The National Assembly committee on sovereignty concluded in its 1992 report that if Canada followed international practice, it would simply withdraw Canadian Citizenship from its citizens resident in Quebec after separation. "Whatever happens , it appears to be in the interest of both Quebec and of Canada to avoid a situation where all Quebec residents would still hold Canadian Nationality in a sovereign Quebec, in addition to or in place of Quebec nationality," the report concluded.

The committee based its conclusions on the testimony of Claude Emanuelli, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, who explained in detail what happens to citizenship when one state takes over the sovereignty of another. Normally, when a new state takes over control from an existing nation, it automatically accords its citizenship to some or all of the inhabitant of the new territory. At the same time the old country usually withdraws its citizenship from the inhabitants of the territory when they get their new citizenship. That’s what happened in old British and French colonies. When the colonies gained their independence , their residents generally lost their British and French citizenship.

Emanuelli concluded " If Quebec becomes sovereign, Canada would be free to determine which individuals lose Canadian citizenship and Quebec would be free to say which of them gets Quebec nationality." Even Bloc Quebecois advisor Daniel Turp said it was up to Quebec to decide who its citizens would be and it was the prerogative of the Canadian Parliament to determine whether Quebec citizens remained Canadian citizens. But Turp argues that if Canada continues to allow dual citizenship, there’s no reason for Quebec to refuse Quebec citizens the right to hold on to their Canadian citizenship. In fact, he says, it’s best to leave Ottawa "the burden of this withdrawal and to apply to Quebecers a rule that wouldn’t apply elsewhere to people obtaining the nationality of another sovereign nation."

Citizenship remains the ultimate prerogative of a sovereign state. The Parliament of Canada won’t be deciding on the definition of Quebec citizenship. But neither will the Quebec National Assembly decide on who will or won’t be a Canadian citizen.


The bottom line on citizenship is that once Quebec leaves Confederation, so do its citizens. Otherwise, Canadian citizenship loses all meaning. There is nothing to negotiate.

This would effectively mean stripping Canadian citizenship from the hundreds of thousands of loyal Canadians in Quebec who vote against secession and desperately want to stay Canadian. Indeed, one can envisage thousands of English -speaking Quebecers, recently naturalized Canadians and French Canadians still loyal to Canada refusing their new Quebec citizenship and stubbornly holding on to their Canadian citizenship.

This would put both governments in an awkward position, with Canada having a large concentration of its citizens resident in another country, perhaps demanding diplomatic intervention from the Canadian government to defend their rights before the Quebec government. For Quebec, mass refusal to accept Quebec citizenship would be a sign of resistance from its own citizens to the new state’s very existence. Whatever the Canadian Parliament decides to do, it won’t be easy to strip Canadian citizenship from loyal Canadians whose only offense is to live in Quebec. One can see of the TV news the loyal veteran of the Normandy invasion speaking from his home in Sherbrooke, teary eyed at the loss of his beloved citizenship. Or the Italian-Canadian resident of the Montreal suburb of St. Leonard proudly showing the tattered Canadian naturalization papers and crying out in front of the cameras, "Canada has abandoned me."

One can also anticipate an even larger exodus of English speaking Quebecers as well as many Francophones if access to Canadian citizenship suddenly becomes conditional on residence in Canada. Are Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia ready for an influx of these groups of new residents? As for immigrants one can also anticipate a migration of landed immigrants out of Quebec in the lead-up to secession. When these immigrants realize that once sovereignty arrives, they will be eligible only to become citizens of Quebec, they may opt to remain in Canada and not close off their opportunities.

One possible solution to the citizenship dilemma is to include an option clause that would allow Quebecers to elect to remain Canadian citizens for a period of up to two or three years, if they fulfilled certain strict conditions. They could be asked to move to Canada within that time to maintain their Canadian citizenship. If an immediate move out of Quebec would cause hardship, they could still remain Canadian Citizens, provided they continued to file Canadian income tax returns, in the same way the United States forces its citizens to file returns no matter where they live. ---- (other possibilities cited)

If Canadians believe that withdrawing citizenship is still too drastic, Parliament could decide to maintain a distinct status for Canadian citizens resident in Quebec, with no right to vote in federal elections, no right to seek public office or work in the federal public service and no right to a Canadian passport until such time as they become resident in Canada. These rights could be reinstated with no waiting period as soon as the Quebecer becomes a resident of Canada.

In any case Quebec secession would require at least some border controls, similar to the controls existing between Canada and the United States. For one thing, once Quebec gains full jurisdiction over immigration, completely free circulation of people within Canada would make Quebec a giant back door to Canada. Even under the current arrangement, with Quebec maintaining partial control over immigration, thousands of immigrants who chose Quebec as their initial destination merely use Montreal as a way station before moving to Toronto and Vancouver, where jobs are more plentiful. A system of work permits would also be necessary to make sure that border areas in Ontario and New Brunswick are not overrun with commuting Quebec residents. At the same time, Canada would likely wish to keep out some Quebec residents, including those with criminal records.

Canada has to remember to keep its own interests at heart throughout this debate. Allowing 7 million residents of another country who are paying taxes to a foreign government to continue benefiting from all the advantages of Canadian citizenship would just not make any sense.