Op-ed in the Canadian Jewish News: Citizenship Revocation as a National Security Tool

By: Sheryl Saperia and Danny Eisen

Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, has headed to a parliamentary committee for further study. From a national security perspective, the bill’s most interesting provisions are those allowing the government to revoke the citizenship of Canadians convicted of terrorism or treason, or who engage in armed conflict with Canada.

These crimes fall under a narrow category of egregious misbehavior. Treason and armed conflict are actions perpetrated against Canada as a national entity and political community. The same can be said for terrorism, particularly when committed in Canada, against a Canadian target, or in association with a terrorist group banned by the Canadian government (in effect a public enemy of Canada). It is therefore fitting that one consequence of these crimes may be loss of citizenship to the country the offender either seeks to harm or utilizes to inflict damage abroad.

To be sure, a measure as severe as revocation of citizenship must be drafted to ensure conformity to Canadian laws and international obligations.

In accordance with the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the bill provides that if a person holds only Canadian citizenship, it is not possible for that citizenship to be revoked – regardless of the offence – because no person can be stateless.

However, this has opened up the argument that the bill unfairly creates two classes of citizens: those with dual or multiple citizenship, who are at risk of having their Canadian citizenship revoked, and those with only Canadian citizenship, who may be punished in a variety of ways but cannot lose their citizenship.

For dual nationals who have chosen that status – often because of personal connection to, or benefit from, more than one citizenship – this is not a compelling argument. Dual citizenship was not forced upon them, and they can choose to renounce their other citizenship so as to be solely Canadian and therefore not subject to these provisions.

But what about foreign states that do not permit renunciation of citizenship? Would this subject an individual from such a country to unfair treatment under the bill?  Fortunately, citizenship revocation is not automatic and decisions are to be made on a case-by-case basis. Our recommendation in these cases, more specifically, is to have the immigration minister assess the extent of the person’s “active relationship” to the other citizenship. Does the person maintain deep ties to the other country? Has he invoked any rights of that citizenship? Has he traveled with the passport of that country, or served in an official capacity only open to citizens? The more active the citizenship, the weaker would be any claim that his other citizenship was forced on him and that he would renounce it if the option were available.

While citizenship revocation is an important tool to deal with those convicted of the most serious crimes against Canada, preventative and disruptive action must also be part of the package. Counter-radicalization programs are essential. Strengthening exit controls for both sole and dual citizens is another option. Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director of intelligence at CSIS, once suggested that “There has to be an easy way to trigger a denial of a passport – or the removal of somebody’s passport – if there is sufficient information to demonstrate this person has become highly radicalized and or made threats, or done things to threaten lives or the welfare and well being of others.” The RCMP’s recently disclosed High Risk Traveller Case Management system, which is intended to “prevent radicalized youth from leaving for conflict zones like Syria, Somalia and North Africa,” seems to employ just such a mechanism, among others.

Western security agencies are concerned that their citizens are traveling to Syria and other theatres of jihad, gaining the skills to pursue similar acts in their home countries. If the citizenship revocation provisions in C-24 help prevent bloodshed from being exported to or from Canada, they are worth parliamentary consideration. Let us remember that it took only 19 hijackers to perpetrate the 9/11 attacks.

Sheryl Saperia is the Director of Policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and Danny Eisen is co-founder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror (C-CAT).

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