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Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks to reporters following a caucus meeting in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa,Feb. 6, 2013. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks to reporters following a caucus meeting in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa,Feb. 6, 2013. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

John Ibbitson

If nothing else, Tory plan to strip terrorists of citizenship is good politics Add to ...

The Harper government’s new plan to strip citizenship from immigrant Canadians who commit terrorist acts may or may not be good policy. But it is splendid politics.

The move will have broad public support and will put the opposition parties in an awkward spot, forced to choose between acquiescing in another Tory anti-crime measure, or defending the civil rights of Canadians who commit the most egregious crimes.

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There are questions surrounding the constitutionality of such a bill, among other things. But Charter niceties are rarely a top Tory concern. This bill will become law. Then we’ll see if it survives a judicial challenge.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced the new plan Wednesday in the wake of revelations that a suspect with Canadian and Lebanese citizenship is wanted in connection with the deadly bus-bombing last July in Bulgaria.

Mr. Kenney said the suspect, who has not been named, came to Canada with his family when eight years old, acquired citizenship, and then left the country for Lebanon when he was 12.

Polls show that most Canadians support the policy of permitting dual citizenship, said Mr. Kenney. But “I think where we might want to make a distinction is amongst those dual citizens who have completely rejected any sense of loyalty to Canada,” by committing terrorist acts abroad.

Calgary MP Devinder Shory recently introduced a private member’s bill that would, in part, strip Canadian citizenship from dual nationals who commit acts of war against the Canadian military. Mr. Kenney said he wanted to work with Mr. Shory to revise the bill so that acts of terror were also grounds for revocation.

“Canadian citizenship is predicated on loyalty to this country and I cannot think of a more obvious act of renouncing one’s sense of loyalty than going and committing acts of terror,” the Minister told reporters.

Mr. Shory’s office did not respond to requests for an interview. However he did release a statement: “Punishing those who commit acts of terror is certainly consistent with the spirit of my bill, and as such Minister Kenney’s proposal is an attractive one.”

Private members’ bills rarely make it through the legislative process. The exception is when the government of the day throws its support behind the bill, such as legislation passed by the House last year requiring unions to disclose how they spent their members’ dues.

A government official, speaking on background, said that once Mr. Shory’s proposed legislation, Bill C-425, clears second reading (probably in a few weeks), it will go to committee, where Mr. Kenney’s department will work with MPs to amend it to include the terrorism provision.

Those amendments will need to answer several key concerns. The largest is whether someone who obtains Canadian citizenship can be treated differently than someone who is born with it.

The short answer is: under certain circumstances. War criminals, for example, have been stripped of citizenship and deported under existing laws for lying about their past when entering the country.

The United Kingdom, Italy, New Zealand, France, Brazil and Switzerland and other countries have similar laws. You can lose your acquired citizenship in Great Britain if “it is conducive to the public good.”

But there is bound to be a Charter challenge, because the law moves Canada further down the road toward first-class citizens – those born in Canada – and second-class citizens – those who acquire citizenship.

Another question: How would we determine the accused terrorist was guilty? Most of us might be inclined to trust the verdict of a German court. But what about one in Bulgaria? Or Iran? Or Zimbabwe?

“This is something that has to be thought through consistently,” interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae told reporters.

“Do we want to have two or three different kinds of citizens? … Is it constitutional? These are things a minister of the Crown should be thinking of before he comes to a scrum and announces some kind of, frankly, knee-jerk response.”

Still, the bill does not put the opposition parties in a good place. Defending the right to citizenship of a convicted terrorist is not something you highlight in your campaign brochure.

Advocates for equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of how the citizenship is acquired and how that citizen acts, will have their work cut out for them.

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