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Despite a flurry of media interest in the recently-revealed U.S. citizenship of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, far less interest has been given to the ambiguous citizenship of another federal party leader—Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
May was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1954 and emigrated with her family to Nova Scotia in 1973. In 1978 she became a citizen of Canada.
But did she ever give up her U.S. citizenship?
Losing U.S. citizenship is a complex process as the government of the United States generally operates on the assumption that all American-born citizens intend to retain their citizenship forever unless a desire to renounce it is explicitly made. This is because U.S. citizenship for every person born on U.S. soil has been a guaranteed constitutional right since 1868, when the 14th Amendment was passed.
Despite this, there are a lot of urban legends floating around that suggest U.S. citizenship can be lost easily or “automatically” simply by becoming a citizen of another country, serving in a foreign army, becoming a politician in another country, or similar expressions of a “new loyalty.”
Over the years, Elizabeth May has offered up a number of similarly confused and contradictory theories of why she thinks she is not a U.S. citizen anymore. All seem to rely far more on layman’s hunch than law.
In a 2012 tweet, she claimed “I am only a Canadian citizen since renouncing US citizenship,” but in 2014 she clarified that, in her opinion, “Becoming a Canadian citizen and swearing allegiance to #Queen=renouncing,” which is not legally accurate. Thousands of people born in the United States have retained their U.S. citizenship after moving to Canada and formally becoming Canadian citizens, a process which often includes taking an oath to Elizabeth II.
In a February 2014 letter to the Globe and Mail, responding to a previous letter-writer who had described her as a dual “Canadian-American” citizen May replied “ I am not a dual citizen. I am a Canadian citizen and have been since 1978. Any doubt about citizenship is resolved in swearing the oath to Her Majesty the Queen in becoming a Member of Parliament. The U.S. accepts such acts as renunciation, lest there be any doubt.” A few months later, an article in the Vancouver Sun noted that May “never formally obtained” a Certificate of Loss of Nationality—the legal document held by ex-American citizens who have successfully completed the renunciation process—and instead simply “believes” she lost her US citizenship “when she became a member of Parliament in Canada.”
According to the United States Bureau of Consular Affairs, however, while running for or obtaining a “policy-level” position in a foreign government may be a “potentially expatriating act” for U.S. citizens, the U.S. government “will seek to ascertain the individual’s intent to retain or relinquish his or her U.S. nationality upon accepting the policy level position with a foreign government.” In other words, the U.S. citizen must be proactive. “An individual assuming such a position who wishes to relinquish U.S. Nationality,” the USBCA’s website continues, “may come to Post and follow the required steps to complete the Certificate of Loss of Nationality application process.”
The Post Millennial spoke to two immigration lawyers who said an American has to go through a formal process to get rid of their U.S. citizenship, and if May didn’t do this she is almost certainly still legally considered an American citizen by the U.S. government.
A relevant example would be U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson, who was born in New York in 1964 but immigrated to England with his family as a child. Despite going on to serve in British politics for decades, including as a member of parliament, mayor of London, and cabinet minister (all of which, incidentally, presumably involved taking oaths to Queen Elizabeth), Johnson remained a legal U.S. citizen until 2016, when, as part of his pursuit of the British prime ministership, he went through the formal process of renouncing his American citizenship.
Johnson’s decision to renounce his citizenship was also partially motivated by tax reasons—an increasingly common reason for U.S.-born persons living abroad to opt-out of their American citizenship. The U.S. government expects all U.S. citizens to file a tax return regardless of where they live.
When asked for comment by The Post Millennial a Green Party spokesperson claimed May’s “American citizenship was revoked when she became Canadian in 1978, as per U.S. laws at the time.”
The Green Party did not respond to request for clarification on which “laws” May is referring to and The Post Millennial was unable to find any evidence of “laws” that automatically revoked US citizenship from Americans who became citizens of another country between 1954 and 1978.
Since American citizenship for people born in the United States is a constitutional right, the U.S. government cannot “revoke” it from people through simple legislation. In 1967 Supreme Court ruled in the case of Afroyim v. Rusk that Congress cannot revoke US citizenship without the voluntary consent of the citizen.
The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs states that a “U.S. citizen may naturalize in a foreign state without any risk to his or her U.S. Citizenship.”
Though becoming a citizen of another country can be used as an act of an intent to renounce U.S. citizenship, since the U.S. government cannot revoke citizenship unilaterally, the burden of proof remains on the American to prove she consciously and purposely became a citizen of another country in order to renounce her U.S. citizenship. All acts of deliberate citizenship renunciation must be done with the awareness of a local U.S. diplomatic or consular office. The Green Party did not reply to a follow-up question regarding if May had ever applied for or received diplomatic confirmation of her alleged loss of citizenship.
Andrew Scheer’s attitude to his birthright citizenship has apparently borne more resemblance to Johnson’s legal carefulness than May’s flippant disinterest. According to recent media reports, Scheer has always filed a perfunctory tax return with the IRS over the years, registered with U.S. selective service, and initiated the formal bureaucratic process of renouncing his citizenship in August.
Last week May spoke to reporters on Scheer’s citizenship, and continued her claim that her citizenship was revoked, which was unquestioningly reported as the truth by outlets like CTV.
But is that the truth?