OTTAWA - Canadians with dual citizenship fighting with Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria could have their citizenship revoked under newly passed legislation, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says.
Alexander says revoking the citizenship of those convicted of terrorism offences — allowed now under new citizenship legislation that became law earlier this year — is an important tool to help stem the tide of foreign fighters flocking to join Islamic State (also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
“We will do it in every case we can, in the case of dual nationals,” Alexander told reporters Monday.
“Terrorism, espionage, treason are the most serious acts of disloyalty that you can commit. Terrorism is incompatible with citizenship.”
Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati is challenging the legislation, saying Parliament does not have the constitutional power to strip a Canadian-born citizen of his or her citizenship.
But Alexander said that revocation would happen only with “clear safeguards,” such as a court conviction for terrorism.
“Only when we have that conviction will revocation become a possibility,” the immigration minister told reporters on Parliament Hill.
It’s estimated that about 130 Canadians are involved in terrorist groups abroad, including several dozen now in Syria and Iraq, Alexander said.
“We’re working very closely with our allies to track these groups.
“We want to be at the forefront of international action to prevent these people from getting there, from fighting there and then from coming home.”
The reality of foreign fighters in Islamic State ranks was driven home by the beheading of a British aid worker at the hands of an ISIL fighter with a British accent, an act that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird denounced as “horrific.”
That same fighter is also believed responsible for the recent murders of two U.S. freelance journalists.
“I think the fact that there are people fighting from some 50 countries, likely from virtually every country from around the table this morning. Obviously we all want to do more,” Baird told reporters Monday in a conference call from Paris.
“For all of us, including my British counterpart, the fact that a development worker from the United Kingdom was most probably beheaded by another citizen of the United Kingdom was probably the most horrific thing we’ve learned in this battle,” he said.
Baird announced that Royal Canadian Air Force transport aircraft would begin flying between the Czech Republic and Iraq ferrying small arms and ammunition donated by Eastern European nations for use by Kurdish fighters. Flying from Albania, Canada has already flown ferried some 228,000 kilograms of military equipment to Iraq.
Speaking at the end of the Paris conference where diplomats gathered to discuss how to combat IS, Baird said a common front was vital to halt the group’s advances in Iraq and Syria.
“We must not surrender this moment. This is a test of our time,” Baird told reporters.
Later Monday, Prime Minster Stephen Harper called IS “evil, vile” and said the group must be “unambiguously opposed.”
“Canadians are rightly sickened by their savage slaughter of anyone who doesn’t share their twisted view of the world,” Harper told supporters in Ottawa as he outlined his government’s priorities going into the fall session of Parliament.
Harper had previously announced that Canada was sending a team of more than 50 special operations forces soldiers to Iraq to advise Kurdish fighters in their battle against IS fighters.
Baird said that diplomats from around the world discussed the “critical” role to be played by other countries in the region in stemming the advance of IS.
“There was a good discussion about the dimension of the problem. While a military element is important and essential there are so many other areas where work must be done,” Baird said, citing governance, logistical support, training, mentoring and humanitarian aid.