End the sham of giv­ing hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - SHAN­NON GORM­LEY Shan­non Gorm­ley is an Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen global af­fairs colum­nist and free­lance jour­nal­ist.

I sup­pose we could con­tinue ask­ing why Aung San Suu Kyi’s hon­orary Canadian cit­i­zen­ship has not yet been re­voked, but it seems bet­ter to ask why hon­orary Canadian cit­i­zen­ships have ever been given.

It is true that al­low­ing the geno­cide-en­abler of Myan­mar to keep her dis­tinc­tion would di­min­ish the value of all hon­orary cit­i­zen­ships if hon­orary cit­i­zen­ships were ac­tu­ally all that hon­ourable to be­gin with. But they’re the hon­orary doc­tor­ates of global state­craft: a gift from the re­cip­i­ent to the giver, de­signed to be­stow the good rep­u­ta­tion of the pre­sen­tee upon the pre­sen­ter.

Still, hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship seems like the sort of thing a good lib­eral ought to sup­port. This is only partly be­cause the hon­our tends to be given to the best lib­er­als: peo­ple who help pull hu­man­ity kick­ing and scream­ing out of such abom­i­na­tions as apartheid, as in the case of hon­orary Canadian cit­i­zen Nel­son Man­dela from South Africa, or no-girl­sal­lowed ed­u­ca­tion, as in the case of hon­orary Canadian cit­i­zen Malala Yousafzai from Pak­istan.

It is not just who re­ceives it, but what is be­ing re­ceived that may ap­pear to be pro­gres­sive. The con­cept of hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship would look to be based on the chip­per, arms-wideopen moral­ity most com­monly as­so­ci­ated with lib­er­al­ism.

It would all be so inclusive, so global, so unim­peach­ably lib­eral, were it not for this: Hon­orary Canadian cit­i­zen­ship doesn’t give you any cit­i­zen­ship rights (no right to vote, or even to live in the coun­try for a while); what lit­tle it does give you (an as­sur­ance that you are one of us) can be taken away.

The no­tion of hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship im­plies that the most ba­sic right we have, the right upon which all other rights rest — the right to be­long to a coun­try — is re­vo­ca­ble. This is the vi­sion of cit­i­zen­ship we of­fer the world even as we cul­ti­vate some­thing rather dif­fer­ent at home.

Re­vok­able cit­i­zen­ship, you will note, does not sound very pro­gres­sive. In fact, it sounds quite a bit like the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s be­lief that cit­i­zens are rather like chil­dren and cit­i­zen­ship rather like a toy: If a cer­tain kind of Canadian acts out in cer­tain ways, their Canadian-ness will be taken away.

The con­fis­ca­tion of the most fun­da­men­tal right was to de­pend on whether they were not the right type of Canadian; whether, that is, they also had a non-Canadian cit­i­zen­ship. You will note that this, too, bears a pass­ing re­sem­blance to the no­tion of hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship, which de­pends on the per­son be­ing of an­other place as well.

Canadian hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship de­mands that hon­orary cit­i­zens, un­like just cit­i­zens, ful­fil moral re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and of­fers them no rights in re­turn, a state of af­fairs that may be de­testable to some even if it aligned with Canadian cit­i­zen­ship laws — but must surely be odd to all, as it does not align with those laws.

A sim­ple al­ter­na­tive would be to only give ex­cep­tional non-Cana­di­ans awards that do not con­tra­dict the laws of Canada. If lib­er­als want to thank peo­ple for global open­ness and progress, grant­ing them cit­i­zen­ship with­out rights or guar­an­tees seems like a strange gift.

A bit of ceremonial cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance wouldn’t qual­ify as even a mi­nor ir­ri­tant were we not liv­ing in an era in which cit­i­zen­ship rights, like so many other rights, face se­ri­ous ex­is­ten­tial threats. Noth­ing ter­ri­ble will be­fall the world if we con­tinue giv­ing hon­orary cit­i­zen­ships, just as noth­ing more ter­ri­ble will be­fall Myan­mar than it al­ready has if we do not take Aung San Suu Kyi’s hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship away.

But as long as it oc­curs to us that one hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship needs to go, we might re­con­sider those we have been for­tu­nate enough not to give.

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