September 12, 2014 | Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Comments on the Revocation of Citizenship for Treason, Armed Conflict, and Terrorism under Bill C-24

Good afternoon, distinguished members of the committee. On behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, thank you for inviting me to appear before you 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 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 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 the loss of citizenship to the country the offender seeks to harm.

What about terrorism?

In previous testimony and articles, I recommended that the bill be amended to stipulate a tighter connection between the crime and the consequence of losing one’s citizenship. Specifically, I suggested 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 the Canadian government as terrorist organizations and are in effect public enemies of the state. Committing a terrorist act that meets one of those three criteria is, to my mind, a clear attempt to damage Canada, for which loss of citizenship is appropriate.

I still believe this to be a reasonable amendment, in line with the famous Oakes test, which requires, among other things, the limitation of a right to be rationally connected to the objective of the law in question. If the terrorist act committed has nothing to do with Canada, should revocation of citizenship be the consequence?

But in fact, there are compelling arguments to be made: First, one could argue that terrorism, as a unique crime (and it’s the Canadian courts who say this), is so antithetical to Canadian values that anyone choosing to embrace such violence has effectively declared his or her allegiance to lay elsewhere.

Moreover, an individual deliberately using his or her Canadian passport to travel abroad to cause fundamental harm to innocent civilians – choosing to leave Canada to commit these illegal acts – is arguably demonstrating through his actions the little value he accords his Canadian citizenship. His or her actions represent not only a premeditated abuse of the privilege of citizenship but the weaponization of citizenship in the commission of terrorism. This may warrant the government acting to prevent further violations by removing the weapon – that is, Canadian citizenship – that facilitates entry into virtually any country in the world.

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? Testimony from earlier hearings in the House of Commons indicated that Minister Alexander envisions a two-step process. 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. The minister’s two-part analysis should be codified in the legislation: to be explicit, in other words, that both the substance of the act and the fairness of the foreign conviction would be factors taken into account when deciding on a terrorism revocation case.

One last comment, which seemed to interest the House Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration: If this bill passes, 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.

Honourable Senators, if the citizenship revocation provisions in C-24 help prevent bloodshed from being exported to or from Canada, they are worth parliamentary consideration.

Thank you again for inviting me to appear before you today. I look forward to your questions.