Skip to main content

The false Canadian passport used by Algerian Ahmed Ressam when he lived in Canada and attempted to enter the United States.NICK UT/The Associated Press

The Canadian government should think long and hard about changes to the law that would allow Canadians to be stripped of their citizenship if they go abroad to commit acts of terrorism, or acts of war against this country and its allies.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney floated such changes on Wednesday. The government is understandably embarrassed, as all Canadians should be, by allegations that our nationals were involved in recent terrorist acts in Algeria and Bulgaria. However, responding with knee-jerk legislation that would alter long-established rules of citizenship is a poor way to save face.

To begin with, such measures would create an invidious distinction between Canadian-born criminal citizens, who could not be stripped of citizenship, and naturalized citizens who could. There would be two classes of punishment for similar crimes.

Once we were headed down such a path, it might be hard to stop. What about other serious crimes committed abroad, or for that matter within Canada, by naturalized citizens? If a terrorist flunky can be stripped of citizenship, why not also a mass murderer or serial abuser of young children? Indeed, why stop there?

Taking away citizenship is not something that we do. It is something more often associated with countries like the Soviet Union, which stripped Alexander Solzhenitsyn of his. Canada has a very different tradition. For example, the 1,200 Canadians who went to fight in Spain during that country's civil war did not lose their citizenship.

Instead of the extreme act of revoking citizenship unevenly, there are already tools that can be used to punish those responsible for what are very serious crimes.

Indeed, cutting such criminals loose from citizenship and hence from their obligations to the Crown would be to let them get away easily. It would be far better to apprehend such individuals and to try them in this country for treason, in the case of those who fight against Canada and its allies. Those who commit terrorist offences abroad could similarly be vigorously prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws.

Terrorism is, of course, a fraught area, because of the difficulty of classification. We all likely agree that a Canadian linked to Hezbollah and alleged to have attacked a bus loaded with Israeli tourists in Bulgaria is a terrorist. But what if he had been a jihadi fighter responsible for attacking a busload of Moammar Gadhafi's cronies in Libya? The government needs to do everything it can to identify Canadians involved in fighting against Canada and its allies abroad, and those involved in terrorism. It needs to find ways to thwart them, possibly including refusal to issue passports. If such crimes are committed, those responsible should be apprehended and vigorously prosecuted. The government already has the tools. Use them.