State represents Canada on some level, so too does her designate.

At 4:27 p.m., Blogger VW said...

Found a summary of sorts. (And a searchable Code civil here).

At 4:32 p.m., Blogger VW said...

And Greg Staples has a summary of Pierre Bourque's story here.

At 7:57 p.m., Blogger bijoux55 said...

There was a young matron from Port au Prince,
Who has not said "vivre Quebec Libre" since,
Paul Martin came calling,
But regarding her loyalty she kept stalling,
And caused the whole country to wince

At 8:46 p.m., Blogger Chris Taylor said...

I suppose I am more old-fashioned than the Professor and the Pilot. I like my Governor-Generals to come with a history of military service and a hereditary peerage -- if not outright membership in the Royal Family -- a la HRH Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, 33rd Governor General (since the conquest of 1759).

At 8:51 p.m., Blogger sacamano said...

What exactly does "an obligation of loyalty to the nation" actually entail?

Is the Governor-General permitted to disagree with the Government, or must she simply support the status-quo of some ideal "Canada"? Can she agree with the Leader of the Loyal Opposition rather than the Prime Minister and still be considered loyal to Canada? What if the Leader of the Loyal Opposition and the President of the United States both agree that Prime Mister is doing a bad job? Is the GG forced to agree with the PM so as to prevent the appearance of being less loyal to Canada? If the GG supports minority rights within Canada, is this disloyal?

For a position so rife with symbolism and ceremony, one would expect a candidate who understood that even the appearance of divided loyalties is inappropriate.

This sort of reification of the singular unitary nation-state is a philosophy that is rapidly losing relevence in a world of transnational corporations, supranational blocs, electronic information flow, borderless export processing zones, free-trade agreements, and intranational minority self-government.

Indeed, a strong argument can be made that the appointment of an immigrant with dual-citizenship who may have supported intranational minority rights is the ideal symbolic and ceremonial expression of the transnational and heterogeneous reality of contemporary Canada.

At 8:51 a.m., Blogger The Tiger said...

As one of those dual citizens with dual loyalties, I think it's perfectly justified to ask someone to renounce their other nationalities before taking up such a high office.

In fact, for anything that reaches a policy-level position -- say, member of Parliament and up -- we should require that office-holders make a good-faith attempt to renounce their other nationalities.

At 12:29 p.m., Blogger Ghost of a flea said...

I was thinking of the Tiger when I wrote my first comment. With regard to his remarks I would point out it seems silly to me to demand our GG renounce their un-Canadian passports when our head of state is not Herself Canadian. Damian, while I might agree the thrust of your argument, it is an argument for a republic and not for the citizenship of the holder of the sovereign power. One solution might be to only nominate candidates to the position whose dual loyalties are still to the Crown through another Commonwealth citizenship.

But what Chris said, royals only for the job!

And as for being drunk with the power Vice-Regal, your tune will change when my flying-monkeys man the open bar at Rideau Hall! Then shall the blogosphere reign triumphant.

At 1:20 p.m., Blogger deaner said...

"...the appointment of an immigrant with dual-citizenship who may have supported intranational minority rights is the ideal symbolic and ceremonial expression of the transnational and heterogeneous reality of contemporary Canada."

Transnational reality of contemporary Canada, hmmm? I'd be interested to see your comments when you haven't been drinking.

Cheers (if you'll excuse the expression),


At 8:00 p.m., Blogger Paul said...

Great post.

Courtesy of the relevant discussion over at Angry in the Great White North, Mark Collins provides the following:


"Article 23-8: Perd la nationalité française le Français qui, occupant un
emploi dans une armée ou un service publie étranger ou dans une organisation
internationale dont la France ne fait pas partie ou plus généralement leur
apportant son concours, n'a pas résigné son emploi ou cessé son concours
nonobstant l'injonction qui lui en aura été faite par le Gouvernement."

To which I would contend that the French could hardly apply this section to anyone else, if they fail to apply it in this case. How could they argue that a mere footsoldier carries more influence than the Commander in Chief? And there is no distinction made between friend and foe.

For Ms. Jean to renounce her French citizenship demonstrates the divided loyalties. For her to be stripped of it proves the conflict. For her to retain her foreign citizenship merely continues and grows the problem.

This isn't a matter of a Crown marrying a foreign Prince(ss): such matters were often done for the specific purpose of dividing loyalties, to limit the chance for war between the nations.

At 12:09 a.m., Blogger Chris Selley said...

As a 100% Canadian who holds a UK passport, all I have to say is that dual citizenship is (or should be) a non-issue in comparison to the fact that Jean may be, or may have been, a separatist. That said, as it currently stands, her dalliances with notorious felquistes don't say "confirmed separatist" to me as much as they say "wine-sipping intellectual gadfly" — which is not much in the way of redemption. So as I've been saying all along, this appointment is quite unimpressive, which puts it squarely in line with most of her predecessors.

At 7:42 a.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Sacamano, among the rest of his ramblings, makes one interesting point: how much should a potential GG's politics play in their appointment? Should they be required to agree completely with the orthodoxy of the day, or can they dissent? And if so, how much?

Personally, I think public expressions of support for breaking up the country should be a disqualifier.

As far as dual citizenship and dual loyalty are concerned, Chris, I guess I just give greater weight to 'old-fashioned' concepts of citizenship and the importance of symbolism in the office of the GG. I think the French have the right idea on this, and I think it's sad that they're going to be the ones to resolve the citizenship issue when she's taking the office in our country.

Flea, while I look forward with unreserved glee to the day I am appointed Chief Flying Monkey and toasted at an open bar in Rideau Hall, I have to say the argument that the Queen isn't Canadian is a bit beside the point. The Queen isn't a Canadian citizen in the same way she isn't a British subject - she's the Monarch, a unique entity in our system of government. The GG, on the other hand, simply represents the Queen - and I maintain if the position is to be chosen from our ranks, then unambiguous loyalty should be a prerequisite.

At 9:49 a.m., Blogger sacamano said...

Cosh has a nice post on why being a separatist should not, in itself, disqualify anyone from becoming GG. I take up some of his points at my place as well.

At 8:49 p.m., Blogger Ghost of a flea said...

"The GG, on the other hand, simply represents the Queen - and I maintain if the position is to be chosen from our ranks, then unambiguous loyalty should be a prerequisite."

Damian, respectfully, you are still missing a rather fundamental point of our form of government. The GG's loyalty is to the Crown and not to a Canadian passport.

At 1:35 a.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Flea, also respectfully, I don't think I am.

Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada. If the Brits went republican tomorrow, she'd still be Queen of Canada.

The GG's loyalty is therefore to the Canadian Head of State, not the Australian, or Bahamian, or British - although they happen to be the same individual at this point.

A French passport doesn't indicate unambiguous loyalty to the Queen of Canada, but neither does an Australian one, since an Aussie's loyalty would presumably be to the Australian Head of State (currently the Queen of Australia).

In other words, no dual citizenship is acceptable to my line of thinking.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home