As Australia ousts MPs with dual citizenship, Canada's Parliament embraces many in its ranks

As a dual citizenship debacle rocks Australia's political world, Canada's Parliament embraces sitting MPs and Senators who were born around the world and hold dual, or even triple, citizenship.

At least 56 foreign-born members, 22 with dual or triple citizenship, hold seats in House of Commons, Senate

Conservative MP Tony Clement, left, Independent Sen. Tony Dean and Liberal MP Iqra Khalid are among more than 22 parliamentarians who hold dual citizenship. (Canadian Press)

As a dual citizenship debacle rocks Australia's political world, Canada's Parliament embraces sitting MPs and Senators who were born around the world and hold dual, or even triple, citizenship.

There are now at least 56 sitting parliamentarians — 44 MPs and 12 senators — born in countries outside Canada, according to information from the Library of Parliament and websites.

At least 22 of them have citizenship from other countries, CBC News confirmed through queries to parliamentarians' offices.

That figure does not include MPs and senators who hold citizenship through descent, naturalization or marriage.

Canadian MPs hold citizenship from various countries, including Afghanistan, Lebanon, Portugal, Poland, Pakistan, Syria, the United States and the United Kingdom.

That dual citizenship would disqualify them from holding office in Australia, where Section 44 of the Constitution bars anyone who is a citizen of a "foreign power" from sitting in Parliament.

Several Australian parliamentarians have been forced to resign, produce documentation, or had their case sent to the High Court for review, leaving Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government without its majority and facing a possible early election.

Politicians of all stripes are scrambling to prove they have never held other citizenship or have renounced it in what is being called a constitutional crisis.

Dual citizens welcome in Canada's parliament

In Canada, the only requirements for seeking a seat in the House of Commons are that you are a Canadian citizen, at least 18 years old, and not serving prison sentence of more than two years. To be a senator in Canada, an individual has to be at least 30 years old, a resident of the province they represent, and own property worth at least $4,000 in that province.

Liberal MP Salma Zahid, who holds Canadian, U.K. and Pakistani citizenships, does not judge any other country's rules around who is qualified to serve. But she says she is proud that Canada's government, which has 338 seats in the House of Commons and 105 in the Senate, reflects its population.

"Other than our Indigenous nation, everyone else came to Canada from somewhere else," she said. "It's really amazing to see such a big diversity in the House of Commons, because it really is important that people see themselves represented."

Born around the world

Zahid was born in England while her father was studying at university, so holds U.K. citizenship by birth. Her family returned to Pakistan three months later, where she was naturalized as a Pakistani citizen, then she received Canadian citizenship after immigrating to Canada as an adult with her husband and son.

Many Canadian parliamentarians born in countries such as India and China have had their citizenship terminated, either by choice or due to citizenship revocation rules of those countries.

Some MPs and senators who hold dual citizenship are:

  • Conservative MP Ziad Aboultaif (Lebanon).

  • Liberal MP Omar Alghabra (Syrian citizenship, born in Saudi Arabia).

  • Liberal MP Faycal El-Khoury (Lebanon).

  • Liberal MP Andy Fillmore (United States).

  • Liberal MP Peter Fonseca (Portugal).

  • Conservative MP Peter Kent (United Kingdom).

  • Liberal MP Iqra Khalid (Pakistan).

  • Conservative MP Tom Kmiec (Poland).

  • Liberal MP Michael Levitt (United Kingdom).

  • Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes (Portugal).

  • Liberal MP Maryam Monsef (Afghanistan citizenship, born in Iran).

  • Liberal MP Eva Nassif (Lebanon).

  • Conservative MP Alex Nuttall (United Kingdom).

  • Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez (Argentina).

  • Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara (Lebanon).

  • Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan (Pakistan).

  • Independent Sen. Tony Dean (United Kingdom).

  • Independent Sen. Rosa Galvez (Peru).

  • Liberal Sen. Mobina Jaffer (United Kingdom citizenship, born in Uganda).

Others, like Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree, who was born in Sri Lanka, NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who was born in Hong Kong, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who was born in the U.S., told CBC News they aren't even certain of their citizenship status from their countries of birth.

No knowledge of citizenship status

Anandasangaree has no idea if he holds citizenship from Sri Lanka, but said if he does, he would gladly renounce it.

Conservative MP Peter Kent, who was born in the U.K. to Canadian parents working there, didn't know he had British citizenship until he was an adult and applied for a Canadian passport. 

NDP MP Randall Garrison, who came to Canada 44 years ago, assumed his U.S. citizenship was automatically rescinded because he did not meet several requirements for continued citizenship. He only learned that was not the case when taking part in a parliamentary delegation to Washington in March 2017, when he was told he was ineligible to enter the U.S. on a Canadian passport because he was a U.S. citizen.

He was eventually allowed in on a one-time basis and a red-flagged file, and it cost him $3,000 to later sort out the administrative requirements.

Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Tony Clement was four years old when his family immigrated to Canada from the U.K.

His family was actually bound for Australia, but his father made a spontaneous decision to choose Canada instead because of a rude Australian immigration officer. That twist of fate afforded him a life of public service in Canada, as dual citizenship would have disqualified him from elected office in Australia.

Clement believes people should not be excluded based on birthplace, and said the "sole responsibility" of an MP is to represent the people and interests of Canada.

"To the extent there is any clash between our country and another country's interests, we always have to support Canada's interests and Canada's values," he said.

But his Conservative colleague Deepak Obhrai disagrees.

He gave up his citizenship from Tanzania, and raised concerns that elected officials could be susceptible to divided loyalties and foreign influence by holding dual citizenship. He is opposed to it in principle.

"I believe people who look for dual nationality, it is for self interest, either for business reasons, tax reasons, health reasons, seeking safety, whatever," he said. "In my opinion, most of these people do not get Canadian citizenship because they love Canada, it is because of convenience."

Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai is opposed to MPs holding dual citizenship, saying it could divide their loyalties. (Jacques Boissinot, Canadian Press)

Obhrai's view may not represent the majority, but political controversies over dual citizenship have erupted in Canada in past.

In 2012, then-NDP leadership hopeful Tom Mulcair was forced to defend his Canadian and French dual citizenship. At the time, Stephen Harper said it was up to Mulcair to use his own "political judgment" when questions arose, stating:  "In my case, as I say, I'm very clear. I'm a Canadian and only a Canadian."

Former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion faced a similar controversy in 2006, when he was forced to publicly affirm his loyalty to Canada because he held French citizenship, as his mother was born in France.

Past controversies

At the time, NDP leader Jack Layton said a party leader should "hold only Canadian citizenship" and that it's "better to remain the citizen of one country."

Before that, Michaëlle Jean renounced the French citizenship she acquired for family reasons before she was sworn in as Governor General and commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces in 2005.

The dual citizenship fiasco continues to escalate in Australia, with more parliamentarians called into question.

Rodney Smith, a professor in the department of government and international relations at the University of Sydney, does not anticipate any change to the constitutional requirement.

"I think the major parties will just live with the fact that they have to vet candidates much more carefully now," he said. "To be fair, the major parties do this. Candidates themselves are a large part of the problem, since some resent the checking, or are blasé about it."

Canada's parliament includes 56 members who were born in other countries, and 22 MPs and Senators who hold dual or triple citizenship. It's a much different situation than in Australia, where MPs are barred if they hold dual citizenship. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

About the Author

Kathleen Harris

Senior Writer

Kathleen Harris is a senior writer in the CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She covers politics, immigration, justice and corrections. Follow her on Twitter @ottawareporter

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