May 7, 2014 | Canadian Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration

Revocation of Citizenship for Terrorism, Treason and Armed Conflict with Canada

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me here today. My comments will focus exclusively on the provisions in Bill C-24 that deal with the revocation of citizenship for terrorism, treason, and armed conflict against Canada.

As I have stated in previous testimony, I support these provisions conceptually. They amount 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 abide by certain obligations towards the state in exchange for other 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 those offences considered most contrary to the national security interests of Canada.

Treason and armed conflict against Canada are actions clearly intended to damage the country as a national entity and political community. It is therefore fitting that one consequence of these crimes may be loss of citizenship to the country the offender seeks to harm.

What about terrorism? One could make a persuasive case that terrorism, as a unique crime (and it’s the Canadian courts who say this, not me), is so antithetical to Canadian values that anyone choosing to embrace such violence has effectively declared that his or her allegiance lays elsewhere.

Nonetheless, I personally would recommend that the bill stipulate a tighter connection between the crime and the consequence of losing one’s citizenship. Specifically, I suggest that revocation of citizenship for terrorism be triggered only by terrorist offences in Canada, against a Canadian target or in association with a listed entity. Listed entities have been publicly designated by Canada as terrorist organizations and are in effect public enemies of the state. Working with a listed entity in the commission of a terrorist act is a clear statement of allegiance to forces acting to damage Canada.

The bill provides that revocation can stem not only from a domestic terrorism conviction with a sentence of five years or more, but also from a foreign conviction. When the conviction comes from a like-minded country with legal standards similar to Canada’s, this makes sense. But what about a country whose legal system we do not generally trust? I understand from last week’s hearings that Minister Alexander envisions a two-step process in his ministerial discretion. The first step would be to examine the substance of the foreign offence, and whether it is equivalent to a Canadian Criminal Code terrorist act. This is set out in the legislation.  But the second step of the review, which was described as an examination of the fairness of the process by which the conviction was achieved, is not mentioned anywhere in the bill. I would recommend an amendment in this regard. One option is for the minister’s two-part analysis to be codified in the legislation: to be explicit, in other words, that both the substance of the act and the fairness of the conviction would be factors taken into account when deciding on a terrorism revocation case. Alternatively, revocation resulting from a foreign terrorism conviction could involve both a ministerial recommendation and court approval, which would take into account whether, for example, the conviction was politically motivated or the judge was truly independent.

The point is that a measure as severe as the revocation of citizenship must be drafted carefully to ensure conformity to Canadian laws and values and of course our international obligations.

To that end, I credit the bill for its consistency with the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. C-24 provides that if a person holds only Canadian citizenship, it is not possible for that citizenship to be revoked – regardless of the crime – because no person can be stateless.

However, this has opened up the argument that the bill unfairly creates two classes of citizens: those with dual or multiple nationalities, who are at risk of having their Canadian citizenship stripped, and those with only Canadian citizenship, who may be punished in a variety of ways but cannot lose their citizenship.

For dual nationals who have chosen that status – often because of personal connection to, or benefit from, more than one citizenship – this is not a compelling argument. Dual citizenship was not forced upon them and they are not being subject to discrimination as a result of any inherent trait. It is a choice they have made, just as they can choose to renounce their other citizenship so as to be solely Canadian and therefore not subject to these provisions.

But what about countries that do not permit renunciation of citizenship? If the government is reluctant to uphold the legal status of a citizenship a person has unsuccessfully tried to renounce, the following could be considered as a solution. When someone commits terrorism, treason or armed conflict against Canada, and his or her other citizenship is from a country where renunciation is not allowed, the CIC minister could use his discretion to assess the extent of “active relationship” to that citizenship. Does the person maintain deep ties to the other country? Has he invoked any of the rights of that citizenship? Has he traveled with the passport of that country, or served in an official capacity only open to citizens? The more active the citizenship, the weaker would be any claim that it was forced on him.

I should note that while stripping away citizenship is one tool to deal with those convicted of the most serious crimes against Canada, preventative or disruptive action should be taken to prevent in the first place a situation leading to citizenship revocation. Counter-radicalization programs are essential, and I am heartened to hear that a federal program is set to be unveiled in the near future. Stronger exit controls are another option. Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director of intelligence at CSIS, once suggested that “There has to be an easy way to trigger a denial of a passport — or the removal of somebody's passport — if there is sufficient information to demonstrate this person has become highly radicalized and/or made threats, or done things to threaten lives or the welfare and well being of others.” This could apply equally to sole and dual citizens, and, unlike reactive citizenship revocation, the removal of a passport might prevent Canadian citizens from engaging in terrorism or armed conflict abroad. The RCMP’s recently disclosed High Risk Traveller Case Management system, which is intended to “prevent radicalized youth from leaving for conflict zones like Syria, Somalia and North Africa,” seems to employ just such a mechanism, among others.

Western security agencies are concerned that their citizens are traveling to these countries to participate in jihad, gaining the skills and motives to pursue similar acts in their home countries. At least one study has found that terrorists with foreign experience are far more lethal, dangerous and sophisticated than purely domestic cells. If the citizenship revocation provisions in C-24 help prevent bloodshed from being exported to or from Canada, they are worth parliamentary consideration. Let us remember that it took only 19 hijackers to perpetrate the 9/11 attacks. 

One last comment: If this bill goes through, perhaps it should be accompanied by a change to the application for a Canadian passport.  Anyone who is 16 years old or over should be required to acknowledge on paper the terms of citizenship. The document would clarify to the applicant that engaging in treason, terrorism or armed conflict with Canada entails the possible revocation of citizenship. It essentially becomes a contract: if you break the terms of the agreement, you are subject to the penalties.

Thank you.