'All Canadians are equal': Liberals to repeal parts of Bill C-24
Sonja Puzic, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, February 25, 2016 4:11AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 25, 2016 5:48PM EST
The Liberal government says it will follow through on its promise to repeal parts of the controversial Bill C-24, which gave Ottawa the power to strip Canadian citizenship from dual nationals convicted of terrorism, spying and high treason offences.
The law was introduced by the previous Conservative government and has been in effect since May, 2015.
The government said Thursday that it will restore the Canadian citizenship of anyone who had it revoked under Bill C-24.
Zakaria Amara, a member of the so-called Toronto 18 terrorist group, had his Canadian citizenship revoked last September under that law. Amara, who also holds Jordanian citizenship, pleaded guilty to plotting to bomb downtown Toronto and was sentenced to life in prison in 2010. He is set to become eligible for parole this year.
Asked about the optics of restoring Amara’s citizenship, Immigration Minister John McCallum said that “it is a question of principle” for the government.
He said that particular provision of Bill C-24 was a “slippery slope” which created “two classes of Canadians” because it only targeted dual citizens and certain types of crimes.
“It is our profound belief that there should be one class of Canadian…A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” McCallum told reporters in Ottawa, echoing the words Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used when he debated Stephen Harper on the issue during last fall’s election campaign.
McCallum said that Canada has a justice system in place to deal with terrorism cases. The government will still be able to revoke citizenships of those who have committed citizenship fraud, such as lying on their application, he added.
“If a Nazi war criminal came to Canada after the Second World War, claiming he was a parish priest, I would be very happy to take away that person’s citizenship because it was a crime committed in the act of getting a citizenship,” McCallum later told CTV’s Power Play. “These other crimes are a different ball of wax.”
Michelle Rempel, the Conservative citizenship and immigration critic, called the planned changes to the Citizenship Act “very short-sighted” and “disappointing.”
Rempel said Canadians will hold McCallum to account for making Amara “the key beneficiary” of his very first bill as citizenship and immigration minister.
“It should be very concerning for the Canadian public,” she told reporters Thursday.
Rempel said the government is sending out a “very disconnected message” by suggesting that restoring Canadian citizenship for someone like Amara is “about class politics, or something.”
She said that dual nationals are “absolutely not” any less Canadian than other citizens and that the Conservatives’ intent with Bill C-24 was to target “very serious crimes” against the country as a whole.
“Anybody who comes to Canada and takes a citizenship oath with malice in their heart against our country…I think that we have to question what that means in terms of how we as a country look at Canadian citizenship,” Rempel said.
Other Citizenship Act changes
The government also plans to shorten the length of time a person must be physically present in the country before qualifying for citizenship. Currently, would-be Canadians must remain in the country for four out of six years before applying for citizenship. The proposed amendment to the law would change that to three out of five years.
The current rules mean that international students can’t have their time in school counted towards their residency requirement for citizenship. McCallum called that provision “really stupid.”
“Who better to become a Canadian than international students who know English or French, who know something about Canada, who by definition are educated?” he told Power Play.
“We are competing with U.K., U.S., Australia to get this cream of the crop. And what do we do? We punch them in the nose and we take away their 50 per cent credit. That makes no sense.”
The Liberals also want to return to the previous age requirement of 18 to 54 for those who need to pass language and knowledge tests in order to qualify for citizenship. The law currently requires all applicants between the ages of 14 and 64 to pass those tests.
All the proposed amendments are listed on the Government of Canada website.
Many of the changes to the Citizenship Act won’t come into effect until they receive royal assent. McCallum said the government hopes to pass the new law “as soon as possible.”
With files from The Canadian Press