The Conservative government is being advised by senior bureaucrats to consider limiting consular assistance for Canadians with dual citizenship who travel on a foreign passport or those who live outside the country for a long period of time.
The recommendation on the degree of aid extended to Canadians in distress around the globe is contained in briefing books for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and International Trade Minister Ed Fast.
"Recent crises have highlighted that many Canadian passport holders have limited connection to Canada [and] are seen by some as maintaining a 'citizenship of convenience,' " says the mid-2013 briefing book, obtained under access-to-information-law.
Senior bureaucrats are making the case in the name of managing scarce resources, noting Foreign Affairs has been asked to help Canadian citizens in 50 international crises in 36 countries in one recent 15-month period alone. The federal government is scaling back spending across the board to retire the federal deficit by 2015 so the Conservatives can present a balanced budget – and likely tax cuts – before the next election.
Each year, the Department of Foreign Affairs is called upon thousands of times to help Canadians who have run into trouble abroad, but it's arguing that these demands are getting more and more onerous.
"The sheer number, scope and complexity of consular cases and international crises … [and] the vagaries of country conditions where our citizens travel and live underline the importance of ensuring that the available consular resources are managed appropriately," the briefing says.
Foreign Affairs suggests that the government impose conditions on Canadians living abroad so they have to qualify before receiving consular assistance abroad.
"Consideration could be given to the feasibility of approaches used by other countries such as the imposition of a residency requirement or a tax contribution obligation as a condition to be eligible for assistance abroad," senior civil servants say in the briefing book.
It also suggests placing restrictions on help given to Canadians with citizenship who travel abroad on another country's passport.
"Consideration could also be given to differentiating levels of service provided to dual nationals who choose not to use a Canadian passport when travelling or living abroad," the briefing says.
The Department of Foreign Affairs says increased levels of international travel by Canadians and a jump in natural disasters or conflicts is pushing up its consular caseload.
A spokeswoman for Lynne Yelich, minister of state for foreign affairs, said the minister regularly receives recommendations from the department. "This does not mean they are approved. We continue to provide consular services to all Canadian citizens, to the best of our ability," said Adria Minsky, director of communications for Ms. Yelich.
Controversy over Canadians who live abroad with few ties to this country flared up in 2006 after Ottawa was called to rescue citizens from Lebanon. In 2009, the Harper government changed the law to restrict citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada.
Gar Pardy, who once served as Ottawa's director general of consular affairs, said he doesn't think it makes sense to start restricting overseas assistance for certain categories of Canadians. "When your grandparents came to Canada it was one-way trip. The world has changed in the meantime. You leave family behind and you go back to see them." He suggested, nevertheless, that one yardstick that might appeal to Ottawa is to adopt the same residency requirements that govern overseas voting by Canadians where those who've been gone for less than five years can cast a ballot in a federal election.
In 2009, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada estimated that more than 2.8 million Canadian citizens live abroad. It said more than 55 per cent of all expatriate Canadians live in the United States, Hong Kong, Britain and Australia.
Mr. Pardy said Canadians with dual citizenship may have perfectly legitimate reasons for travelling on their foreign passport, including making it easier to move freely in the country of their birth.