The Broadbent Blog


Conservative's new law creates second class citizens

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The Canadian government passed Bill C-24 this week, giving itself the power to revoke citizenship of dual citizens convicted in Canadian courts or abroad of committing "acts against Canada,"including terrorism, espionage or treason. Though the government claims it is now better able to protect Canadians from "jihadi terrorism," the law does not make Canadians safer. Instead, it creates a class of second class citizens, whose status as Canadians is insecure.   

Nearly one million dual citizens of Canada are targeted by this law. While the majority of dual citizens in Canada are naturalized Canadians, at least 150 000 Canadians by birth are also dual citizens. Now, dual citizens convicted of the crimes listed above will be subject to more severe treatment than single citizens of Canada. Equality before the law is a cornerstone of democratic practice and C-24 permits inequality before the law. If punishment in Canada for severe offences is good enough for single-nationality citizens, it should be good enough for dual citizens.

In adopting Bill C-24, the government continues its project of creating the image of immigrants as deserving of suspicion and mistrust, of ensuring that naturalized immigrants are treated as less than equal citizens. Although many American-Canadians or British-Canadians are frustrated by a government willing to demean them by demoting their citizenship status, they will not be the target of this law. As Audrey Macklin has written, "From antiquity to the late 20th century, denationalisation was a tool used by states to rid themselves of political dissidents, convicted criminals and ethnic, religious or racial minorities. The latest target of denationalisation is the convicted terrorist, or the suspected terrorist, or the potential terrorist, or maybe the associate of a terrorist. He is virtually always Muslim and male."

Make no mistake about which community will be victimized by this law: an already vulnerable and fearful Muslim community that is, by and large, simply trying to avoid being in the spotlight so that it can go about integrating into the larger Canadian community in spite of this government’s attempts to make this increasingly difficult.

The government defends the law, arguing that citizenship is a privilege that ought to be properly valued by its holders. But, there is no evidence to suggest that dual citizens undervalue their Canadian citizenship and the rights this citizenship ought to protect, nor is there evidence to support the government’s claim that making Canadian citizenship conditional on "good behaviour" will increase anyone’s commitment to Canadian values.  

Moreover, we have been provided no reason to believe that an individual, radicalized into terrorizing Canadians will be motivated by the threat of revocation, any more than they are by the threat of serving a long prison sentence in Canada. Why should we think that denationalizing, and then deporting, individuals convicted in court of a terrorist crime, will make Canadians – or anyone – safer?

On the contrary, Canada is obligated to be a full partner in the global war against terror, by deploying its criminal justice system to prosecute terrorists, and then to exact appropriate punishment in the only place where it can be sure that it is carried out – in Canada.  Instead, the Canadian government is planning to abdicate its global responsibility to fight terror, by banishing convicted criminals, and to sacrifice the rights of Canadians, by permitting the denationalization of Canadians convicted of crimes in courts abroad, while they are outside of the country.  

If we are honest about the individuals who are likely to face revocation, these are individuals whose country of second citizenship will be one in which the criminal justice system is less rigorous and secure than Canada's. They are individuals who will face deportation to countries that do not respect the rights of due process, and perhaps even to countries that practice torture. They are individuals who may be deported to countries where they will be celebrated and therefore freed because of the crimes they have committed.  

As presently written, C-24 will permit revocation only where Canadians are convicted in court of an egregious crime, and only where individuals possess a second citizenship and will therefore not be rendered stateless. The UK said the same when it revitalized its own revocation laws in the face of terror threats. But, by 2006, the British government had changed its mind, claiming the right to revoke citizenship preemptively from citizens whose future activities may not be conducive to the public good.  

As of 2014, the UK permits citizenship revocation even where it would lead to statelessness. In Bill C-24, the government has hinted its intention to go down the same road: already, the onus is on the citizen facing revocation to prove to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration that she is at risk of statelessness from revocation. If the Minister does not agree, her citizenship is revocable.  Imagine the challenge of proving one is not a citizen of another country that might be at war or otherwise failing. How can an alleged Syrian dual citizen of Canada prove that she is not a Syrian citizen? 

In adopting the power to revoke, the Canadian government is going down a path that is dangerous, not just for dual citizens, but for all Canadians.  The ramping up of the right to revoke in the UK illustrates the danger Canadians face: the power to revoke citizenship is, fundamentally, corrupting.

Patti Tamara Lenard is Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa and an expert on immigration policy. She is a Broadbent Institute policy fellow.

Photo: Dariusz. Used under a creative commons BY-NC-ND license.