Liberals ask for suspension of cases where Canadian citizenship was stripped over terror charges

The federal government is walking away from a legal battle over attempts to strip from dual-nationals convicted of offences.

Lawyers for the government recently asked the Federal Court to suspend proceedings in two cases brought by Canadians convicted of terrorism-related offences who had been told by the previous Conservative government they would lose their citizenship.

As a respondent in the cases, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship cannot abandon the litigation but, instead, asked for and was granted adjournments while it re-examines a policy that featured prominently in last month’s federal election.

“The Department will work with Minister (John) McCallum on the urgent review of the policy and legislation related to the new citizenship revocation provisions,” media relations adviser Nancy Caron said in an email.

She repeated the line used by then-Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during a campaign leadership debate, when he argued that Stephen Harper, prime minister at the time, had breached a fundamental principle of citizenship with Bill C-24, which allows the government to rescind the Canadian citizenship of dual nationals convicted of certain serious offences.

“The prime minister has been clear that ‘a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,’ and he doesn’t support the revocation provisions that have a different impact on dual citizens than other Canadians,” said Caron.

In September, former Ottawa radiology technician Misbahuddin Ahmed took the government to court over a July 2015 decision to strip him citizenship.

Ahmed, 31, is currently serving a 12-year sentence in a medium-security federal prison for his role in the planned terrorist attacks foiled by the Project Samosa investigation. If he lost his citizenship, he would have been deported to Pakistan upon his release.

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In a Charter challenge, he claimed the attempt to rescind his Canadian citizenship violated his right to safety of the person because he would be deported to a place where he would likely be at risk of mistreatment. He also argued the law offended the principles of justice because the sanction was introduced only after he was convicted.

Now, these issues will not likely be tested in court, as the government is expected to rescind the provisions in C-24 — even as France moves to expand its powers to revoke citizenship from dual nationals.

The Canadian government has also asked for a suspension in a similar case brought by Saad Gaya, a 27-year-old convicted in the “Toronto 18” bomb plot. He is serving an 18-year prison sentence.

Gaya was born in Montreal and had never visited Pakistan, but could be deported there after serving his sentence because, the government had argued, his parents had passed their dual nationality on to him.

Before C-24, Canadian citizenship could be revoked only in cases of fraudulent applications — when a subject had obtained citizenship based on false pretences. The Tories expanded the conditions to include those convicted of terrorism, treason or participation in military action against .

The Liberals’ decision to back away from that law comes as French President François Hollande vows to strip the citizenship of any dual citizens involved in terrorism, in response to the attacks that left 129 dead in Paris over the weekend.

Hollande said he wants a constitutional amendment that would allow revocation of French citizenship of convicted terrorists who were born in France, as in the Gaya case.

Canada’s change of course on the citizenship cases comes as Trudeau’s government moves to drop other legal fights waged by Harper’s government.

On Monday, McCallum and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the government had also discontinued an appeal of a court decision that upheld the right of Muslim women to wear face-covering niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.

Ottawa Citizen

About Glen McGregor, Postmedia News