If the government can’t use a private member’s bill to create a new law, the terrorists win

Much ado about amending a private member’s bill

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The citizenship and immigration committee is presently tied up with an NDP filibuster of C-425.

The bill, in its original form, was tabled by Conservative MP Devinder Shory to “reduce by one year the required years of residence in Canada to grant citizenship to any permanent resident who is a member of the Canadian Armed Forces who has signed a minimum three-year contract and who has completed basic training”  and “to provide that an individual is deemed to have made an application for renunciation of their Canadian citizenship or is deemed to have withdrawn their application for Canadian citizenship, if they engage in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Then Jason Kenney decided that he wanted to make a law that would strip Canadian citizenship from any dual national who was convicted of committing an act of terrorism and that the best way to do this would be to amend C-425 to include that provision.

At that point, the opposition objected—Bob Rae rising in the House to raise a question of privilege that ultimately necessitated a ruling from the Speaker. Here is how NDP Jinny Sims explained her concerns yesterday.

With respect to this bill, Mr. Shory’s bill, C-425, I as the critic was the first one up to speak to this bill and we supported this bill. We supported it in principle and we were prepared to go to committee and take amendments there and to work with Mr. Shory’s bill as a private member’s bill. However, we were so surprised when the bill appeared at committee brought with it amendments from the minister that so fundamentally changed the scope of the bill that the bill was no longer recognizable and we’re not supportive of the minister gutting the entire content of a private member’s bill and replacing it with his own legislation. He already has ways, the government has ways of bringing forward their own legislation.

The amendments or the replacement I should say that Mr. Kenney brought to committee were ruled out of order by the chair, a Conservative chair I’ll have you know, because based on the legal advice that the chair gets on the amendments, the amendments were outside of the scope of the private member’s bill and that’s the crux of the matter here… When you have government legislation, it has different processes. It requires parliamentary debate, a private member’s bill when it comes back into the House is limited to two hours debate, two hours debate of fundamental changes that are proposed in this bill and that is unacceptable and those have been ruled out of order. So therefore, as an opposition, we’re in committee using one of the few tools we have left to prevent this government from trying to subvert the system and try to change what it means to be a Canadian citizen and all that it implies through a private member’s bill.

There are, as well, questions about the substance of Mr. Kenney’s proposal.

In a news release yesterday, Mr. Shory said New Democrats were “defending the interests of terrorists rather than protecting law abiding Canadians and putting national security first” and in a letter sent to Conservative supporters in Mr. Shory’s name, it was said that New Democrats were “standing up for the interests of convicted terrorists” and “defending convicted terrorists.” (And in a statement before Question Period, Conservative MP Ted Opitz said New Democrats were, in filibustering the bill, “potentially placing CF members at risk.”)

All of which is maybe much ado about not much. Three months ago, Jason Kenney talked to the Toronto Star about the practicalities of what he was proposing.

Q: Have you sought consultation from CSIS or the RCMP? Talking strictly about money, I’d anticipate there would be costly constitutional legal challenges and I think some in the intelligence field would argue that while a Canadian passport is of high value to terrorist organizations, money defending those legal cases would be better spent on counterterrorism efforts.

A: The Minister of Public Safety … obviously participates in cabinet deliberations on proposed amendments and I know Mr. (Vic) Toews strongly supports the proposed amendments … I think the value of this proposal is largely symbolic, educational. It sends a message that Canadian citizenship actually has some objective meaning … that it’s not some kind of tool to be exploited (by disloyal radicals). I think the number of cases to which it would be applicable would be minuscule, so I think the costs that you’re talking about are greatly exaggerated.