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Dual nationalities or dual classes – will revoking citizenship deter terrorism?

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Canadian passport. Source: Flickr.

Many consider Canada to be a leading country concerning international affairs, due to their history of peacekeeping missions. Lately, however, there has been a notable change in both their domestic and foreign policies. A controversial bill on revoking Canadian citizenship for individuals with a dual nationality sparked debate on the right of citizenship, whereas other governments across the world have already adopted similar laws.

Most notably during the recently ended premiership of Stephen Harper a number of changes in Canadian politics were brought about, resulting in Canada taking more of a fighting role on the international stage. For example, Canada participated in the United States’ war on terror by joining the Afghanistan mission, while increasingly abstaining from peacekeeping missions. Domestic policy changed as well, with Harper introducing various measures in order to counter terrorism. In particular, the passing of Bill C-24 in 2014, labelled Strengthening Canadian Citizenship, sparked a large debate. In addition to increasing the threshold to successfully apply for citizenship, the most controversial aspect of this bill is the extended ability for the government to revoke Canadian citizenship for individuals with dual nationality under certain circumstances, including treason and terrorist offences. This year, one of the first to have been revoked their citizenship in Canada under the new law was Zakaria Amara, found guilty of engaging in a terrorist plot. The possibility to revoke citizenship is a common punishment for fraudulent citizenship applications, yet the suitability of revoking citizenship based on different actions, such as those related to terrorism, is disputed.

Proponents of the bill argue the changes will make Canadian citizenship a privilege by both punishing acts of terrorism harshly, and easier blocking those revoked from re-entering the country. Targeted at holders of several nationalities committing exceptional crimes, the argument is that one forfeits their citizenship when proving disloyalty to Canada. According to Harper, revoking citizenship from someone with only the Canadian nationality should be possible too if it were not for the legal obstruction of that person becoming stateless.

Critics argue that this shift in view toward citizenship being regarded as a privilege is in contrast with human rights, which states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”. Moreover, Somayeh Bahrami, amongst others, claim that the bill creates two classes of citizenship. When holding another nationality bedsides the Canadian, one would be in the so called lower class. When commiting an act of terrorism, a person in the lower class would be treated differently than someone in the higher class, as citizenship can be taken away in addition to the original punishment. Essentially, the argument continues, citizenship law will treat certain individuals differently than others. Bahrami adds that “[the bill] constructs the idea that immigrants, refugees, foreign workers, and neutralised citizens are terrorists or criminals and need to be deported to their “home countries”.” However, Harper dismissed this as “political correctness on steroids”. 

With Justin Trudeau replacing Harper as Canada’s Prime Minister, it is very likely the bill will be at least modified, if not removed altogether. The Liberal Party, to which Trudeau belongs to stated: “[we] will protect you, your family and all Canadians by repealing the unfair sections of Bill C-24”. However, other Western countries have recently been considering introducing similar legislation. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, France’s Prime Minister François Hollande spoke about revoking French citizenship from individuals with dual nationality when charged with terrorist crimes. Other Western countries already have similar laws, including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Slovenia, whereas the UK and Bulgaria can only revoke citizenship because of terrorist acts for neutralised persons. Other countries, such as Australia and Switzerland, are discussing the possibility.

The trade-off between equal citizenship and deterring terrorism using laws similar to Canada’s Bill C-24 remains debatable. Recent terrorist attacks might alter the debate to more stringent measures of citizenship. Whereas revoking citizenship for convicted terrorists could be an effective means of reducing the threat of terrorism within a country, as it would block those convicted from entering, it begs the question whether this is worth treading into a grey area regarding peoples equality under the law.

Luuc Overvoorde

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