POLITICS

Deepak Obhrai To Chris Alexander In C-24 Debate Last Year: 'A Canadian Is A Canadian'

10/23/2015 12:53 EDT | Updated 12/08/2016 10:21 EST

Losing government, it seems, has helped some federal Conservatives find their voice.

Take, for example, Jason Kenney.

The outgoing defence minister and presumed Tory leadership contender raised eyebrows this week when he told The Canadian Press his party needs to project a "sunnier and more optimistic" brand of conservatism.

That was all a bit too rich for Postmedia columnist Michael Den Tandt, who pointed out Kenney "belittled and mocked" prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau for years and was a key figure in the divisive debate over the niqab.

So, when re-elected Tory MP Deepak Obhrai told The Calgary Herald Wednesday that he always opposed Bill C-24, the so-called Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, the admission was met with some skepticism online.

"I did oppose Bill C-24 so it never became an issue in my riding. I am one of the very few. Now I can say it," Obrhai told the Herald's James Wood.

He was re-elected in Calgary Forest Lawn by nearly 5,000 votes.

C-24 lets the federal government revoke the citizenship of dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason, or espionage against Canada. Liberals have vowed to repeal those powers, which came into effect in June, and argued throughout the campaign the changes create two-tiers of citizenship.

Though Obhrai voted in favour of the bill at difference stages, he didn't vote at its third and final reading in June, 2014.

Obhrai, an outgoing parliamentary secretary to foreign affairs and MP since 1997, also expressed concerns about the controversial legislation to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander in the House of Commons.

In May, 2014, he rose in the House to say that ensuring all Canadian citizens are equal is a "fundamental" matter of human rights.

"I strongly support this bill except on this one condition, which is the fundamental right for a Canadian to be treated as a Canadian, no matter what," Obhrai said at the time.

Though Obhrai said he agreed that citizenship obtained fraudulently should be revoked, he worried C-24 would treat "one Canadian differently from another Canadian."

He called on Alexander to address those concerns, and reminded the House that "a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian."

Those words — "a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian" — will remind some of a line Trudeau used repeatedly on the campaign trail, most recently during his victory speech Monday night.

Alexander responded he had "enormous respect" for his colleague but appeared to have missed Obhrai’s earlier statement that he agreed with revoking fraudulently-obtained citizenship.

"Does the member seriously think that we should stop revoking citizenship in cases where we find it to have been obtained fraudulently just to be able to treat everyone equally?" Alexander asked.

Calling citizenship a "creation" of Parliament, Alexander said rules have always existed for obtaining and losing the privilege.

"Terrorism, espionage, and other grave forms of disloyalty to this country constitute very serious crimes," he said. "I think my honourable colleague will agree with me that these are very serious crimes, and our position has not changed.

"The punishment for committing these acts will be severe, and in cases of dual nationals under this bill, it will be in the same way that all of our NATO allies have such provisions."

Alexander charged that it was only because of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau that such rules weren’t instituted earlier.

"We are going into the mainstream," Alexander said. "Citizenship has its obligations, and if a dual national commits these crimes, that person will lose Canadian citizenship. That is fair."

On Monday, Alexander was defeated in the Ontario riding of Ajax by almost 12,000 votes.

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