The Conservative government's decision to strip a convicted Canadian terrorist of his citizenship has thrust the Conservatives' security agenda into the centre of the election campaign and led NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to accuse Stephen Harper of playing a "dangerous game."
Ottawa has used new legislative powers to revoke the citizenship of Zakaria Amara, the convicted ringleader of the so-called "Toronto 18" who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney said that to his knowledge, Mr. Amara is the first person guilty of terrorist offences to lose his citizenship since the Conservatives brought in Bill C-24.
"If somebody is found guilty of violent disloyalty to Canada, in this instance planning to murder hundreds or potentially thousands of Canadians for ideological reasons, that they are in so doing forfeiting their Canadian citizenship," Mr. Kenney said.
Mr. Kenney took to Twitter to say that Mr. Amara "hated Canada so much, he planned on murdering hundreds of Canadians. He forfeited his own citizenship."
The decision about Mr. Amara underscores the Tories' focus on national security and law-and-order in the election campaign. Bill C-24, which came into effect in June, gives the government the discretion to rescind the citizenship of a dual citizen convicted of terrorism, treason or spying abroad. Both the Liberals and NDP say they would repeal it.
Mr. Mulcair said on Sunday the timing of the news about Mr. Amara, so close to the election, is not a coincidence and is an effort by the Conservatives to play to their "right-wing base."
"This is a dangerous game the Prime Minister of Canada is playing, coming up with this right in the middle of an election campaign," Mr. Mulcair said at a rally in Toronto. "He's dividing Canadians one against the other, creating two different categories of citizenship."
He added: "This is a political game being played on the backs of all Canadians who have different origins than old-stock Canadians and I am going to stand up against it."
In an interview with Global broadcast on Saturday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he rejects the idea that punishment for the same crime differs for people "depending on where their parents were born."
"If a Canadian commits a terrible crime against this country, well we have penalties for that. We have life imprisonment, we have severe consequences that I don't know, probably shouldn't include a plane ticket to some faraway country," Mr. Trudeau said.
A half dozen other Canadians have received notices that Ottawa is seeking to revoke their citizenship, said John Norris, lawyer for one of those notified, Asad Ansari. Mr. Ansari was also convicted in the Toronto 18 terror plot in 2010 and sentenced to time served; he was portrayed as a minor player in the scheme.
Mr. Norris says he believes all the men who were notified have obtained extensions to respond to Ottawa's notice.
Mr. Amara, who was born in Jordan, was sentenced to life in prison for the deadly plot to blow up Canadian landmarks using massive amounts of ammonium nitrate. He is eligible to apply for parole in 2016.
Stripping him of his Canadian citizenship would have the "perverse" effect of liberating him from his jail sentence, since people released on parole are kept "under close supervision" and can be put back in jail if they violate their parole conditions, Mr. Norris said.
Ottawa is moving forward on Mr. Amara's case even as it faces a constitutional battle by groups opposing the new citizenship law. Lawyers meet on Tuesday at Federal Court in Toronto to lay the groundwork for the constitutional challenge, which was launched by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and Mr. Ansari.
With reports from The Canadian Press and Elizabeth Church in Toronto