Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Citizenship, C24 and the Election.

It was no surprise that the Conservative government chose to revoke the citizenship of several dual-citizen Canadians in the middle of the election campaign - indeed a day or two  before the leaders' debate on foreign policy.  I have no doubt that they had this in mind when they passed the Bill C24 back in June.

Similarly I have no doubt that it played well with a big part of the electorate and that the Conservatives picked up quite a few votes over the issue.  From Harper's point of view both Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair played exactly the role he had crafted for them - that is being forced to defend the rights of convicted terror plotters in front of a national audience.  

The rights and wrongs of the issue can be debated.  Certainly I can see the point of view that those convicted of  plotting or conducting terrorist crimes don't deserve to keep their Canadian citizenship. There are of course arguments on the other side, namely that it creates two types of citizenship (those who have had it since birth and those who have gained it later in life) and that by revoking a dual citizen's Canadian status one is essentially exporting a problem to another country, that of the dual citizen's other nationality.  

These are issues open to debate and I could be persuaded either way.

However there is one very big objection I have to C24 and it is one I think that both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair would have done well to emphasize in the televised debate.

This objection is that the decision to revoke lies solely with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (or in reality with the Prime Minister, since the Minister serves only at the PM's pleasure).  

To me this seems to bypass a fundamental principle that decisions affecting basic liberties and rights are made not by the government of the day, but by the courts with due process being followed.  C24 as it stands gives far too much power to the government of the day and I fully expect that it will be overturned as unconstitutional when the first challenge to it reaches the Supreme Court.

As an example of how it could be abused consider the case of Mohammed Fahmy, a dual Egyptian-Canadian citizen convicted in Egypt on charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which since a military coup overthrew the elected Brotherhood government, has been a banned terrorist organization in that country.  Fahmy was alleged to have supported the Brotherhood through his journalism for Al Jazeera.

As is well-known he was eventually released following a pardon.  But he is now in a position where his Canadian citizenship could be revoked at the stroke of a pen by the current Minister.  Nobody of course expects this to happen. But suppose Fahmy had been a less sympathetic figure.  Suppose for example that he was a radical Marxist and had been a strident critic of Canada's involvement in the bombing of Libya and Syria.  Suppose he had publicly questioned the official narrative on 911, or that he had, in his journalistic career, exposed some wrongdoing by a member of the government.  Suppose he was someone like George Galloway in the UK.

The temptation to get rid of him might be too hard for a minister to resist, especially if he had little support among the public at large.  

Such power is not compatible with a truly democratic society where the rule of law is paramount.  As they say everybody deserves his day in court.  

Bill C24 could be amended by requiring any revocation of citizenship to occur after a Government application to a citizenship court.  Or perhaps even simpler to allow a judge in sentencing someone convicted of treason or terrorism, to include in the sentence the revocation of Canadian citizenship.  

As I say, I fully expect the law as it stands, will be overturned by the Supreme Court.  Stephen Harper probably expects that as well.  But for him it doesn't matter. It has provided him with a wedge issue during the election campaign, by which he can make his opponents look soft on terrorism.  Unfortunately he seems to have had some measure of success in this.

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