Senate May Fix Law That Could Revoke Maryam Monsef's Citizenship

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OTTAWA — The Senate could come to the rescue of Canadians who are being stripped of their citizenship without a hearing.

Independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, who is sponsoring another citizenship-related bill in the upper house, says she's hopeful the Senate will amend the bill to do away with a law that allows the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone deemed to have misrepresented themselves.

It's a law that could potentially ensnare Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, who revealed last week that she was born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she'd always believed.

The law, part of a citizenship bill passed by the previous Conservative government, was denounced by the Liberals when they were in opposition but lawyers say they've been aggressively enforcing it since forming government.

maryam monsef
Maryam Monsef sits in the audience during a public forum on electoral reform, in Kitimat, B.C., Sept. 8. (Photo: Robin Rowland/The Canadian Press)

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers on Monday launched a constitutional challenge of the law, which they argue violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Liberal government chose not to deal with the issue in Bill C-6, which repeals other aspects of the Conservatives' citizenship regime, including a provision empowering the government to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who are convicted of high treason or terrorism.

During study of C-6 at a House of Commons committee, the NDP attempted to amend the bill to repeal the power to revoke citizenship without a hearing. But that was ruled by the committee chair to be outside the scope of the bill.

Omidvar, who moved second reading of C-6 on Tuesday in the upper chamber, said Senate procedural rules are different and she's hopeful the upper house will be able to do what the Commons could not.

'Very important question'

"I would like to see this question addressed," said Omidvar, a longtime advocate for immigrant and refugee rights.

"I think it's a very important question because, as BCCLA has pointed out, even if you get a traffic ticket, you get a hearing or an appeal and here your citizenship is being revoked and you have no avenue for a hearing and appeal."

Omidvar said she's spoken about the matter with Immigration Minister John McCallum and "he's open to an amendment'' from the Senate.

"He understands that this was an oversight."

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