March 4, 2014 | Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Committee

Bill C-425, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act

Thank you for inviting us here today. I am pleased to testify on this important bill in my capacity as director of policy for Canada with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and adviser to the Canadian Coalition Against Terror.

Like other democracies, Canadian society has been built on the concept of the social contract. In broad terms, this means that individuals have consented, either explicitly or implicitly, to relinquish some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the state in exchange for other compelling benefits. A social contract involves expectations and understandings with regard to the relationship between governments and citizens, and to my mind, Bill C-425 is about establishing a 21st century baseline for this relationship.

The bill, and what I understand to be Minister Kenney's amendments, rightly propose a two-sided proposition that the citizenship process ought to be accelerated for individuals who contribute to the safety of Canada by joining the Canadian Armed Forces, while the concept of deemed renunciation of citizenship is introduced for individuals engaged in armed conflict against the Canadian Forces or who commit acts of treason or terrorism.

In principle I'm in favour of this legislation. Nevertheless, I would like to propose several modifications, focused primarily on the issue of terrorism, that I believe will help the bill achieve its intended results and avoid certain political and legal complications.

Engaging in armed conflict against Canadian soldiers and committing treason are appropriately identified as fundamental violations of the social contract. In both these cases, the individual has essentially declared his or her allegiance to forces acting to damage or destroy Canada. Such an individual has disavowed the most basic tenets of the social contract and has done so in a manner so egregious that it cannot be framed as mere dissent. The loss of Canadian citizenship seems a fitting consequence for the crime, provided, of course, as we discussed earlier, that the offender is a citizen of at least one other country.

Committing terrorism in Canada or against a Canadian target can similarly be perceived as a fundamental severance of the ties between the individual and Canadian society, so the offender's subsequent exclusion from that community seems fitting. But what about a terrorist attack that is committed neither in nor against Canada? Why should this offence be treated differently from another violent criminal offence committed abroad? What is the connection between committing this crime and losing Canadian citizenship? I believe that the answer lies in the unique threat that terrorism poses to Canada and the democratic world in our time.

Terrorists pledge their allegiance not to the country issuing the passport but to ideologies and will not hesitate to use terrible violence to pursue their goals. In demonstrating such allegiance, which goes to the very heart of the social contract, they should not be provided with the privileges of Canadian citizenship that could be used to cause death and destruction in Canada or any other country. This argument is particularly strengthened when Canadians have committed terrorist offences on behalf of, for the benefit of, or in association with any listed entities that have been publicly identified as enemies of, and threats to, Canada.

My next point pertains to terrorist convictions by a foreign court. Minister Kenney has indicated he would put forward an amendment requiring the terrorist act to be an equivalent crime under Canadian law. This is an important safeguard as non-democratic countries in particular have been known to label their domestic political opponents as terrorists. Thus, something like participating in a political protest, while referred to as terrorism by the foreign state, would not be considered terrorism in Canada and would not constitute deemed renunciation.

So let's suppose that a foreign state finds a Canadian citizen guilty of an act of terrorism that would be viewed as an equivalent crime in Canada. What if, though, this foreign state did not possess a legal system that we trusted to ensure due process and a fair trial? It is not clear to me that something as severe as loss of citizenship should be prompted by a criminal conviction from a court whose standards do not meet our own.

Let me suggest a possible solution. Perhaps we should consider only accepting foreign convictions from countries with which we have extradition relationships, because this signifies a certain trust in those states' legal systems. The recently compiled list of designated countries of origin might be another instrument to discern which foreign convictions to recognize for the purpose of deemed renunciation.

On the other hand, being restricted only to these lists might handcuff Canada from acting against terrorists who pose a serious threat to Canada and its allies. Perhaps in the case of countries that do not appear on either of the above-mentioned lists, the government should be required to make its case before a Canadian judge, outlining why the government feels that in a particular instance the foreign court's determination should be accepted as reliable.

Whether the terrorist conviction is foreign or domestic, it is important that the legislation allow for ministerial and/or judicial discretion and that deemed renunciation of citizenship not be automatic.

We want to make sure the loss of citizenship is appropriate in each case and that every relevant factor is taken into account when making such a decision. In that respect, perhaps a finding of civil liability for a terrorist offence under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act could be used as one factor in the minister's discretionary decision-making. A successful civil suit against a terrorist offender under the JVTA would provide greater evidence of, and insight into, his or her terrorist involvement and would help the minister ascertain the level of threat the person poses to Canada.

The specific offences for which a person is held civilly liable under the JVTA could be the same ones used to determine whether a person is deemed to have renounced his citizenship under BillC-425, and I can go through the sections in the Criminal Code with you right now.

Ultimately, I believe the proposed deemed renunciation mechanism with proper protections has value. From a national security perspective, it can offer a new layer of deterrence for people who would otherwise consider engaging in the proscribed behaviour. It can facilitate the removal of people who are dangerous, not only to Canada as a whole, but who pose a particular danger to the vulnerable individuals in our society who are susceptible to radicalization. The coveted Canadian passport would be taken away from those who would use it to facilitate terrorist movement and activity.

I would be happy to discuss my remaining thoughts with you in the Q and A, including those on the issue of involuntary dual citizenship, which were raised earlier.

Thank you.