OTTAWA - As the clock ticks down to the passage of controversial changes to Canada’s citizenship law, a group led by Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati is warning MPs, senators and even the governor general that it will immediately challenge the bill as unconstitutional.
Both Galati, who successfully challenged the Harper government’s appointment of Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Constitutional Rights Centre, which does pro bono constitutional litigation, say the Conservative cabinet should refer Bill C-24 to the high court for an opinion on its constitutionality.
Galati, however, doesn’t expect that to happen, and he sent two letters Monday warning lawmakers that if they pass the bill they may, by exposing Canadian-born citizens to removal to countries that practise torture, find themselves complicit in crimes against humanity.
In his letter to parliamentarians and Gov. Gen. David Johnston, he argued that the federal government has “absolutely no constitutional authority” — under either Canada’s original Constitution Act of 1867 or the repatriated act of 1982 — over the citizenship of Canadian-born citizens, only over “aliens and naturalized” citizens. He intends to apply to the Federal Court within five days for a judicial review of the legislation if the government does not respond.
Several countries, he said, such as Egypt and Iran, recognize citizenship through several generations — up to five generations abroad, in some instances — meaning a descendant born in Canada could be considered a citizen of Egypt or Iran if a great-grandfather was born there.
Galati’s concern, shared by others, is that Ottawa might deport a Canadian-born citizen to a country he or she has no connection to, with the stamp of terrorism or treason on the deportee’s file, which could lead to arrest and torture in some countries.
“This (notion of citizenship) goes right back to the Magna Carta,” Galati told the Star. “Anyone who is born on Canadian soil is a Canadian citizen. You can’t take that away.”
In April, the Canadian Bar Association also expressed “serious concerns” to a parliamentary committee that the bill could impose banishment or “exile as an additional form of punishment.”
Currently Canadian law says Ottawa can only revoke citizenship of naturalized Canadians who acquired it through fraud or false pretenses. The Bar Association said Bill C-24 would change that to include “those born in Canada who are presumed to be able to claim citizenship in another state through one of their parents, notwithstanding that the Canadian may have no ties with the other country at all.”
The Conservative government also seeks to widen the grounds upon which citizenship may be revoked to include a “broad” number of offences linked to terrorism, treason, spying or engaging in armed conflict with Canada.
In his letter, Galati said a Canadian-born citizen “may be removed and wake up to landing in a country which may not recognize the dual nationality and thus become stateless.”
The government denies it would move to remove anyone who might become stateless, saying it would not base its judgment on convictions registered against Canadians by dictatorships.
Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander’s office said Monday that the minister looked forward to the bill passing and he is standing by his remarks earlier this spring in which he slammed critics of the bill: “It is shameful that activist immigration lawyers, who never miss an opportunity to criticize our government’s citizenship and immigration reforms, are attempting to drum up business by promoting the interests of convicted terrorists and serious criminals over the safety and security of Canadians.”
The Commons committee did not make any amendments to the bill. Alexander appears Thursday before a Senate committee which is now studying the bill before its expected passage before summer.