Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer doesn’t appear on a list of ex-U.S. citizens published last week.
The omission raises questions about whether Scheer has actually taken irreversible steps to get rid of his U.S. citizenship or just discussed the issue with U.S. consular officials.
Global News asked the federal Conservative Party to clarify the issue.
“Mr. Scheer has filed his paperwork and the process is ongoing,” party spokesperson Simon Jefferies wrote in an email. He did not respond to followup questions about whether Scheer had actually taken the oath of renunciation, which would cause him to cease to be a U.S. citizen.
In early October, Scheer said he visited the U.S. embassy in Ottawa just before the election began in August to say he was renouncing his citizenship. He also said he is currently awaiting confirmation from the embassy after filing the paperwork.
“It’s not a big deal in Canada for people to have dual citizenship,” Scheer said during the campaign. “There are millions of Canadians who had one or another parent born in another country.”
“I decided after I won the (Conservative) leadership that I would renounce my citizenship. And so, I have had meetings with the representative from the embassy to tell them I was renouncing my citizenship and then submitted the paperwork.”
Scheer and his party have said little else, and it’s hard to know exactly what it means.
“I don’t know how to interpret it, but I think it is clear that he is a U.S. citizen,” says Toronto-based citizenship lawyer John Richardson. “It may be the case that he has filled in the forms to apply to renounce, or it may not be the case. I don’t know what that statement means.
“He may very well have renounced, but I very much doubt it. That language didn’t seem to me to be the language of somebody who no longer thought he was a U.S. citizen.”
U.S. citizens, even those who live outside the country and have other citizenships, have certain obligations.
They must file U.S. tax returns, which Scheer said in October that he has done. If they are young men, they must register for the draft, which U.S. draft officials confirmed to Global News that Scheer did when he was 18.
They are also required to enter the United States using a U.S. passport. Scheer, who frequently visits the U.S. and, at one point, had a project of visiting every NFL stadium, has not answered questions about whether he actually did this.
Americans can begin the process of renouncing U.S. citizenship without doing anything irreversible, at least at first.
In Canada, the process starts with the person sending documents to a centralized office at the consulate in Vancouver, Richardson says.
A first meeting, with a U.S. consular official who is supposed to explain the potentially serious consequences of loss of citizenship and send the person away to reflect, no longer happens in Canada, he says.
If the person still wants to proceed, they can take a formal oath of renunciation in person at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
The consular officer then sends the documents to Washington, along with an opinion about whether the person gave the impression of understanding what they were doing or seemed to be under some kind of coercion. If the opinion doesn’t flag any issues, the U.S. State Department approves the renunciation, and the person ceases to be a U.S. citizen, backdated to the day they took the oath. At the moment, the turnaround time for that is about a month, Richardson says.
The fee for the process is US$2,350 (C$3,116).
“I don’t know why it’s so hard for Andrew Scheer to give Canadians a straight answer,” says NDP MP Charlie Angus.
“I don’t know why he’s so squirmy about telling Canadians whether he’s a Canadian or whether he’s an American, and why didn’t he take these steps earlier if he thought it was such a big issue.”
The State Department then passes the information to the Internal Revenue Service, which publishes a quarterly list of ex-citizens. In theory, the most recent list should cover ex-U.S. citizens who renounced in the quarter ending Sept. 30.
In the past, the U.S. ex-citizen lists have been known for long delays and omissions. At only 183 names, the most recent one strikes Richardson as very short; some lists have had as many as 1,700.
“To put it simply, the fact that he does not appear on the list does not prove anything, unless he were on the list,” Richardson says. “If he were on the list, he would clearly have renounced. But the absence of his name on the list doesn’t mean anything.”
Richardson calls it “absolutely and completely inappropriate” for a senior Canadian political leader to be a U.S. citizen. For one thing, he points out, Americans abroad are subject to tax penalties that can easily amount to tens of thousands of dollars for small technical errors in their tax returns, which can be very complex.
For example, Americans must report account numbers and details of non-U.S. accounts they have signing authority over on a form called the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or FBAR, or face large fines.
“You can’t have the prime minister of Canada subject to FBAR penalties,” he says.
“I don’t think that you want the prime minister of Canada to be subject to these U.S. laws,” he says. “The idea of that is completely outrageous.”
With files from Rebecca Lindell