Friday, April 11, 2008

Dual But Unequal - The dual citizenship debate (Part 2)

“Commonwealth” not “Foreign”

Some proponents of the view that Commonwealth states are not included in the term “foreign Power or State” seek to advance the following:

 Chapter II of the Constitution of Jamaica deals with Citizenship.

Section 12 gives the following interpretation:

“Foreign country” means a country (other than the Republic of Ireland) that is not part of the Commonwealth;

Hence, the term “foreign Power or State” should be construed in accordance with that of “foreign country.”

As mentioned before, the proponents have yet to produce any judicial interpretation to substantiate their position. Moreover, it may be convenient to ignore that
(a) the section being relied upon begins “In this Chapter – “. The interpretations are specific to Chapter II;
(b) “foreign country” is not necessarily synonymous with “foreign State or Power.”

 In relation to those holding Canadian, British or even Barbadian citizenship in addition to their Jamaican citizenship, it is being argued that they have sworn allegiance to the same sovereign power – Her Majesty. Hence these Commonwealth countries with Her Majesty as Head of State cannot be classified as “foreign.”

The argument – although comforting to the holders of such citizenship – fails to surmount a basic constitutional reality. With regard to legislative and governmental matters, the Head of State of say Jamaica is the Queen of Jamaica; the Head of State of Australia is the Queen of Australia; the Head of State of Canada is the Queen of Canada. Her Majesty occupies a number of distinct legal personalities and each in its exercise of its sovereignty has no legal consequences for the other. For example, for Jamaica the United Kingdom would be classified as “a foreign power”, so too would Canada and Barbados. Furthermore each of these sovereign states has its own rules in respect of nationality and their citizens owe different allegiances.


To put the argument here being advanced into sharp relief: If an adult Jamaican citizen by virtue of his own act acquires the nationality of any other state – be it Commonwealth or otherwise – he is disqualified. However an adult Commonwealth citizen living in Jamaica for a year satisfies the condition of Section 39 whether or not he acquires Jamaican citizenship.

Whilst recognizing “dual citizenship”, not all such are treated equally in so far as the composition of Parliament is concerned. It depends to a large measure on how such foreign status was obtained – manner and timing. Is there a need for constitutional changes reflecting the new realities? That is another debate.

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