The Conservative party would strip all Canadians of their citizenship if they were convicted of terrorism offences but can't because of a UN convention, Tory incumbent candidate Jason Kenney said in an interview this week.
"Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely. If we did not have the legal constraint, then the legal principle of revocation for convictions of political violence against Canada, like treason, acts of war, terrorism, would lead to revocation of citizenship," he told CBC Radio's "As It Happens" on Monday.
Kenney was defending the government's changes to the Citizenship Act, a bill that was known as C-24. The law was passed in 2014 but emerged as an election topic after the Tories decided last Friday to revoke the citizenship of Zakaria Amara, a dual Canadian-Jordanian citizen and one of the ringleaders of the "Toronto 18" bomb plot.
The Conservatives appear to be trying to talk about security and ethno-cultural wedge issues, such as the niqab and "barbaric cultural practices," on the campaign trail rather than the economy or their party's platform.
Amara is currently serving a life sentence but is technically eligible for parole in 2016. Kenney, who is also the defence minister, warned on CBC radio that Amara would be "walking Canadian streets" if his citizenship were not revoked.
The NDP and the Liberals, who oppose C-24, have accused the Tories of playing political games and creating a two-tiered system of citizenship.
Kenney defended the law this week, saying it makes no distinction between Canadians who are born here and those who are naturalized.
"However, in practice," the Conservative candidate added, "because of the international convention on the prevention of statelessness, it cannot be applied to people who only have one nationality."
Canada signed the UN's Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 1978.
BC Civil Liberties Association says law is unconstitutional
"I'm glad that the government feels at least bound that much by international law," Josh Paterson, the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association told The Huffington Post Canada. His group is one of several challenging C-24 in federal court on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional.
Canadian-born Saad Gaya, another member of the "Toronto 18" who is also being stripped of his citizenship — despite not being a citizen of any other country — also plans an appeal. According to a report in Maclean's magazine, the Tories believe Gaya can be deported to Pakistan because his parents emigrated from there, even though it was more than 30 years ago.
Paterson said the Conservatives' policies on domestic terrorism are completely incoherent.
"The government makes a ton of hay about how it revokes passports for foreign fighters," he said, referencing a Conservative policy to revoke the passports of suspected extremists. "'We don't want these people going abroad, they might be out of the realm of Canadian authorities where they might get up to no good.' And yet, in the very same breath they want to deport people who they say are terrorists. It makes no sense at all.
"People convicted of terrorism should be dealt with through our criminal-justice system," he said. "It will not make anybody safer to take individuals whom we believe to be dangerous and deport them to other countries. It doesn't make any sense."
Friday, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said in a statement that the government would defend its new law "vigorously."
"Citizenship revocation only occurs in accordance with all the principles of natural justice, due process, and constitutionally enshrined safeguards," Alexander said.
"War criminals, fraudsters and others who have cheated their way into this country have previously had their Canadian citizenship revoked. Our government has expanded that to include a small group of people convicted of the most serious crimes: terrorism, treason, espionage or taking up arms against our Canadian Armed Forces," Alexander said.
That's not exactly true, Paterson told HuffPost.
"Someone who was naturalized was always able to get their citizenship revoked for some sort of substantial misrepresentation… like 'I was a war criminal,'" he said, giving by way of example a Nazi who worked in concentration camps or a warlord in Rwanda.
If someone received citizenship under false pretenses, such that they should never have obtained it in the first place, then the government has the ability to go to the Federal Court and seek to revoke that citizenship. Paterson argued however, that it's another thing altogether to say that someone who is legitimately a citizen can see it revoked because of some type of activity. "That has never been the case before."
He also said that the Tories have created two different classes of citizens.
"There are now millions of Canadians whose rights are worth less than others', whose rights can be taken away more easily than others. The only distinction between them and others is where their families came from," he said. "That is the very definition of inequality. It bakes discrimination into the law; it's the very opposite of people being equal before the law."
Kenney dismissed the two-classes argument, saying it is based on "a campaign of lies and fears" from opposition parties which some media outlets were uncritically repeating.
"If you are willing through political violence to kill hundreds, in this case, of your fellow citizens, you are in our judgment, forfeiting your Canadian citizenship. You are demonstrating your violent hatred for this country, which is incompatible with retaining your citizenship."
'I think we are actually uniting Canadians': Kenney
The opposition parties are seeking to divide Canadians on issues where there is overwhelming support, Kenney added.
"I know that may not be the truth in every cocktail party in the Annex [a well-to-do neighbourhood in Toronto where Nigel Wright, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, and author Margaret Atwood have called home]," he said in his radio interview.
"But in the Canada where I meet people every single day, in the Bramptons, in the Surreys, in the Richmond Hills and the Lavals of Canada," he added, listing city suburbs with large ethnic communities, "people overwhelmingly believe that there is real meaning to our citizenship, that the oath should be taken openly and publicly, that people who violently express their disloyalty to Canada should not be able to keep their citizenship. So I think we are actually uniting Canadians."
"The polling that we have indicates that 85 per cent support for the revocation of citizenship for convicted terrorists, overwhelming — similar levels of support for the requirement that citizenship oath be taken publicly and openly and proudly, and not in a way where people obscure their identity," he said, referring to the Tories' ban on the niqab, a directive overturned by two federal courts for breaching the Citizenship Act.
"There is an overwhelming majority that supports our military contribution to the coalition against ISIL in the Middle East, so all these points in which you have been interrogating me, we see a very strong support for the government's position," Kenney told host Carol Off.
"Why would you call this an interrogation?" the CBC journalist asked.
"Ah, a series of questions — isn't that how that is defined?" Kenney responded.
"Well, OK. Interrogation usually means that I'm trying to put your feet to the fire or pull your finger nails out. Did you feel that way?" Off asked.
"Any other questions?" the Conservative candidate responded.
She had none and the interview ended.
Under C-24, the minister of Citizenship and Immigration has the power to unilaterally strip any dual citizen of their Canadian citizenship if they are:
- convicted of treason and imprisoned for life, or convicted of high treason;
- convicted of a terrorism offence inside Canada, or an offence outside Canada that could constitute a terrorism offence in Canada, and sentenced to at least five years in prison;
- convicted of aiding the enemy, surrendering to the enemy or not fighting courageously against the enemy and sentenced to imprisonment for life under the National Defence Act;
- convicted of intentionally communicating with a foreign entity or terrorism group to bring harm to Canadian interests or of passing on special operational information and is sentenced to life.
When the Conservatives introduced the bill, the government appeared to suggest that the minister would be making unilateral decisions about stripping someone’s citizenship only on cases related to residence fraud, concealing criminal inadmissibility or identity fraud. "More exceptional cases, such as those involving war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as cases regarding security, human or international rights violations and organized criminality, would instead be decided by the FC [Federal Court]," the department's press releases state.
But the minister, or his delegate, actually makes the final call on revoking citizenship in cases involving residence fraud, concealing criminal inadmissibility, identity fraud or of dual citizens convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason or spying offences, depending on the sentence received, CIC spokeswoman Sonia Lesage confirmed Friday.
More complex revocation cases —including those involving war crimes and crimes against humanity, along with other fraud cases involving security, human or international rights violations and organized criminality — are decided by the Federal Court, she added.
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