By: Andrew Cohen, Citizen Special

Link to Ottawa Citizen Article no longer active

What is expected in Canada

One of the bad things about the Internet is it is much easier to find things to get annoyed about. I am a member of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (CCCHK), and they put out a news note on a regular basis. One of their sensitivities is about any sentiment or comment in Canada that Canadian citizens living abroad are not really Canadians, or should not have rights as Canadians, and not surprisingly, any suggestion that non-resident Canadian citizens should be taxed in Canada.

So when the Ottawa Citizen had an op-ed piece by an invited guest, a professor Andrew Cohen of the Historica-Dominion Institute (a nationalistic think tank in Ottawa), review the Canadian government’s most recent pamphlet on “What is expected” for new Canadians, that merely mentioned in passing that the guest’s view was that non-resident Canadians should be taxed in Canada, the CCCHK included it in their note. It is good to know that they are on the ball, and that their Internet searches are picking up all the relevant stories. But they should not really be worried. It was a meaningless, thoughtless comment by someone no one cares about that much, and who has no power over Canada’s tax polices.

The interesting part is that most of the comments on the website about the article are generally hostile to Prof. Cohen’s views in general (his view: the new pamphlet is better than the old one, but still not nationalistic enough). In particular, one comment slammed his one-line comment on tax.

Usually, the anonymous comments on newspaper stories on the Internet have all the refinement of scrawlings on bathroom walls, but in this case it was articulate, accurate and directly on point. I wish I had written it. The comment’s basic thesis was, in a nutshell, without violating the Citizen’s copyright on its website is that: 1) no countries on earth other that Eretria, North Korea and the US taxes their citizens on their world-wide income regardless of where they live; 2) because of the US’s citizenship-based tax policy, non-Americans (Brits, Aussies, Canadians, etc.) dominate the ranks of the executives of American corporations overseas because the Americans cannot afford to be in high cost, low tax jurisdictions (i.e. Hong Kong); 3) taxing on the basis of citizenship therefore would discourage Canadians from working outside the country, which is dumb, especially when unemployment in Canada is already high to begin with.

Here here! I could not agree more.

The moral of this story is that if you do not know anything about tax and tax policy, you should really keep your trap shut because someone who does will put you in your place. Again, I just wish it had been me. But I will not let myself get annoyed at Prof. Cohen, because no one really cares what he thinks.

I know the CCCHK is, perhaps with some justification, sensitive to any comments about “Canadians of Convenience” (call them “CoCs” for convenience;) people who are not “really” Canadians because they never intended to live in Canada, but who just got citizenship as a back-up plan. But I think the problem is not the people who gained citizenship, but rather the way the Canadian government mishandled a very specific situation as a matter of international consular relations law.

This issue of CoCs came up when the Canadian government spent millions of dollars to hire a cruise ship to rescue several thousand Lebanese-Canadians who were trapped in southern Lebanon during the war between Hamas and Israel in 2006. My problem with what happened was not that these people were somehow not or lesser Canadians, the issue was that they were also Lebanese nationals who had decided to live in Lebanon. As a matter of international law, Canada had no right involving itself and assisting such people in clear violation of Lebanese sovereignty. If a person is a dual national, but they in the country of their other nationality, under international law, they are no longer Canada’s problem. Effectively, such people no longer have a right to consular access and Canada has no claim against the Lebanese government in respect of such people if their possessions are nationalized unfairly etc. etc. So the issue is not the “Canadians of Convenience”, the problem was the lack of principle of the government of the day. They had no right or reason to rescue anyone who was a dual national, but they did anyway for domestic political advantage.

Basically, the Lebanese community is big in Montreal. Very big, and very vocal. So the purpose was of the rescue effort was to win votes in Quebec and specifically Montreal. Well, it didn’t work, and it will not work. So I the real issue was not the so-called CoCs, but rather the use of public funds to break international law to curry favour with a particular ethnic group back home in Canada. Ethno-politics has become a mainstay of domestic Canadian politics these days, but sometimes, like this one, it was out of control and completely inappropriate.

Canada prides itself on being a leader when it comes to promoting international law (landmines treaty, international criminal court, yada, yada, yada). But sometimes promoting and upholding international law also means not sticking your nose in where it is specifically not allowed under international law. But this is a dead issue, so I should really not let myself get too annoyed, at least until the next time it hits the press. Which it will, so I will defer my annoyance until then.