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Newspaper article

Domicile rules applied on basis of privilege

Date

2013

Authors

Harald Bauder

Newspaper title

The StarPhoenix

Full text

Bauder is the academic director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement and an associate professor of geography at Ryerson University.

The Senate scandal, when considered in light of the ongoing dilemma over temporary foreign workers, brings into sharp contrast the different standards applied to some of the most privileged Canadian politicians, the rest of Canadians and foreign migrants.

On the one extreme, senators don't seem to be required to be physically present in the province that they represent. The Canadian Constitution is rather vague in its definition of residency for senators. As a result, senators have been able to live more or less permanently in Ottawa (or elsewhere), representing a province in which they rarely set foot.

On the other extreme, foreign migrants are often present in Canada year-round. They shop locally, pay taxes, send their children to local schools and participate in local communities of faith, but are denied permanent residency. When their visas expire, they are told to leave.

If they decide to stay anyway, they become non-status residents. Many of these non-status residents are our neighbours and colleagues. Our children play soccer together, and together we cheer them on. Yet, their permanent presence in our communities does not translate into entitlements that most of us enjoy. They certainly could not represent their province in the Senate, even though they spend more time there than many actual senators.

Most Canadians would define their residence as the place where they spend most of their time, where they pay taxes, and where they are a part of a community. Such a definition represents the "domicile" principle of membership, which states that people belong to the political community in which they actually live.

This principle deter-mines, for example, a Canadian's eligibility for health care or to vote in provincial elections. Extending this principle to senators makes sense.

The domicile principle, however, does not apply to residents deemed foreign or non-status. These people are not considered members of our communities, although they may be much more connected to these communities than the senators in Ottawa.

If the domicile principle were applied consistently - for example, through a six-month rule - then senators, migrants and the rest of us would be treated equally in respect to determining residency.

Senators would be required to reside in a province for at least half a year to be considered a member of this community. Canadians who move between provinces could be eligible after this waiting period to receive health-care coverage and to vote in provincial elections.

Foreign migrants could become permanent residents and, eventually, citizens.

What prompts us to treat senators, other Canadians and migrants so unequally? Part of the answer relates to privilege and abuse of power. Just as senators may think they are entitled to bend the rules because they can, Canadians may seek to preserve the privileges they gain with Canadian citizenship by denying this citizenship to their fellow residents who - by no fault of their own - were not born on Canadian soil.

These inequities can be fixed, however. Recently, the city council of Canada's largest city, Toronto, voted to become a sanctuary city for temporary and non-status migrants; other Canadian cities will likely follow suit. The provinces and federal government, too, could implement the domicile principle.

As we request that senators actually reside in the province they represent, we should also demand that foreign migrants, who are residing among us every day, are granted full membership in our communities.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Economic sectors

General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

Public awareness, Researchers, Unions, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

Federal and National relevance

Languages

English