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Treat all Canadian citizens equally under the law

Rocco Galati, defense attorney for two of the Toronto 17 terror suspects, leaves the courthouse after a bail hearing in Brampton, Ontario in 2006. Photo By Deborah Baic The Globe and Mail 06/06/06

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Rocco Galati, a Toronto lawyer, is right to be calling upon the federal government to present a reference question to Supreme Court, on the proposed revocation-of-citizenship amendments to the Citizenship Act. If the Harper government won't refer the matter to the court, Mr. Galati says there should be a Charter challenge – and he's right.

It is one thing to revoke a Canadian citizenship that was obtained by fraud or false pretenses; that is a long-standing part of our law, and should be. The Harper government, however, is proposing to strip citizenship from people found guilty of some serious crimes, in cases where the offender is a naturalized citizen – an immigrant to Canada – or even someone born in Canada, but who for whatever reason also holds the citizenship of another country.

The classes of crime in question are serious: treason, terrorism and specific military crimes such as spying for the enemy in time of war. But however serious the offence, when someone is born here, or has been accepted into this country legally and fairly, he or she is Canadian, for good or ill.

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The Charter of Rights is very clear: "Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada." The principle is so fundamental that the Charter's notwithstanding clause cannot be used to override this section.

It would be invidious to send into exile a foreign-born citizen who committed a crime as a Canadian, while imposing a prison sentence on a natural-born Canadian found guilty of the same crime. Canadian law should treat Canadians, including Canadians who break the law, as Canadians.

Stripping a citizen of citizenship is characteristic of a totalitarian regime such as the Soviet Union, which banished dissidents, including the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1974. It's not a model for Canada to emulate.

Andrew Thompson, a political scientist at the University of Waterloo, has rightly pointed out how easily the proposed new citizenship-revocation law could have condemned Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian national, suspected of terrorism by Canada, to a life of imprisonment and torture in a Syrian prison. The amendments now before Parliament would have afforded him little opportunity to defend himself.

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