“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.
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.”
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.
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.”