Thomas Walkom (The Toronto Star):
By championing the cause of a convicted terrorist, Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair are taking a big, but necessary, political risk.
The convicted terrorist is Zakaria Amara, now serving a life sentence in a Canadian jail for his part in a 2006 plot to set off bombs in downtown Toronto.
That Amara is guilty is beyond question. He admitted in court that he had masterminded the attempt. At sentencing, he said that he deserved the “complete and absolute contempt” of Canadians.
He is the first Canadian to have his citizenship revoked under a new law passed this year by the Conservative-dominated Parliament.
The law specifically allows the immigration minister, currently Chris Alexander, to unilaterally strip Canadian citizenship from anyone — whether native-born or naturalized — who has been convicted of terror, treason or espionage charges.
The only caveat, put in place to keep the law aligned with Canada’s treaty obligations, is that the person must also be a citizen of another country — that is, he cannot end up stateless.
Amara, who came to Canada when he was 12 and is now a citizen here, was born in Jordan.
Many would agree with the Conservative decision to terminate his citizenship. The Liberal and New Democratic Party leaders must have been tempted to keep their objections to themselves. Wisely, they did not.
“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” an impassioned Trudeau said during Monday’s televised leaders’ debate.
“You devalue the citizenship of every Canadian in this place and in this country when you break down and make it conditional for anybody.”
Mulcair chose to say nothing on citizenship in the debate. But on Sunday he made much the same point, accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of playing a dangerous game.
“He’s dividing Canadians one against the other,” said the NDP chief, “creating two different categories of citizenship.”
Indeed, that is one of the problems of the new law. Those who possess only Canadian citizenship have an ironclad guarantee that they cannot be sent into exile.
No matter what they do, no matter what crimes they commit, they cannot be banished from this country.
Dual citizens, however, maintain only a tentative hold on their passports. They can lose their Canadian citizenship if convicted of crimes that, in many cases, are based on political judgment.
For instance: Is it an act of terrorism to support Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)? Technically, the answer is yes. The PKK is on Canada’s terror list.
But in practice, the Canadian government itself is supporting these and other Kurds fighting Islamic State militants. That means supporters of PKK affiliates are unlikely to be charged with terrorism today. But tomorrow?
Moreover, the citizenship revocation law isn’t limited to recent immigrants. Even Canadians born here may be dual nationals. Quebec-born Mulcair, for instance, holds both Canadian and French citizenship.
Mulcair applied for his French papers deliberately. But deliberate choice is not always required to become a dual citizen. Many countries, including Egypt, automatically view the children of their citizens as nationals — regardless of their wishes, regardless of where they were born.
Yet the two-tier nature of the new law is not its fundamental flaw. A re-elected Conservative government could solve that by ignoring international treaties and giving itself the power to strip citizenship from any Canadian. Britain has done something along these lines.
The fundamental problem with the Conservative law is that citizenship, once legitimately conferred (and assuming no fraud has been involved) is not a privilege subject to the whims of whatever government happens to be in power. It is a right.
For those of us born here, regardless of the nationality of our parents, it is a birthright. For those of us who have earned it by legally immigrating here — and no, this does not include war criminals on the lam — it is an acquired right.
Which means it is Zakaria Amara’s right. He should serve his time in prison until he’s deemed fit for release. Then, like any other Canadian who has paid the price for running afoul of the law, he should be given a chance to lead a normal life.
See also: “Exclusive: Tories move to strip citizenship from Canadian-born terrorist” (Maclean’s)