In ending Ottawa's power to rescind the citizenship of dual Canadian citizens on grounds of terrorism, treason or espionage, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Thursday that those cases were best handled by the courts.
However, the government is retaining its power to strip Canadian citizenship from people who obtained it through deceit, a practice it has used against war-crime suspects.
In fact, rescinding citizenship because it was acquired fraudulently comprises the bulk of denaturalization cases; Canada has revoked the citizenship of 294 people, and all but one case were on grounds of fraud and misrepresentation, according to a departmental tally.
The exception was the 2015 case of Zakaria Amara, a ringleader of the Toronto 18 terror group, whose Canadian citizenship is expected to be restored.
Under the previous rules, 166 people were stripped of their citizenship between 1977 and May, 2015. The pace picked up after that, with 128 revocations since last June.
Mr. McCallum's announcement was part of a repeal of several parts of the former Conservative government's citizenship legislation, Bill C-24.
"We do have a criminal court system, we do have courts, we do have prisons where those who are convicted of crimes are sent," he explained Thursday, explaining how dual nationals convicted of terrorism should be handled.
However, that would not apply to someone who became a Canadian through a bogus application.
"If, for example, a Nazi war criminal were to arrive in Canada after the Second World War, professing to be a Roman Catholic priest, and obtain his citizenship on those grounds, we would have no hesitation to revoke that citizenship because he came into Canada … on false pretenses," McCallum told reporters.
The difference is that some of the recent terrorism suspects lawfully became Canadian citizens, then became radicalized, whereas in the case of a Nazi war criminal, the crime was committed and not disclosed during the application for citizenship.
In fact, denaturalization is a power that Ottawa has used in the past when it found itself unable to successfully prosecute Nazi-era suspects in criminal courts.
Under war-crimes legislation introduced in 1987, Ottawa initially attempted to prosecute such suspects rather than extradite them to face trial in a country behind the Iron Curtain.
However, domestic war-crimes prosecutions were abandoned in 1995 after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the acquittal of Imre Finta, a former Hungarian gendarme accused of deporting thousands of Jews. As a result, the government decided to follow the U.S. model of withdrawing citizenship and ordering deportation.
The cases, against elderly suspects, have dragged on for years. For example, Ottawa has spent more than two decades trying to strip the Canadian citizenship of Helmut Oberlander, an ethnic German born in Ukraine who was an interpreter for Einsatzkommando 10a, a killing squad operating behind the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1944.
Earlier this month, Mr. Oberlander, who is 92, won a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal ordering the cabinet to review once again some aspects of his case.
In other files, there has been no political will to proceed with the revoking of citizenship.
Vladimir Katriuk, for example, came to Canada in 1951 and was granted citizenship in 1958. Following allegations that he had been a member of a battalion of pro-Nazi Ukrainian auxiliaries that took part in massacres in Byelorussia, the Federal Court ruled in 1999 that he had misrepresented himself when he entered Canada.
However, in 2007, the federal cabinet decided not to revoke his citizenship. Despite an extradition request from Russia, he died last year in a hospital near where he lived, on a bee farm outside Montreal.
In 2012, however, Jason Kenney, then the minister of citizenship and immigration, announced that his department was proceeding to denaturalize 530 people who were alleged to have obtained their Canadian nationality through false pretenses.
Several of those cases are still on-going, said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
"The number of Canadian citizens involved in these investigations is fluid as we move through the investigations – some cases from 2012 have closed and others have been added. "
Correction: An earlier online version of this article had an incorrect headline.