Zakaria Amara is one of Canada’s notorious criminals. He’s a convicted terrorist, one of the so-called “Toronto 18,” an Al Qaeda-inspired group that opposed our military role in Afghanistan. A decade ago members conspired to attack Parliament, blow up truck bombs at the Toronto Stock Exchange and other downtown sites during rush hour, and bomb a military base.
Justice Bruce Durno called the plots “spine-chilling” when he sentenced Amara, a mastermind, to life in prison in 2010. Had the group succeeded in detonating one-tonne bombs, the result “would have been catastrophic,” the judge said, “the most horrific crime Canada has ever seen,” with potentially enormous loss of life.
That was nearly six years ago. Amara, who was born in Jordan and came to Canada with his family as a schoolboy, has long since faded from the headlines. Yet suddenly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s law-and-order Conservative government has just revoked his Canadian citizenship in the final few weeks of a closely fought election campaign. While the formal process began in June, we are only now learning of it. The cynical opportunism of the decision is stunning. Nor will this be the last such case.
It’s tempting to not much care what happens to a murderous extremist who scorns our democracy, flouts our laws and seeks to strike fear in our hearts. The Conservatives are counting that the public will shrug, or even cheer them on. But as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and New Democrat Tom Mulcair both point out, this sets an appalling precedent, and not just because of its self-serving pandering to the Tory base.
As Mulcair noted, it divides Canadians by “creating two different categories of citizenship.” And as Trudeau said, one law should apply for all in this country. “As soon as you make citizenship for some Canadians conditional on good behaviour, you devalue citizenship for everyone,” he said. Both vow to repeal the law.
As the Toronto Star has written before, the Harper government was wrong to rewrite the Citizenship Act last year to give itself the power to yank citizenship from dual nationals who make war on this country, or commit crimes of terrorism, treason or spying. It creates an invidious distinction between native-born Canadian criminals (who can’t be denied citizenship) and naturalized ones (who are Canadian only on sufferance). It also promotes two classes of punishment for the same crime.
Needless to say, these provisions for “two-tier citizenship” are being challenged in Federal Court as an affront to the Constitution’s equality rights, due process and mobility rights.
Modern citizenship is a fundamental status, not something that can be revoked because the government deems a person not deserving. Banishing citizens is a throwback to totalitarian regimes and primitive eras. It is an affront to many of the seven million foreign-born people – fully a fifth of our population – who have made this country their home.
And where does it end? How can the Conservatives justify stripping citizenship rights from terrorist plotters who are caught before they harm anyone, without taking the same approach to mass murderers, serial killers, dangerous offenders and sexual predators? Where does this take us?
Whatever their origins, Canadians whose crimes shock the conscience of society should face the full force of the law and the same penalties. There must be one citizenship, and one justice, for all.