Mixed reaction to Canada plan to change citizenship law

Bill C-24 controversially granted government power to revoke citizenship of dual nationals convicted of specific crimes.

Canada''s Immigration Minister McCallum speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa
McCallum, the immigration minister, says Bill C-24 'created two classes of Canadians' [Chris Wattie/Reuters]

The Canadian government’s plan to repeal citizenship-revocation laws has been welcomed by civil liberty groups in the country.

The revocation laws, which were part of Bill C-24, went into effect in May 2015 and strictly applied to dual nationals of Canada giving the government ability to strip dual citizens of their Canadian passports if convicted of “terrorism, high treason and spying offences”.

“We applaud the government for introducing these changes to restore equal citizenship in Canada. Bill C-24 was discriminatory and unconstitutional,” said Laura Track, a counsel for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

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John McCallum, Canada’s immigration minister, has said the government proposes to repeal and change parts of the Citizenship Act, which was previously amended under the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper.

Bill C-24, also known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, was first introduced in 2014 and was the country’s biggest immigration revamp since 1977.

According to McCallum, “this law created two classes of Canadians”.

It was reported last year that Canada stripped citizenship from a few dual nationals linked to specific crimes, including Zakaria Amara – also a Jordanian citizen – who in 2010 was sentenced to life in prison for plotting to detonate bombs in downtown Toronto.

‘One class of Canadians’

Once the revocation laws are repealed, Amara may have his Canadian citizenship reinstated.

When asked about Amara retaining his revoked citizenship, McCallum said the Liberal Party-led government believed in having “one class of Canadians” and that it was up to the criminal justice system to deal with those convicted of crimes.

This notion was heavily criticised by members of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), the current opposition in parliament.

Rona Ambrose, CPC’s interim leader, has expressed concern over Amara’s citizenship status via Twitter, saying that the government announcement “bestows Canadian citizenship on a convicted terrorist”. 


Likewise, Michelle Rempel, a CPC member of parliament, expressed her disappointment with the government’s intention to repeal the revocation laws.

“I would like to think that the first principle that we put forward, that we’re not celebrating people that commit terrorist actions against our country,” she said.

Others, such as Raj Sharma, a Canadian immigration lawyer, describe the CPC’s position as “dog-whistle politics”.

“They’re signalling to their base that they they’re tough on [terrorism]. That was pandering to the gallery, done for political purposes,” he told Al Jazeera.

Before Bill C-24, the Canadian government was only able to strip citizenship from individuals who were accused of obtaining it fraudulently – an authority the Liberal government will keep.

“It should never be up to a government official or politician to make a final decision whether someone’s citizenship should be taken away,” Track, the BCCLA counsel, said. 

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Other changes proposed by the current government include allowing citizenship applicants to count up to a year’s worth of the days they spend in Canada as non-permanent-residents (PR).

This will affect people such as international students who, under Bill C-24, are not allowed to count their non-PR days in Canada.

“You’ve gotten a degree here – that’s four years,” Sharma told Al Jazeera. “After that you get an open work permit and work here.

“After two years with skilled work experience, you apply for permanent residency, [which] might take a year or two to process. Under [C-24] you’d have to wait another four years minimum to apply.”

Case in point

A permanent resident currently residing in Montreal found himself facing those obstacles last year when he first applied for citizenship.

The resident – who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity to protect his ongoing citizenship application status – said he moved to Canada from Pakistan in 2004 as an international student.

He became a permanent resident of Canada in 2012 and, by the time he was eligible to apply for citizenship last year, the residency requirements of Bill C-24 came into effect.

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24) was first introduced by the Conservative government in 2014 [Chris Wattie/Reuters] [-]
The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24) was first introduced by the Conservative government in 2014 [Chris Wattie/Reuters] [-]

“I was panicking, given that I was losing on all my pre-PR days. I couldn’t apply for another two years, summer 2017 at the earliest,” he said.

Having resided in Canada for more than 11 years, he still decided to apply for citizenship last June.

His application was returned back marked “incomplete” and he was told to apply again once he met the residency requirements in accordance with Bill C-24.

“Knowing how close I was to being Canadian. Being able to vote, have a passport and call myself Canadian. Having that taken away was the most stressful feeling. I was very emotional,” he said.

He said that he had no choice but to go on with his daily life, working and continuing his post-graduate studies in business, waiting to meet his extended residency requirement. 

After this week’s announcement, he learned that he can apply for citizenship sooner than planned. Once the proposed government changes take effect, he will have a year credited back, meaning that he can apply immediately.

“I emailed my entire family and all my friends when I read the announcement. It just felt very Canadian to me, the values that attracted me to the country … and what made me stay this whole time,” he said.

The government has not yet specified a date for when the changes will take effect.

Many of the changes proposed will be put to vote in parliament, where they are expected to pass because of the Liberal Party’s majority.

 Follow Mohamed Hashem on Twitter:  @mhashem_

Source: Al Jazeera