02/13/2013 08:18 EST | Updated 04/15/2013 05:12 EDT

A Terrorist's Passport Is the Least of Our Worries


It's easy to imagine why stripping dual nationals of their Canadian citizenship if they commit an act of terrorism would be a popular policy proposal. It's hard for most people to find a lot of sympathy in their hearts for terrorists -- and quite rightly so.

Yet this idea -- which Immigration Minister Jason Kenney brought up Wednesday, suggesting it could be implemented by expanding a current private member's bill that would strip citizenship of dual nationals who commit acts of war against Canada -- is seriously flawed. As disturbing as it is to watch the news and learn that, for example, one of the accused Bulgarian bus bombers held a Canadian passport (though he lived in Lebanon), the act of stripping citizenship after the fact hardly addresses the real problems.

One such problem: Why are individuals inclined to engage in terrorism being granted Canadian citizenship in the first place? It's true that such people don't come wrapped in warning labels. But to the extent a lack of loyalty to Canada is an issue, better to be more thorough and probing in the citizen application stage, than to wait for a horrible murder, say "oops," and then yank back what is supposed to be an inalienable charter right once it is granted. Consider: If Minister Kenney believes, as he seems to, that the bus bombing suspect's allegiance to Canada can in part be judged by the short amount of time the man apparently spent in this country, then wouldn't it make more sense to adjust the residency requirements for obtaining citizenship, rather than retroactively and selectively judging just how valid each individual's citizenship really was?

Part the illogic of the plan can be seen by taking a closer look at Minister's Kenney's own statements. On CTV's Power Play, Kenney explained his thinking this way: "If you go out and start blowing up buses and killing innocent people, maybe we should actually say: 'That's deemed renunciation of your citizenship. You lose your Canadian passport.'"

That would make a lot of sense if it applied to all Canadians. But it doesn't. It only applies to dual nationals. So what we're really saying is, if you go out and start blowing up buses and killing innocent people but hold no other passport, we still consider you loyal enough to Canada to call our own and won't deem your attack on innocents a renunciation of any sort.

I'm open to considering acts of terror against Canada's friends and on behalf of Canada's enemies a de facto throwing of the Canadian passport in the trashcan. But if we're going to go that route, the expatriation that follows should apply to all Canadians, not just those who hold a second official nationality. (Other countries take this approach.)

On the other hand, if we're not willing to go that far, then we need to be asking ourselves some serious questions about what dual citizenship means. If it can be stripped more easily than citizenship that is not shared with another country, is it of lesser value? If so, perhaps Canadians who are considering taking on a second citizenship should be warned in advance of what they're giving up by adding another passport? (The stripping of citizenship Jason Kenney is proposing would apply to natural-born Canadians with dual passports, as well as naturalized dual citizens.)

If what Minister Kenney is really getting at is that dual citizens' allegiance to Canada is more questionable and less reliable than that of other citizens, then can he explain why we grant and allow the dual citizenship arrangement at all? Is that where he's hoping this conversation ends up? Because, with apologies to Tom Mulcair, that's really the logical endpoint of the debate.

Much of the discussion of this subject has centred around the duties and responsibilities that come with the privilege of citizenship, and which are deemed to have been abandoned by dual citizens who commit acts of terror. I too think these duties and responsibilities are real and important.

However, we've got to be clearer about which part of someone like the accused bus bomber's alleged actions was the failure to meet his end of the bargain. If it was the alleged bus bombing alone, then any Canadian who engages in terrorism should be a Canadian no longer. If it was the combination of the alleged bombing and the fact that he spent most of his time in Lebanon, then we should set much stricter criteria for the granting of dual citizenship and rethink the dual citizenship model entirely.

The sad part is that none of these suggested actions -- not mine, not Jason Kenney's -- will do anything at all to prevent or reduce global terrorism. Changing the passport a terrorist carries in no way addresses the extremism and hate that motivate these kinds of attacks. Ultimately, our energy would be much better spent tackling these issues than worrying about the mass murderers' nationalities.

But if we're going to take the symbolic act of trying to distance ourselves as a country from associations with such horrific actions, shouldn't we at least be logical about it?

Bulgaria Bus Bombing