Gaya terror case highlights concerns about Bill C-24

A Canadian passport.
Stock photo by Getty Images.

Is Citizenship a right or a privilege? According to the Tories it’s a privilege that can be taken away.

Saad Gaya, one of the “Toronto 18” terrorists, is a Montreal-born and Oakville-raised young Canadian, but if the Harper government has its way, he will not be able to hold his citizenship much longer.

The Conservatives have set the wheels in motion to strip Gaya of his citizenship thanks to Bill C-24 — the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act — a contentious act that gives the government the power to revoke citizenship.

The Tories claim Gaya has dual nationality as his parents were born in Pakistan, and are using that as a basis to try to strip him of his Canadian citizenship.

Bill C-24 allows the government to take away citizenship, but only if the person is not left stateless. In Gaya’s case, the government claims he’s a Pakistani national.

One of the Toronto 18 has already has his citizenship revoked. Zakaria Amara, who in 2010 was sentenced to life in prison, was the first. Gaya is up next, but he’s not taking this lying down. He filed an application for leave and judicial review to fight the government on taking away his nationality.

Gaya is claiming that in attempting to revoke his citizenship, the following Charter rights are being violated:

  • s. 7: the right to life, liberty and security and the right not to be deprived thereof, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
  • s. 12: the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
  • s. 11 (h) and (i): not to be punished twice for the same offence (double jeopardy) and to have the lesser punishment applied for an offense once found guilty of a crime.
  • s. 15: the equality rights provision. Every individual is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit.

Here is the wrench in the scenario: even if Gaya’s lawyer is successful in arguing his client’s charter rights are being violated, Gaya could still fail on s.1 of the Charter — the proportionality section. The question would be whether Gaya’s charter rights being violated is reasonable (or proportional) due to the security threat he poses.

However, this opens up the larger discussion. Citizenship is supposed to be a right, not a privilege.

The road to acquiring citizenship in Canada can certainly be said to be a privilege that if you don’t follow the rules and stay law-abiding, you don’t get the golden prize. However, once you are a national that should never be questioned. How can we rely on our rights as citizens, if our citizenship is not even reliable?

However, stripping Gaya’s citizenship won’t just hurt him, but all of us. Conceivably the government could decide to include even more criminal offenses, or use political factors in taking away a person’s citizenship.

It could end up being a slippery slope downwards.

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