The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, engaged on Friday, March 11, 2016 with students from American University in Washington, D.C. in a question and answer session which touched on several topics, including the war on terror.
Trudeau justified his decision to restore the citizenship to a convicted Canadian terrorist who ripped up his passport by saying that the policy of the previous Conservative government created two-tier citizenship, In which citizens who have dual citizenship may lose their citizenship if they are convicted of terrorism, treason, espionage or fighting against Canadian forces.
The following is the transcript of Trudeau’s answer (41:16-43:49):
“One of the key elements of that [opposing the proposed Quebec Charter of Values] and a point that I am so incredibly proud of Canadians is a moment in our election campaign where the governing Conservatives put forward a proposal to strip and actually [they] enacted it before the election to remove the citizenship from Canadian citizens convicted of terrorism, dual citizens in this case, which quite frankly they thought it is a great idea because here they were, these are people convicted of terrorism against our country or acts of war against our country and they are therefore forfeiting the right to be citizens which seems like a reasonable thing, again. On a front.
“But when you actually look at it and realize that means that someone convicted of terrorism with a dual citizenship could have different consequences under the law than a Canadian homegrown terrorist who has Canadian citizenship and is a six generation Canadian and therefore can’t have his citizenship removed at all.
“You devalue the citizenship of everyone by making it conditional on good behaviour or non heinous behaviour which is ultimately the same thing.
“So, I found my self in a situation on stage against the former Prime Minister [Stephen Harper] arguing that, yes, a man who he [Harper] had just stripped his citizenship of for being convicted of a terrorist act should have his Canadian citizenship restored even though he had literally, perhaps even literally, ripped up his Canadian passport. And yet I stand here as a Prime Minister of Canada.
“People are reasonable. People need to understand that the rights and freedoms that keep us free and democratic society aren’t always easy and aren’t always a sort of a knee jerk adapted to how we want the world to be, but they are essential in terms of being the country we are and the people we are.”
On February 25, Immigration Minister John McCallum announced that the Liberal government will repeal certain parts of Bill C-24 in the coming days. Bill C-24, known as “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act”, was introduced by the previous Conservative government in 2014 and significantly expanded the grounds on which Canadian citizenship may be revoked from dual citizens who engage in terrorism, espionage, treason, and taking up arms against the Canadian Forces.
The Liberals said they will restore Canadian citizenship to anyone who had it revoked under Bill C-24.
The first terrorist to have his Canadian citizenship revoked under Bill C-24 was Jordanian-born, Saudi-raised convert to Islam Zakaria Amara, who is currently serving a life sentence for masterminding the 2006 al-Qaida-inspired “Toronto 18” plot to detonate truck bombs in downtown Toronto, storm the CBC building and the Canadian Parliament, and behead then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Had the terrorists succeeded in carrying out the multiple attacks, potential loss of life would have been catastrophic. Under the new Liberal amendments, Zakaria will have his Canadian citizenship reinstated.
“Zakaria Amara is going to get his citizenship back because of the Liberal government” – Conservative MP Michelle Rempel
Another member of the Toronto 18 terrorist plot, Canadian-born Saad Gaia who is also a Pakistani national and is currently serving an 18 year sentence, was marked by the Conservative government for revocation of citizenship. Had Bill C-24 remained intact, Gaia would have almost certainly had his Canadian citizenship revoked.
Repeal of certain sections of Bill C-24, which PM Trudeau found “problematic”, was one of last fall’s key Liberal campaign platforms. During the campaign, Trudeau accused Harper for creating a two-tier citizenship and validating “banishment” for select groups depending on their nationality. “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”, Trudeau said at that time.
The Government of Canada website’s lists the following proposed amendments to the Bill:
- Repealing revocation of citizenship for certain acts which go against the national interest of Canada, including convictions for terrorism, high treason, treason or spying offences, or membership in an armed force or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada
- Repealing a provision that applicants must have the intention to reside in Canada if granted citizenship
- Decreasing the requirement to be physically present in Canada prior to applying for citizenship from 4 out of 6 years to 3 out of 5 years
- Minimum of 183 days physical presence in 4 of the last 6 years
- Repealing the minimum 183 days physical presence in Canada in 4 of the last 6 years
- Decreasing the requirement for passing the language test age from 64 to 54
However, the new rules will still provide for revocation of Canadian citizenship from individuals who obtained it under fraudulent pretences. It is unclear why, unlike convicted terrorists, individuals who lied on their citizenship application would not fall under Trudeau’s “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” mantra.
During a press conference on Thursday, McCallum was asked how the Liberal government can revoke revoke citizenship anyway from people who obtained it fraudulently or by misrepresentation, but not from someone who is convicted of terrorism, the highest crime against the state.
McCallum, who refrained from saying the word “terrorist”, offered the following vague response: “That is committing a crime for which such a person deserves to be punished, whether such a person is a dual citizen or not. And such a person is likely to go to jail quite possibly for a long period of time. That is how our system works. We have a criminal justice system. We have judges who impose sentences. We have prisons that lodge such offenders. So I think this is different. If, for example, a Nazi war criminal were to arrive in Canada after the Second World War professing to be a Roman Catholic priest and obtained his citizenship on those grounds, I for one would have no hesitation to revoke that citizenship because he came into Canada and became a citizen on false pretences. And therefore he should not retain that citizenship. I think this is a different kind of offence than criminality.”
Reaction from the official opposition was swift and harsh. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, referring to Amara’s citizenship reinstatement, said the following: “There is somebody who has been convicted of a plot to bomb downtown Toronto, to inflict disaster on our country and they are going to get their citizenship. Zakaria Amara is going to get his citizenship back because of the Liberal government – their first piece of legislation. So when we talk about principle, there is a strong statement of principle in that action too. And that’s why we take issue with it as a party.”
Former defence minister Jason Kenney posted the following on his Facebook page: “Those who hate Canada so much that they take up arms against our country clearly renounce their citizenship through their violent actions. Why does the Liberal Party not understand that violent acts of disloyalty to Canada constitute voluntary renunciation of one’s citizenship? Every public opinion poll taken shows a super majority supports revocation of citizenship from terrorists and traitors.”