Bill C-24: An Exercise in Cognitive Dissonance

“We know Stephen Harper is a dictator in the making, but he’s convinced some people that they’re going to be financially better off under him, which is untrue.”—Margaret Atwood on cognitive dissonance.

Bill C – 24 is the epitome of cognitive dissonance. It purports to strengthen Canadian citizenship by stripping Canadians of their citizenship. When Stephen Harper rolled out Bill C – 24 to denationalize Zakaria Amara, a convicted terrorist, Mr Harper (and his Australian campaign strategist, Mr Crosby) sank to a new low in cynical electioneering.

Because Bill C – 24 is fatally flawed.

Here’s why.

Legal foundation

In an exclusive interview with Andrew Lawton (AM980) Mr Harper said:

“The reason we did this expansion…to terrorists and treason offences…is consistent with the way the law has always worked. We’ve been able to revoke citizenship, for example, for war criminals. So it’s really been in cases where the person’s criminal acts are not just vile, but they actually demonstrate that the person has no loyalty of any kind to the country or its values.

Not true.

This is not how the law always worked and disloyalty is not why 54 Canadians were stripped of their citizenship. These people became naturalized citizens by misrepresenting themselves to immigration authorities. The revocation was appropriate because war criminals would never have been granted citizenship had they told the truth in the first place.

Lying on an immigration application about your activities in WWII is illegal. Losing your citizenship because your parents were born elsewhere or you happen to have dual citizenship is not.

Harper said: “There are very few people in this country who think that if you are guilty of trying to kill thousands of Canadian citizens and you want to destroy this country that you would somehow retain your citizenship when there is no legal reason that the government needs to do that, it’s incomprehensible.”

Also not true.

Many Canadians believe a terrorist should be stripped of his citizenship now that Harper has floated the idea, however a responsible government doesn’t create legislation based on public opinion polls, it obeys the rule of law.

There is a legal reason why the government must allow a terrorist to retain his citizenship.

It’s called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 6(1) of the Charter protects a Canadian citizen’s right to stay in Canada. Section 33(1) of the Charter prohibits anyone, including a dictatorial prime minister, from attempting to override that right with a piece of legislation that exposes Canadians to exile and banishment.

That doesn’t mean a terrorist won’t be punished to the full extent of the law—Amara is serving a life sentence—but exile, which hasn’t been in common use since the Middle Ages, is a prohibited form of punishment and a serious human rights violation.

Overly broad and uncertain

The Canadian Bar Association says Bill C-24 is so poorly drafted it is nearly incoherent—not an auspicious start for legislation intended to strip Canadians of their citizenship.

It resurrects an archaic punishment, banishment, for citizens convicted of terrorism and creates what appears to be a new transgression, lack of loyalty to Canada or Canadian values (whatever that means).

It can be amended to include other crimes in the future. When Harper was asked whether Bill C – 24 might one day apply to serial killings, rape or pedophilia, he replied: “Well, you know, obviously we can look at options in the future.” Based on polling results, right?

This ambiguity and uncertainty will render Bill C – 24 unenforceable.

Furthermore, Canada can’t force foreign governments (Jordan in the Amara case) to take its criminals after they’ve served their sentences. Harper admits: “That will obviously become an issue we’ll have to deal with when this individual is ultimately released from prison, but clearly it gives the government the tool to argue that he should be in his country of citizenship rather than in Canada.” 

A tool?  With no way of using it?  Brilliant.

Election strategy

If Bill C – 24 violates the Charter by resurrecting the medieval punishment of banishment, creates the new offence of disloyalty, is unenforceable because the government doesn’t know whether the “home” country is prepared to accept Canada’s worst offenders and is so poorly drafted that it’s incomprehensible, what’s the point?

Simple. It’s a wedge issue that energises bigoted voters and saddens the rest of us. It diverts voters from the centerpiece of Harper’s campaign—his “sterling” record on the economy—while allowing him to firm up his base and recapture Quebec.

This is a desperate gambit to save Harper from a minority government.

Instead of being distracted by Harper’s hyperbole, remember this: A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

Or if you want to focus on Harper, not Bill C – 24 here’s another bon mot from Margaret Atwood:  Stephen Harper is “not a huggy-bear type of guy.”

No kidding!

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19 Responses to Bill C-24: An Exercise in Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Jayfer says:

    It occurs to me that another problem with this approach of banishment and stripping of citizenship is the subsequent creation of a distant, but these days very connected angry person. As is said, ‘Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.’ The whole concept promoted by Harper is wrongheaded and regressive.

    • Jayfer: Calgary’s mayor made a similar point in a recent radio interview. He’d just returned from an international conference on anti-terorism/radicalization. The law enforcement specialists there said the kids who are getting radicalized are the same kids who used to join gangs and run drugs. It had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the underlying reason why kids join gangs–the feeling of isolation and that this is the only way out. Nenshi’s point was that spend money on anti-radicalization programs while at the same time sending a message that they can never be truly Canadian is utterly counterproductive. Smart man, our mayor.

