In an attempt to combat the “ever-evolving threat of jihadi terrorism”, in the words of Canada’s immigration minister, the Canadian government has enacted new laws allowing it to strip dual nationals of their citizenship without resorting to a federal court hearing.
Before the law went into effect in late May, the government could only strip citizenship from individuals accused of obtaining it fraudulently – a three-year process that involved the federal court of Canada.
Civil rights activists are worried about the implications of these new laws.
“It makes no sense. It doesn’t make Canadians any safer,” said Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). “It really makes people in these situations second-class citizens.”
The recent revocation provisions are part of the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government introduced last year as Bill C-24.
This government is instilling fear in ordinary Canadians that outsiders, such as these recent immigrants, are a risk.
The Act represents the most comprehensive reforms to Canada’s citizenship laws since 1977, giving the government power to strip dual nationals of Canadian citizenship if convicted of terrorism, treason or spying.
But, there are at least 944,700 Canadians with multiple citizenships – not including single-citizenship Canadians who are eligible for other nationalities, who may also be affected by the law.
The law also toughened citizenship requirements for new applicants, by extending the residency requirements they must meet before applying, and expanding the applicant age groups to 14-64 who must meet language requirements and pass knowledge tests.
The new citizenship reforms also require citizenship applicants to declare their intent to reside in Canada after they are granted citizenship.
“My concerns are that we are very clearly scapegoating newcomers to Canada,” Raj Sharma, a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Calgary, told Al Jazeera.
“This government is instilling fear in ordinary Canadians that outsiders, such as these recent immigrants, are a risk,” said Sharma.
Since winning a majority government in 2011, Harper’s Conservative government has revoked the Canadian citizenship of thousands of dual citizens accused of obtaining it fraudulently.
In 2013, former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney publicly stated his desire for laws that revoke citizenship of dual nationals involved in terrorism.
In 2012, Harper was criticised by the opposition for what they termed his “parochial and insular thinking” after publicly emphasising his single citizenship.
“In my case, as I say, I’m very clear. I’m a Canadian and only a Canadian,” Harper said at a Quebec news conference.
Dr Nelson Wiseman, director of the Canadian Studies programme at the University of Toronto, cited the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war to explain why citizenship applicants are now required to file an intent to reside.
During the war, the Canadian government spent $94m to extricate 15,000 Canadians, including dual nationals, from Lebanon.
“Within a year or two, the overwhelming majority of these dual citizens were going back to Lebanon,” Wiseman told Al Jazeera. The new citizenship laws address issues such as “citizens of convenience”, Wiseman said.
“They just wanted to exercise their citizenship when it was convenient for them, and as it turned out, the Canadian government ended up paying the charge. That was an abuse of the process,” said Wiseman.
But, the BCCLA, a Canadian NGO, has argued that some components of the new law are “discriminatory” and “unconstitutional”.
“No born Canadian citizen has to promise their intent to reside in Canada. They can move away when they’re a baby and come back when they’re 90 and they’re no less Canadian,” said Paterson.
The BCCLA and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers will be filing a joint legal challenge against Bill C-24 later this year.
Press secretary for Canada’s immigration minister Kevin Menard, however, told Al Jazeera that the Canadian government opposes any suggestions of citizenship discrimination.
“We categorically deny that there are such classes in Canadian citizenship. All of our citizens are treated equally in all matters,” Menard said.
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The government stated that dual citizens will only have their citizenship revoked if their convictions were recognised by the Canadian justice system.
Sharma said that’s not enough to protect dual citizens from unfair revocation of their citizenship.
“I don’t think they know what they’re talking [about], because they can’t foretell the future. We find things equivalent to different legal systems all the time, including legal systems that don’t share our common traditions,” Sharma said.
To explain what he sees as the flaws in the law, Sharma cited the case of Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian journalist working for Al Jazeera who was arrested in Egypt on charges of “aiding a terrorist organisation”.
The Canadian government called for the immediate release of Fahmy and for his return to Canada.
But the new citizenship law, Sharma argued, “is broad enough to say that Fahmy should be stripped of his Canadian citizenship” because he was convicted on terrorism charges in Egypt.
“The [immigration] minister said, ‘No, we won’t do that.’ That’s a problem, because you can’t rely on the good sense of someone in charge. The law itself has to be specific enough to make sure that no injustice will take place,” Sharma said.
Sharma added that the law is so broad in its definition of terrorism that who is and who isn’t a terrorist can be defined by other legal systems, which will continue to be a matter of concern for dual citizens – especially journalists.
“From the perspective that this [law] will deter terrorists, I think there’s no logical conclusion that it will,” Sharma said.