February 24, 2014 | National Post

The Case for Revoking Citizenship

An op-ed recently appeared in the National Post criticizing Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. The legislation would revoke the Canadian citizenship of dual nationals convicted of treason or terrorism or who have engaged in armed conflict with Canada.

The author argued that citizenship revocation is wrongheaded in part because terrorists today pose as little a threat as Jews in pre-Second World War Germany and the Japanese in post-Second World War Canada. This comparison is both specious and disingenuous. To equate the victims of Nazism with those guilty of terrorist acts that have killed and injured tens of thousands of innocent civilians worldwide, including many Canadians, is a profound distortion of history and morality.

The author also castigated Canada’s deliberations on the issue as being worthy of a totalitarian regime. If that is true, Canada would be joining the company of such notorious regimes as Australia, the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, Switzerland and the Netherlands, all of which have laws depriving individuals of citizenship for various crimes.

Bill C-24 is a sober response to the post-9/11 world. It amounts to a 21st century updating of the social contract that has always existed between Canada and its citizens. This contract, common to liberal democracies, broadly refers to the understanding that citizens consent to undertake certain obligations towards the state in exchange for other compelling benefits. Bill C-24 suggests that Canadian citizenship, whether bestowed by birthright or naturalization, is predicated on a most basic commitment to the state: that citizens abstain from committing the egregious offences considered most contrary to the national security interests of Canada.

Bill C-24 appropriately identifies the class of crimes that constitute a fundamental breach of loyalty to the country: treason, terrorism and armed conflict against Canada. These are no ordinary crimes. In each case, the individual has essentially declared allegiance to forces acting to damage Canada as a national entity or political community. The offender has disavowed the most basic tenets of the social contract, in a manner so flagrant that it cannot be dismissed as a mere form of political dissent. The loss of Canadian citizenship seems a fitting consequence for the crime (provided that the offender is a citizen of at least one other country, thereby ensuring adherence to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness).

This is certainly the case with committing terrorism in Canada or against a Canadian target. But what about a terrorist attack committed neither in nor against Canada? What is the connection between committing this type of crime and losing Canadian citizenship? One could argue that the law is an appropriate response to terrorists who pledge their allegiance not to the country issuing their passport but to ideologies that use extreme violence against civilians and run counter to the basic values of Canadian society.

Nevertheless, the argument for citizenship revocation would be strengthened if the Canadian had committed the terrorist offence in association with a listed terrorist entity. Listed entities are individuals or groups which have been explicitly identified under the Criminal Code for their involvement in terrorist activity and are therefore deemed threats to Canada. Indeed, the government could consider an amendment to the bill requiring that the terrorist offence leading to loss of citizenship be committed in Canada, against a Canadian target, or on behalf of, for the benefit of, or in association with a listed entity. This would help reign in some of the definitional problems associated with terrorism, and ensure a Canadian connection to the crime.

Detractors falsely assert that the bill’s provisions offer no protection to individuals wrongfully convicted of terrorism by a foreign court. Bill C-24 mandates that if the terrorist act was committed outside Canada, it must be one that would constitute an offence under the terrorism section of our Criminal Code if it had been committed in Canada. Moreover, citizenship revocation is not mandatory, and the minister of Citizenship and Immigration has discretion not to exercise this option if there are concerns about the legitimacy of the foreign conviction.

Still, an additional safeguard is warranted when the conviction is issued by a foreign court whose legal standards may not meet our own. The government could consider accepting foreign convictions only from countries designated as extradition partners under the Extradition Act or with which we have bilateral extradition treaties. These relationships signify a certain trust in the legal systems of those states. For all other countries, the minister would be required to appear before a Canadian judge and present the arguments for accepting the foreign court’s determination.

Bill C-24 makes ordinary Canadians safer by adding a new layer of deterrence against engaging in terrorism, treason and armed conflict with Canada; facilitating the removal of people who pose a threat not only to Canada, but to the vulnerable individuals in our society susceptible to radicalization; and removing the coveted Canadian passport from those who would use it as a tool to support or carry out terrorist attacks.

The people who commit these crimes are not victims. They have spoken through their actions about their level of commitment to the country. Removing their Canadian citizenship makes sense. The punishment fits the crime.

Sheryl Saperia is Director of Policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a think tank focused on national security and foreign policy.

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