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Editorials Citizenship is a right, not a privilege, even for convicted terrorists

Zakaria Amara in an undated photo.

Stringer/Reuters

It is never fun to be in the position of having to defend a democratic principle by invoking the rights of a terrorist. But that is exactly the situation the government put us and many others in late last week, when it revoked the Canadian citizenship of a dual citizen convicted of terrorism offences.

As we said last year when Bill C-24, a.k.a. the "Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act," was enacted, the provisions allowing the government to revoke the citizenship of some Canadians, but not others who commit the same offence, has an ugly, xenophobic side to it and should not be a part of Canada's legislative ecosystem.

Case in point is now Zakaria Amara, one of the leaders of the infamous Toronto 18, the group that plotted to explode three huge bombs in Canada's largest city, potentially killing hundreds. Mr. Amara was sentenced to life in prison in 2010. As a dual citizen, Mr. Amara, who was born in Jordan, is subject to Bill C-24. He has been informed that his Canadian citizenship has been revoked; it is likely he will be deported to Jordan the minute he is granted parole.

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The law is wrong for three reasons. One, it creates classes of citizens: those who are subject to exile, and those who aren't, as the Canadian Bar Association worded it in its 2014 submission on Bill C-24. Only dual citizens – in Canada, that means immigrants, for the most part – are subject to the additional, not to mention medieval, shame of banishment. Another Canadian convicted of the exact same charges would not face the same retribution.

Two, it is inhuman. Mr. Amara was a child when he was naturalized. His family travelled from Jordan to Cyprus to Canada, and he arrived here as a young boy. His home is Canada; it is the country he has lived in the longest. He didn't ask for Canadian citizenship. To strip him of it now is cruel.

Three, citizenship is a right. For it to have any meaning at all, it must be something more reliable than a status that can be granted or revoked for political reasons. Both the New Democratic Party and the Liberals have vowed to remove the offending parts of Bill C-24 if they are elected to power. That's good, but it also exposes the political nature of the law. What is Canadian citizenship if not a great equalizer whose cherished protections cannot be taken from you by the government of the day? Bill C-24 doesn't strengthen Canadian citizenship. It weakens it.

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