  2. Unfortunately, the creation of two classes of citizenship is what many bigots want. They fear new arrivals and assume that the age of ‘white english gentlemen’ is coming to an end; and with it, western civilization. Harper is simply appealing to their sense of entitlement and superiority by assuring them that they, old-stock Canadians, will remain relevant despite their shrinking numbers.

    • I agree with you Yasser. The really stupid thing about this effort to protect the status quo is that it’s utterly misguided. Canada now has more people over 65 than under 14. The median age of Canadians is rising. We need more immigration, not less, to grow our economy and sustain the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to. The attached article contains some really good statistics backing this up. Interestingly it says Canada should increase immigration to 350,000/year (that’s 110,000 more than we have right now) in order to make the economy work for Canada in the long run. It’s too bad the bigots don’t check the facts before they start elbowing niqab wearing mothers in shopping malls.
      Here’s the link to the aging Canadians article: Here’s the link to the story about the niqab wearing woman attacked in front of her children while shopping

      • Thanks Susan.

        BTW, notice how Bill C-24 also violates the Charter of Rights and Freedom, Right of Mobility, by forcing new citizens to sign an intent to stay declaration.

        That means in the future, if one decides to fly for a better job in the US or somewhere else, a bureaucrat in Ottawa has the authority to revoke his citizenship.


      • Yasser, the Canadian Bar Association agrees with you. The CBA submission opposes the “intent to stay” declaration because (1) it creates two tiers of citizenship, natural born Canadians who can live and work abroad vs naturalized Canadians who risk losing their status “if they were ever to leave Canada, (2) this is likely unconstitutional and (3) it will drain CIC resources in an effort to monitor and enforce and (4) it doesn’t simplify or clarify the citizenship process, but does the opposite. Could it be that this was Harper’s intention all along?

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    I am not sure I understand what Steven Harper is trying to accomplish with this other than the fact that he is politicizing it for election gains. It is one more example of the divisive attitude that has characterized his government since day one.
    I also feel that this is already his new Australian adviser influence. They are not known for being clear on their immigration policies and it was not too long ago that the ‘Whites only’ was their accepted strategy. It is not unusual to hear remarks in their parliament that would be considered racist in Canada. Furthermore, if what I said above is correct, I do not think that it took much to convince Harper to go along with this anyway.

    • Carlos, I think you’re absolutely right. All these repressive bills were passed in the spring but we’re only hearing about them now at the end of the Harper campaign…and lo and behold, they all seem to focus on Muslims. In the UK 2005 general election Lynton Crosby, Harper’s Australian campaign strategist, approved a Conservative campaign slogan that said “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration”. Apparently it was too blunt and backfired, but he’s learned his lesson–what works in Australia might be too blunt in other countries–so he’s soft pedaling it. Instead of talking about racism here, Crosby/Harper are packaging the anti-niqab and Bill C-24 rhetoric in terms of “loyalty to the Canadian family”. Apparently that’s all it takes to give bigots and racists permission to attack people not like them. Canadians must not allow Harper to win a majority based on divisiveness and hatred. Surely we’re better than that.

      • carlosbeca says:

        Susan, like Danny Williams comments in the video I just posted, Harper is a great political strategist. He knows that Canadians will not go for his politics and so he became a master of deceit. He has been spinning his way through the ranks since his time in the Reform Party and that is where he should have stayed with his friend Manning. He is a psychopath as far as I am concerned. They are not at al unusual in politics. I think that Canadians have to be careful who they vote for this time. This is not a regular situation in Canada. This man has an objective and it is not for a better Canada.

  4. carlosbeca says:

    I agree with Danny Williams and I am posting the URL here so that more Canadians can see it. I could not agree more. Harper is a dangerous man for Canada.

    • Carlos, the Danny Williams interview was wonderful. He made his point with such clarity. Anyone who divides the country on the basis of region, religion, nationality and the “haves” and “have-nots” doesn’t care about the collateral damage he’s causing. All he wants is power and there’s no end to what he’ll do. Harper’s former strategist, Tom Flanagan, said the Conservatives are finally on track for a strong plurality or even a majority if they push hard on the niqab issue and Bill C-24 because both issues have strong popular support and the public’s fear of jihadi terrorism could take Harper over the top. The fact he lumped the niqab, Bill C-24 and jihadi terrorism into the same category shows you just how bad things have become. Here’s the Flanagan link:

      • carlosbeca says:

        My Goodness – hard to believe how far we have come. If we do not change our political system soon, it will not matter who gets elected. It is pitiful. Actually I am considering not voting anymore unless the next government makes considerable changes to the system. I have never supported dictators and this is what the system is electing based on spin and what money can buy.
        This man has always been strange to say the least but it is astonishing the lack of ethics and morals that these people promote shamelessly. Win no matter what is the motto. I thought he had been fired from the University of Calgary.

