When Bill C-36 — otherwise known as the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act — was first introduced in Parliament, many human rights advocates and legal experts opposed it. One of their main arguments was that Canada didn’t need a specific law to fight terrorism — that the Criminal Code was more than sufficient to allow law enforcement to bring charges against terrorists.
When Bill C-36 (later called the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2001) was first introduced in Parliament, many human rights advocates and legal experts opposed it. One of their main arguments was that Canada doesn’t need a special and specific anti-terrorism legislation; its criminal code is strong and detailed enough to allow law enforcement agencies to bring charges against terrorists.
Bill C-36 was adopted a few months after 9/11. Many thought that would be the exception because of that tragedy but today we can look back and safely say that it was only the beginning of a series of legislation specially tailored for suspected terrorists.
What Bill C-36 did to our legislative landscape isn’t “simply” the introduction of new additional invasive powers granted to intelligence and police forces but rather the fundamental idea that terrorism is a unique offence that should be fought with a fundamentally different set of tools. Basically, the new era post-9/11 allowed the creation of a new world with two parallel justice systems: one for the “usual” criminals and one for the terrorists.
When Canada fought gangs and organized crime mobs in the 90s, the police adapted their tactics to the nature of the “work” this sort of criminals were conducting. Obviously, the police techniques changed to allow more infiltration and more targeted surveillance but once the members were arrested and charged, it was still the same criminal code that applied to them and not any new law that was specifically adapted for gang members.
We do not claim that terrorism shouldn’t be opposed with adapted techniques. Indeed, it should be. But we believe the emphasis should be put on other levels: prevention, political, economical and social policies, and education. And once terror suspects are brought to justice, we believe that they should be judged according to the gravity of their actions and not whether they were labelled as criminals or as terrorists.
This parallel justice system doesn’t stop there. In 2014, the Conservative government came up with a new citizenship law, Bill C-24. Part of this bill became law in May 2015. The new law took us further down the road paved already by the first Anti-Terrorism Act : a road toward a two-tier system. The victim this time is citizenship.
Before Bill C-24, revocation of citizenship was limited to naturalized Canadians who acquired their citizenship by false representations. With the new legislation, dual citizens (naturalized citizens or citizens who were born in Canada but could claim citizenship in another country through one of their parents, notwithstanding that they may have no ties with that country) can have their citizenship stripped away from them if they commit terrorism, espionage or treason. However, if you are born in Canada and can’t be eligible for another citizenship (through marriage or through your parents or any other legitimate reason) then you can keep your citizenship, no matter the nature of the crime you committed.
The new grounds for revocation are broad and appear to be connected to the loyalty to Canada. However, as the Canadian Bar Association pointed out, it is not clear why the loyalty of dual nationals should be put into question more than that of other Canadians. And it is also not clear why our loyalty to Canada should determine our citizenship. Isn’t that another way to divide the society into the ones who seemingly loves Canada and thus do not speak out and the ones who seemingly hate Canada and criticize it. What is the fine line between criticism and hate? This is a slippery slope and we are on the top of it.
Finally, the new process of revoking citizenship doesn’t involve a judge (except in limited circumstances where the Minister decided to hold a hearing), making the system “cost and time efficient” according to the government. There is no accountability and no process to appeal the minister’s decision. Once again the government justified this new legislation by the threat of “Jihadi Terrorism”. And, once again, the end result is the creation of a two-tier system: one for “privileged” Canadians and another one for “supposed terrorists dual citizens.” including those who have been exonerated by a court but the government still consider as terrorists.
And to confirm the relevance of this new legislation, since last June, the government has sent notices of citizenship revocation to a few convicted terrorists.
One of these targeted individuals is Zakaria Amara, who was born in Jordan and has dual citizenship. He was convicted for his role in the Toronto 18 terrorism plot. In a tweet sent by Jason Kenney, the Defence Minister, after the news that Canada revoked the citizenship of Amara, Kenney mentioned that Amara hated Canada so much that he “forfeited his own citizenship” by plotting to murder hundreds of Canadians.
So the blame is not that this new citizenship act created two separate treatments for Canadians but it is the hate this person has for Canada that legitimizes stripping him of his Canadian citizenship. Kenney wouldn’t even use the words “revocation”, “exile” or “banishment”. He only used “forfeited”. As if Amara decided on his own to drop his Canadian citizenship.
This is clearly very ideological position that shouldn’t prevail in a democracy. Our love and hate for a country – our loyalty – cannot and should not determine the legitimacy of our citizenship. Amara didn’t like Canada and was ready to kill innocent people, and as a consequence he was punished with a life sentence of imprisonment. Why do we have to double the punishment and revoke his Canadian citizenship? Can’t he be rehabilitated? Can’t the hate he felt at some point in his life be replaced one day with compassion and understanding? Is sending him back to Jordan going to make us feel safer? Isn’t Canada part of a coalition to bomb the Islamic State and one of the arguments of this bombing is that we have to get rid of the terrorists over there so they don’t come to us. So how sending convicted terrorists to that region make us feel safer? And how is a country like Jordan to react at the prospect of receiving a convicted terrorist? Will they accept him or will he become stateless? Will he be tortured there as further punishment or as a way to try and get information on terrorist suspects or terrorist plots?
Terrorism is an ongoing threat, nationally and internationally. In using it as an excuse to keep us safe, the current Canadian government is creating a two-tier system of justice, a two-tier citizenship and a two-tier society. On the surface, the target is the bad terrorists who have no one to blame except themselves. But on a deeper level, it is all of us, as a divided and weakened society, who are losing the essence of our laws, of our citizenship and of our democracy.
A modified version of this article appeared on ipolitics.