The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Politicians around the world sometimes face an awkward problem: Their U.S. citizenship

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks to the media following a campaign rally in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, on Thursday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press/AP)

Canada is heading toward a tight race in federal elections this month, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his political rival, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, sharing the lead in recent polls.

In a race this close, small details can sometimes cause big divisions.

And on Thursday, an uncomfortable fact about Scheer emerged: He’s also a U.S. citizen.

Scheer’s father was born in the United States, and Scheer and his siblings got U.S. passports as children, his campaign acknowledged after his dual citizenship was first reported by the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail. Speaking to reporters in Nova Scotia on Thursday, Scheer said he initiated the process to officially renounce his U.S. citizenship in August. His campaign also said he has not renewed his passport as an adult. But Scheer still struggled to explain why he had never publicly mentioned his dual nationalities before.

“No one’s ever asked me before,” he said Thursday. “It was always my intention to [renounce] it."

Trudeau’s time on the campaign trail has been rattled by his own scandal. In recent weeks, multiple images of him dressed in blackface and brownface have emerged, forcing him to publicly reckon with the racist images even though he had touted a record of prioritizing diversity in his own cabinet while serving as prime minister.

Still, a spokesman for the Liberal Party jumped on Scheer’s failure to come forward about his dual citizenship earlier, saying in a statement he “has been fundamentally dishonest with Canadians about who he is."

On its website, the State Department says that to run for foreign office would not result in one’s expatriation from the United States, but “accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of a foreign office are potentially expatriating.”

Scheer is one of a number of dual-citizen politicians who have faced the awkwardness of what to do with their U.S. citizenship when they run for office elsewhere. And in the United States, some foreign-born politicians have faced similar complications: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was born in Canada to an American mother, making him a dual citizen. In 2014, facing questions over whether he qualified for a presidential run, he renounced his Canadian citizenship.

Here’s how some others have managed their ties to the United States.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Born and raised in Afghanistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani moved to New York for a PhD in anthropology at Columbia University and was eventually naturalized as a U.S. citizen. He moved back to Afghanistan decades later and renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2009.

On the campaign trail five years later, he brushed off his experience in the United States. “I learned English only so I could satisfy the foreigners and defend our national interests,” he told a rally in Kandahar. His daughter, Mariam, a filmmaker, lives in the United States.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed spent much of his life in a suburb of Buffalo. Now he’s president of Somalia.

Born in Somalia, he moved to the United States in the 1980s to work at the Somali Embassy in Washington, and then sought political asylum. In Buffalo, he worked for the municipal housing authority and New York’s Transportation Department. He then served a brief stint as prime minister of Somalia from 2010 to 2011, and was named president in 2017. In August 2019, his office announced he had given up his U.S. citizenship.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

As British prime minister, he’s now the controversial public face of Brexit. But Boris Johnson was actually born in New York.

He renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2016, according to the Guardian.

And in a 2014 interview with NPR, he complained about hefty taxes he owed the United States because of his dual citizenship.

“The United States comes after me, would you believe it ... for capital gains tax on the sale of your first residence which is not taxable in Britain, but they’re trying to hit me with some bill, can you believe it?” he said.

The NPR reporter asked if he planned to pay the taxes, and Johnson, who was at the time mayor of London, replied: “Why should I?"

“I haven’t lived in the United States for, you know, well, since I was 5 years old,” he said.

Former Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski

In 2015, as Pedro Pablo Kuczynski campaigned for presidential elections in Peru, he announced on a popular Peruvian TV program that he was giving up his U.S. citizenship after pressure from fellow candidates on the campaign trail.

History indicated it wasn’t a good idea for a Peruvian president to hold a passport from anywhere else, he said, pointing to former president Alberto Fujimori, who he said “made use of his Japanese passport to resign by fax from Japan.”

Kuczynski went on to beat out Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko, in the race.

Still, it didn’t seem he was entirely keen on giving up the passport unless he really had to. In 2011, he ran for president and gave up his American passport — but then renewed it when he lost, according to EFE, a Spanish news wire. (He was born in Peru, but both his first and second wives were American.)

In April, a judge in Lima ordered Kuczynski, now 80, to jail for pretrial detention over his alleged role in a widespread corruption scheme.

Read more:

Alberta, Canada: Rat-free for 70 years!

Trudeau apologizes again as campaign reels from racist makeup revelations

Months before Canada’s election, Justin Trudeau’s colorful mother takes the stage to tell all