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article imageConservative citizenship law C-24 to be repealed by Liberals

By Ken Hanly     Mar 1, 2016 in Politics
Ottawa - Immigration Minister John MacCallum has introduced legislation in the federal parliament that repeals the law passed by the former Harper government that stripped dual Canadian citizens of their citizenship if convicted of terrorism-related offenses.
The Liberals promised during their 2015 election campaign that they would repeal the law. The promise was applauded by many lawyers, civil rights activists and others. So far the law has been used to deprive only one person of his citizenship — Zakaria Amara, the ringleader of the so-called Toronto 18 who were charged back in 2006 with planning "to detonate a truck bomb in downtown Toronto, storm Parliament Hill and behead the prime minister."
Amara, also a Jordanian citizen, was convicted back in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison. Although he is eligible for parole this year, he is unlikely to be released given the nature of his crimes. The group had been infiltrated by Mubin Shaikh, who worked on behalf of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Amara is not likely a popular choice to receive his citizenship back.
However, McCallum said that the power of the government to strip a person of citizenship because they happen to commit a terrorist offence while being a citizen of another country should be removed as a "matter of principle." As McCallum put it: "A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian." There are not two classes of citizens with different rights those who are not dual citizens and those who are. Justin Trudeau had used the exact same phrasing in arguing against Stephen Harper during a leader debate in the 2015 campaign. Trudeau also said:"And you devalue the citizenship of every Canadian in this place and in this country when you break down and make it conditional for anybody." McCallum also noted: "It will still be possible to revoke citizenship, as it always has been, for those who misrepresent who they are or who are guilty of citizenship fraud. I think under the previous law there was a risk of a slippery slope. If one crime made you eligible for revocation this year, what crimes could be added next year?We do have a criminal justice system. We do have courts. We do have prisons where those convicted of crimes are sent. And that is the way in which we deal with this." The Harper government had used the euphemistic title "Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act" for their legislation.
When Amara's citizenship was revoked midway through the 2015 election campaign, the Conservative Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney,tweeted: "This man hated Canada so much, he planned on murdering hundreds of Canadians. He forfeited his own citizenship." Conservative MP Michelle Rempel was critical of the Liberal decision, saying: "Make no mistake. This bill is a win for Zakaria Amara and not many Canadians. A lot of Canadians will question the government's judgment with the decision made today." McCallum admitted that the optics of the situation were not that favorable: "My life might be a little simpler if there wasn't this one person out there. But the fact is, there is. So I am comfortable adhering to the point of principle that this applies across the board."
The Conservatives used Amara for their own political purposes during the campaign. It did not seem to work then and it may not work now either. The NDP was also opposed to the Conservative legislation. Tom Mulcair accused Harper of "strutting his stuff for his right-wing base." The French socialist government is planning the same type of legislation concerning dual citizens as the Conservatives. In the last six years, the UK has stripped almost 40 citizens of their citizenship and that includes some who were born in the UK.
The new bill also reduces the time immigrants must spend in Canada before they can apply for citizenship and it also eases the language requirements for new arrivals in Canada. The credit removed from international students was also restored. McCallum said of the removal: "The dumbest actually was taking away the 50 per cent credit for international students, because if there's any group in this country who would be good Canadians — they're educated, they know about this country, they speak English or French — it's them. So why punch them in the nose when we're trying to attract them here in competition with Australia, the U.K. and others?"
Even Al Jazeera noticed that the Liberals were repealing the Conservative citizenship law. The paper notes that the move was applauded by Laura Track, a counsel for the BC Civill Liberties unions, who said: "We applaud the government for introducing these changes to restore equal citizenship in Canada. Bill C-24 was discriminatory and unconstitutional."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." Conservative MP Rempel also criticized the government: "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."
Raj Sharma, a Canadian immigration lawyer, was critical of the Conservatives, saying: "They're signaling to their base that they they're tough on [terrorism]. That was pandering to the gallery, done for political purposes." The new bill should easily pass through the parliament as the Liberals have a majority.
More about Bill C24, John McCallum, Stephen Harper
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