April 20, 2016 | House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration

Testimony of Sheryl Saperia on Bill C-6

Good morning, distinguished members of the committee. On behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank focused on national security and foreign policy, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. My comments will focus exclusively on the provisions in the Citizenship Act that revoke citizenship for terrorism, treason, and armed conflict against Canada, which Bill C-6 seeks to repeal.

As I explained in my testimony on Bill C-24, I believe it is reasonable to predicate Canadian citizenship 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 seems fitting that one consequence of these crimes might be the loss of citizenship to the country the offender seeks to harm.

However, there are areas where the current law could be improved. Rather than repeal outright the provisions allowing citizenship to be stripped on national security grounds, I would propose several amendments.

For instance, I recommended in my previous testimony and in various newspaper publications that the law should be amended to stipulate a tighter connection between the terrorist crime and the consequence of losing one’s citizenship. Specifically, I suggest that the stripping of citizenship for terrorism be triggered only by terrorist offences in Canada, against a Canadian target, or when committed in association with a listed entity. Listed entities, after all, 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.

If the terrorist act has nothing to do with Canada, the revocation of citizenship should not be the consequence.

I would also suggest an amendment with regard to foreign terrorist convictions. I can understand Canada giving credence to a terrorism conviction from a like-minded country with legal standards similar to our own. But while the original legislation was clear that the substance of the foreign offence would be examined to ensure its equivalence to a Canadian Criminal Code terrorist act, the law failed to require an assessment of the fairness of the process by which the conviction was achieved. 

I would like to take a moment to address Minister McCallum’s most vociferous objection to the current law, namely, that it 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. First, that distinction is not arbitrary; it only exists because there is a law that prohibits rendering a person stateless. Second, 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.

In cases where a Canadian is also citizen of a country that does not enable renunciation of that citizenship, the minister or department could use their discretion to assess the extent of what I call the “active relationship” to that second citizenship. Does the person maintain deep ties to the other country? Has the individual invoked any of the rights of that citizenship? Has she traveled with the passport of that country, or served in an official capacity only open to citizens? The less active the citizenship, the weaker the argument that his or her Canadian citizenship should be revoked.

In short, it is simply not always true that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.  It is not an absolute category. Naturalized Canadians are Canadians only so long as they are not found to have lied on their citizenship application. Those who have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide can have their citizenship removed, as well. And consider also that naturalized citizens must pledge an oath of allegiance to the Queen as the personification of Canada. By committing treason, armed conflict, or terrorism against Canada, are they not renouncing that oath through their actions?  

Canadians with more than one nationality have a very easy way to retain their Canadian citizenship under this law: do not commit those criminal acts – treason, armed conflict, or terrorism – which are directed at Canada as a country.

Lastly, if the government believes that our national security interests are better served by keeping dangerous terrorists in Canada where we can watch them properly, rather than potentially letting them loose in another country, I urge them to follow that commitment through.  The safety of the Canadian public demands that if those involved in terrorism are to remain in this country, they need to be closely monitored while they are imprisoned and afterwards. Canada must develop a strategy for preventing convicted terrorists from radicalizing and recruiting members of the general prison population. The threat of Islamist prison radicalization is an important feature of modern counterterrorism, with prison being a unique incubator for violent radicalization. As more terrorists are incarcerated in this country, the related threat of prison radicalization will also rise. This issue is all the more potent now that there are Canadians who have travelled abroad to wage jihad, and whose narrative might be more compelling than that of a foreign recruiter.

So if indeed we are going to keep in Canada those who have demonstrated their allegiance to the destruction of Canada, we cannot hide from developing the necessary strategies to protect the public from the consequences.

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