‘Two-tiered citizenship’ kicks in with stricter law

Canadian citizenship card. Stock photo by Getty Images

Update: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum announced on February 25, 2016 that parts of Bill C-24 would be repealed, including the revocation of citizenship from dual citizens who were convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.

It’s been almost a year since the controversial Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act became law — Bill C-24 — and now that some of the hubbub’s had time to die down, one very contentious part of the law has just come into effect.

The government is now able to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander invoked the spectre of “jihadi terrorism” to justify the law, which has been widely denounced by legal experts and civil liberties groups.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s petition against the law gained some 20,000 signatories over the weekend and is just shy of 75,000 names.

So, what’s the problem? Is it so bad to revoke citizenship from jihadi terrorists?

Well, the law applies to more than that, and it does so in a fairly heavy-handed way.

A primary criticism is that it establishes “two-tiered citizenship” by creating two classes of Canadians: one — Canadian-born citizens — enjoys irrevocable citizenship while the other — naturalized citizens — can have theirs stripped at the discretion of a government bureaucrat.

And that leads to further problems: the law streamlines the process for revoking citizenship by removing Federal Court from the mix and putting the decision entirely in the Citizenship and Immigration minister’s hands.

On top of that, there’s little recourse to appeal a decision.

The nature of the applicable crimes is another trouble spot.

The Canadian Bar Association takes issue with the overly vague “terrorism” dimension of the act.

The law says that anyone “convicted of a terrorism offence … or an offence outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would constitute a terrorism offence as defined in that section — and sentenced to at least five years of imprisonment” can lose their citizenship.

As the CBA points out, that means someone like Nelson Mandela could be stripped of citizenship while some participants in the militant FLQ action of the 1970s would be safe, even though their action was aimed at Canada.

The group also argues that five years is a fairly arbitrary measurement and a poor threshold for gravity of a crime.

It notes some countries use trumped-up terror charges to silence dissent and jail political opponents — sometimes for years on end.

Beyond terror there’s a fear that, once Ottawa starts creating a specific list of unacceptable crimes, it becomes too easy to expand that list and create a slippery slope of disappearing citizenship.

Overall, the CBA questions: “why the loyalty of dual nationals should be put into question more than that of other Canadians.”

Other major political parties have blasted the law as well. The NDP calls it “deeply flawed” and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has vowed to repeal it should his party win the upcoming federal election.

However, the government says it’s “deeply committed” to this legislation that “has the support of the Canadian people.” You know, except for thousands upon thousands of them.
Find a Lawyer