Early April news reports about the alleged involvement of Canadians in an Algerian gas plant attack have added fuel to the Harper government’s ongoing efforts to control and restrict the number of individuals entitled to the full rights of citizenship.
Chief among what critics call two-tier citizenship is a private member’s bill first introduced last year by Conservative Calgary MP Devinder Shory that would reduce by one year the residency requirements to obtain Canadian citizenship for permanent residents serving in the armed forces. Few have objected to this portion of Bill C-425, largely because it affects almost no one: citizenship is a prerequisite to being a member of the Canadian military except in very rare circumstances. Of greater concern is the possible Trojan Horse use of C-425, through which a benign-sounding proposal is being used to backdoor far more insidious measures to strip certain classes of people of Canadian citizenship.
Bill C-425, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces), declares, “A Canadian citizen who is also a citizen or a legal resident of a country other than Canada is deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship if they engage in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.
A similar provision applies to permanent residents. Unlike official government legislation, private members’ bills are not vetted by the Department of Justice to check their compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Because Bill C-425 fails to define terms like “legal resident” and “act of war,” and does not include any indication of the process that would produce such a determination, critics fear it could become a dangerous tool used to target specific communities based on racial origin, religious background, or political belief, in much the same way that Muslim Canadians have faced a disproportionate amount of attention from Canadian security forces over the past two decades.
Indeed, as Liberal MP Irwin Cotler has pointed out in the House of Commons, C-425 “raises serious constitutional concerns given… the Charter's guarantees in sections 6, 7 and 15, particularly where it engages matters of national or ethnic origin, or potentially the recognized analogous ground of citizenship.”
Currently under consideration by the House Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, C-425 will likely include an amendment from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney that also references acts of terrorism. But it’s the lack of precision in defining such terms that has opposition MPs and civil rights advocates expressing alarm, especially following the numerous cases of refugees, permanent residents, and Canadian citizens alike who have been targeted, questioned, harassed, detained, and sometimes tortured because of the government’s broad and unrestricted interpretation of what it means to be a threat to national security.
As Ottawa’s Abdullah Almalki told CBC’s The Current earlier this year, he wonders whether he would have lost his citizenship had C-425 been part of the law while he was being held in Syria, tortured based on false information emanating from Canadian security agencies. Stripping Canadians of their citizenship and preventing them from returning to Canada, he said, “is a very self-serving tool for the government, so it can not only deprive a Canadian of any due process, but also to avoid the scrutiny, embarrassment, scandals, nationally and internationally, due to the government complicity in falsely labeling Canadians as terrorists and having another state torturing us.”
Lawyer Barbara Jackman, who has handled scores of security cases, is also concerned that the bill, if passed into law, could be used against people like her clients, many of whom have been deemed threats simply for standing up for human rights and against tyrannical overseas governments. Speaking with the CBC, she recently noted that a bill to strip citizenship in 2010 never passed, but if the prior bill’s same “reasonable grounds” standards are applied with C-425, “what we will have in the Citizenship Act is what we have in the Immigration Act, and that is a very low standard. If you have a 20 per cent chance of believing that someone did something, you could take away their permanent resident status. Now you could take away citizenship. This is very scary.”
While MP Shory could not be reached for comment by the Muslim Link, he did testify before the standing committee that “Canadian citizenship is a privilege. No one who basically attacks Canadian values, no one who attacks those who actually protect Canadian values, should have the right to be called a Canadian citizen.” He said part of the rationale for his bill was that when he first came to Canada in the 1980s, “there were a lot of times when we did not lock our doors when we went out. Nowadays, we actually put the alarm on while sleeping in the house.”
But the vagueness of Mr. Shory’s statements have created unease among some Parliamentarians. As Winnipeg Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux asked, how far does one take the view of attacking or being disloyal to Canada? “If you have an aggressive citizen from Canada in Afghanistan yelling and screaming, possibly even throwing rocks at Canadian Forces…is that an act of disloyalty?”
Questioned by MPs about the concept of two-tier citizenship, Mr. Shory refused to eliminate the renunciation portion of the bill, and confirmed that even if someone were born in Canada, dual citizenship – often an irreversible consequence of birth, and not a conscious choice – could leave them open to losing Canadian citizenship.
Jason Kenney appeared more blunt, expressing his disappointment that he would like the bill to any Canadian national, “but I’m advised we don’t have the capacity to do that legally.” Indeed, as he acknowledged, to do so would violate the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Mr. Kenney also dismissed the issue of due process, declaring, “We ought not to be narrow and legalistic about the process of renunciation of citizenship. If individuals go out and voluntarily take up citizenship in a country that is at war with Canada…we ought not to be so legalistic as to wait patiently for them to sign a form renouncing their citizenship. We ought to read in their actions the renunciation of their loyalty to Canada and indeed their citizenship. That’s the premise here.”
Given that Muslim Canadians with dual citizenship have been falsely described as imminent threats to national security and wrongly detained overseas as terrorist suspects, critics point out that since Canada generally considers itself at war (against terrorism), those falsely labeled could be perceived to have engaged in such an act of renunciation.
Mr. Kenney says he cannot realistically see the bill affecting “anything more than single digits,” but the fear factor of the law could be widespread for the almost three million Canadians, many with dual citizenship, who live abroad for significant periods each year. Many might second-guess expressing potentially controversial views or engaging in activities that could be perceived as “suspect.”
NDP MP Don Davies points out that similar legislation has not been introduced to speed up applications of permanent residents such as doctors and nurses, and that, apart from the citizenship renunciation concerns, the effort going into a bill that might affect a dozen or fewer individuals on an annual basis diverts from the cuts being made to immigration services at home and abroad while over 300,000 individuals are waiting 3-5 years for their citizenship to be finalized.
And while the issue has not been explicitly stated, recent government statements about the ability to stop so-called “radicalized” Canadians from travel abroad raise questions about how, exactly, that would be done. (Will measures include seizure of or failure to issue passports, for example, a standard U.S. practice during the Cold War for those suspected of leftist sympathies?)
What is clear, however, is that communities who’ve already been targeted likely face more of the same. Asked at a recent Parliamentary committee meeting if there were a group unlikely to fit the alleged security threat mold, CSIS Assistant Director of Intelligence Michael Peirce replied, “We’re not seeing a lot of CEOs being radicalized.”