OTTAWA — The only person ever to lose his Canadian citizenship after being convicted of a terrorism offence would get it back under a proposed new federal bill that’s rekindling familiar partisan passions over what it means to be a citizen.
The Trudeau Liberals moved Thursday to repeal some sweeping Conservative changes to the rules that govern citizenship — one of several issues that have long highlighted the ideological divide between the longtime political rivals.
The most controversial of the Tory changes to the Citizenship Act allowed the immigration minister to revoke the Canadian status of dual nationals convicted of crimes like terrorism, treason or taking up arms against the country.
Critics denounced the move as a slippery slope that created two classes of citizen, a theme Immigration Minister John McCallum reprised as he explained the rationale for seeking to reverse the measure.
“From my point of view this is a question of principle, that if one believes that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian and there is only one class of Canadian, those principles must be applied universally,” McCallum said.
One person promises to be a headache for the Liberals, however: Zakaria Amara, the presumptive leader of the so-called Toronto 18 and the only person in Canada to ever lose Canadian citizenship as a result of the Conservative law.
Once the Liberal proposals become law, he will get it back.
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel could barely contain her contempt.
“There’s many things that unite us as Canadians and I think one of those things is a respect and deep value for Canadian citizenship,” Rempel told a news conference immediately following McCallum’s.
“When we’re talking about principle, I would like to think the first principle we put forward (is) that we’re not celebrating people that commit terrorist actions against our country.”
During last year’s election campaign, the Conservative law became a flashpoint particularly in ethnic communities, where the Liberals warned of the risk that others could lose their citizenship too.
It also became a proxy issue for the Conservative “tough on terror” message and their party’s efforts to paint the Liberals as soft on crime.
That said, a number of Conservative measures will go untouched by the government, including regulating consultants and higher penalties for fraud. The Liberals are also giving officials the ability to seize fake documents to better investigate them and removing the ability for those serving conditional sentences from applying for citizenship.
The new Liberal bill would also decrease the amount of time a permanent resident must live in Canada before being eligible for citizenship and allow non-permanent residents to count some of their time in the country towards that residency requirement.
Applicants aged 18-54 would also be the only ones required to meet language and knowledge requirements, down from 14-64 under the Conservative law.