      • Carlos, it’s so hard not to become disillusioned, but I hold out hope that if Harper ends up with a minority government the Libs, the NDs and the Greens will work together to replace the Conservatives with some form of representative government. Trudeau, Mulcair and May have all come out in support of proportional representation, although it’s unclear at this point what it would look like. I would hope that someone in their camps is thinking through how to force Harper out of office (because he won’t go willingly) and, more importantly, how to address the fear mongering that Harper will foment at the prospect of an “unstable coalition” or whatever derogatory term he’s going to use to discredit this unified effort to rid us of the Conservatives once and for all.

  5. political ranger says:

    Middle ages indeed … after a few hours in the mall or a couple of kilometres of driving in the city I have said, on more than a few occasions, that we should bring back the right of every ‘person of age’ to cane some dumbass and if that doesn’t work, bring out the stocks. A day and nite with your face being pelted and abused and your arse exposed would do a lot of good for some of my fellow citizens.
    Of course, I’ve never seriously, really seriously meant it. Even though I have said it, more than once, I wouldn’t vote for it.
    But the harpenfurher really wants to bring us back to the Dark Ages. Heads on pikes. Burning pyres for those not properly obsequious. The man is one scary, evil little piece of work.

    • Political ranger: when Harper and his key ministers dreamed up Bill C-51 (enhance security — Big Brother is watching you), Bill C-24 (strengthen citizenship by stripping it away), Bill C- 10 (be tough on crime by hamstringing judicial discretion)…the list goes on and on, he demonstrated that you’re absolutely right.

  6. jerrymacgp says:

    I’ve seen some comments elsewhere that “citizenship is a privilege, not a right”. However, for anyone born in this country, that is not true: under our Constitution, anyone born in Canada is a citizen by right. As for naturalized citizens, in my view once granted, citizenship should be as irrevocable as for natural-born citizens (except in cases where it is obtained through fraud or under false pretences), else citizenship becomes two-tiered, which is the first step along the road to discrimination and a new apartheid. What will be next, two colours of passports? Asterisks on the voters’ lists? (A nearby example of two-tiered citizenship is the United States, where naturalized citizens are ineligible to run for President).

    Mr Kenney’s recent tweet, since deleted but archived by attentive others, about his “pride” at a recent arrival’s “perfect English”, lifts the veil on the HarperCons’ hidden xenophobia.
    This is unworthy of Canadians. Is there anyone among us who is not either an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants? (Even aboriginal peoples are descended from migrants from Asia across the Bering Strait land bridge… although in their case, it was tens of thousands of years ago, long before recorded history.) I wonder, too, what Mr Kenney’s reaction would have been, had this refugee’s “perfect” European language been French…

    • Great points Jerry. When I checked out the article at the link two thoughts came to mind. (1) If Mr Kenney’s comment was nothing more than a “harmless observation” why did he delete it when the niqab issue blew up? What’s the connection in his mind? (2) He dismissed Mayor Nenshi’s criticism of his anti-niqab stance with the comment that “people like” Nenshi were politicising the issue. He later clarified his comment by saying he wasn’t referring to people of a certain religion or ethnicity but rather “politically correct liberals”. This doesn’t make it any better. Many people are using the statement “I know this isn’t politically correct, but I’ll say it anyway” as justification for being racist and bigoted. Sorry folks, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t work that way.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      I could not agree more. Jason Kenney is just finally showing his true colours which were hidden to get to parliament. I remember him very well here in Alberta in the taxpayers association and he clearly belonged in the arms of the Reform Party which was full of people like him and worse in terms of ideology. Jason Kenney was lucky to be born in a stable nation and he has no idea what it means to have to leave your own country and fight for a new life somewhere else. He thinks that it is like when they visit a war zone and have 30 people protecting them and making sure they do not piss their pants in fear.
      Much more can be said about this but I will stop because I have great respect for Susan and I do not want to make a fool of myself and embarrass her. These people like this Conservative team are to me an affront to our reputation as Canadians. I am truly embarrassed with what is going on. I just wished Harper would get a little more excited and show a little more of his devious mind and shut down any chances of even a minority government.

      • Thank you Carlos for your great point (and for exercising restraint I really appreciate it). It’s difficult to talk about people like Kenney and Harper without blowing a gasket. It’s even harder to listen to the people who call in to the talk shows to complain about niqabs, Bill C-24 and all the other racist things Harper managed to inject into the campaign. The part that’s really frustrating is most of them don’t have the facts, or maybe they just choose to ignore them. I heard a clip from Ryan Jespersen’s interview with Stephen Lewis. The callers castigated Jespersen for being too soft on the “socialist” and worked themselves into a frenzy on the niqab/citizenship issue. If they used half as much energy to get the facts as they used spewing venom we’d actually make some progress on these issues. Sadly Harper has legitimized their xenophobic opinions. He must be thrown out of office for that reason if no other.

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