Ottawa to restore citizenship of convicted terrorists

2016-02-26 05:21
Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. (Nicholas Kamm, AFP)

Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. (Nicholas Kamm, AFP)

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Montreal - Canada's Liberal government is scrapping parts of controversial legislation brought under the previous Conservative government, which gave Ottawa the power to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, spying and high treason.

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that it will restore the Canadian citizenship of anyone who had it revoked under Bill C-24, which came into effect in May 2015.

One of the first beneficiaries of the new legislation will be Zakaria Amara, a member of the so-called Toronto 18 terrorist group, who had his Canadian citizenship revoked in September.

Amara, a Jordanian-Canadian, pleaded guilty to plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Toronto and was sentenced in 2010 to life in prison.

Under the old Conservative law he would have been deported to his native Jordan after finishing serving his sentence in Canada.

Asked about the optics of restoring Amara's citizenship, Immigration Minister John McCallum said that it was a "question of principle" for the government.

"We believe very strongly that there should be only one class of Canadians, that all Canadians are equal, that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian from coast to coast to coast," McCallum told reporters in Ottawa.

The government would still be able to revoke citizenship from those who misrepresent who they are during the immigration process or who are guilty of citizenship fraud, McCallum told reporters.

'Slippery slope'

Under the previous law there was a risk of a "slippery slope", he said.

"We do have a criminal justice system, we do have courts, we do have prisons where those who are convicted of crimes are sent," McCallum said. "And that is the way in which we deal with this. We do not need to create two classes of citizenship in order to deal with those are convicted of criminal offences."

Michelle Rempel, the Conservative Party's parliamentary critic on citizenship and immigration matters, called the planned changes to the Citizenship Act "very short-sighted" and "disappointing".

"It should be very concerning for the Canadian public," she told reporters on Thursday. "Anybody who comes to Canada and takes a citizenship oath with malice in their heart against our country ... I think that we have to question what that means in terms of how we as a country look at Canadian citizenship."

The changes introduced by the Trudeau come as France's lower house voted on February 10 in favour of a controversial constitutional reform that would in part strip citizenship from people convicted of an attack "on the life of the nation".

"All other countries can do as they see fit," said McCallum responding to a question about whether the Canadian legislation was moving in the opposite direction of proposed changes in France. "And I don't have any comments or any criticism of what other countries may be doing."

The changes to the Citizenship Act will not come into effect until they receive royal assent. McCallum said the Liberals who enjoy a strong majority in the House of Commons hoped to pass the new law "as soon as possible".

However, the bill could run into problems in the Conservative dominated Senate.

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