Conservative candidates are defending the government’s move to strip Canadian citizenship from Saad Gaya, a man who was born in Canada but convicted of terrorism for his part in the 2006 Toronto 18 plot.
Gaya, 27, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2009, and is up for parole next year. He’s also fighting not to have his Canadian citizenship revoked, Maclean’s Michael Friscolanti reported yesterday. It’s believed to be the first time Canada has tried to revoke the citizenship of someone born in Canada.
Related: Tories move to strip citizenship from Canadian-born terrorist
Gaya’s parents immigrated from Pakistan and became Canadian citizens before he was born. At the time, Pakistan did not recognize dual citizenship, but the country changed that law in 2004. The Canadian government says that means Gaya is now a dual citizen of Pakistan, something Gaya disputes in documents filed in Federal Court for his Charter challenge.
The Conservatives say the law is clear.
“It is entirely fair and completely reasonable, and when these sentences are done, we don’t want these terrorists in our country,” said Conservative candidate Pierre Poilievre, who is running for re-election in Ottawa’s Nepean riding.
Poilievre says the process is legally sound because it applies to those convicted in court.
Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander, who is running for re-election in the Toronto-area riding of Ajax–Pickering, on Wednesday night compared the attempt to strip Gaya of his citizenship to the revocation of citizenship from people who lied to become Canadians.
“For as long as there has been Canadian citizenship, there have been provisions to revoke that citizenship from people who do not deserve the rights and privileges it brings,” Alexander said in a written statement distributed by his spokesman.
The Conservatives, under Bill C-24, expanded those provisions to include those convicted of terrorism, treason, espionage or taking up arms against the Canadian military, the statement says.
“Those who commit these most heinous crimes — crimes which are fundamentally incompatible with Canadian values — in effect choose to forfeit their Canadian citizenship through their actions. Citizenship revocation only occurs in accordance with all the principles of natural justice, due process, and constitutionally enshrined safeguards.”
For Canadians looking for something to distinguish between the federal parties, this is one issue on which the Conservatives are starkly divided from the NDP and Liberals. New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau both say they would repeal C-24, which became law in June 2014. Critics of the law say it creates a two-tier system in which some Canadians can be punished twice for the same crime and allows some Canadians to be punished more harshly than others for the same crime.
“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” Mulcair said Sunday after media reports that five people have been told their citizenship would be revoked (three, including Gaya, have launched court challenges).
Trudeau took on Conservative Leader Stephen Harper over the issue during the Munk Debates on foreign policy Monday.
“We have the rule of law in this country, and you can’t take away citizenship because you don’t like what someone does,” Trudeau said.