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How Bill C-24 Could Have Revoked Nelson Mandela’s Honourary Canadian Citizenship

Man in handcuffs beside airplane

Konrad Bongard, freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, explores the recently legislated Bill C-24, and suggests that the Supreme Court would do well to think twice about giving the Harper government widespread powers to revoke Canadian citizenship.

On June 19th, the Conservative government’s new Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, received royal assent.

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Among other provisions, the bill aims to increase the administrative efficiency of processing citizenship applications, cracks down on citizenship fraud, ramps up knowledge and residency-based requirements for citizenship, and extends citizenship to a larger number of “Lost Canadians” (Canadians who lost or did not receive citizenship due to arcane provisions in the 1947 Citizenship Act).

However, it is the provision in the bill which allows Canadians to be stripped of their citizenship if they commit crimes in other countries (“treason, high treason, espionage, or terrorism”) or serve in an armed force which has “engaged in an armed conflict with Canada” which have attracted the most attention.

Already, the NDP has called for changes, pointing out that the bill may be unconstitutional.

Citizenship advocates Don Chapman and Melynda Jarratt have criticized the government, claiming that they were flown in to speak to the government about Bill C-24, but were locked out of the meeting minutes before it was supposed to commence.  And Rocco Galati, a Toronto lawyer, has pledged to initiate a Charter Challenge if the Harper government won’t refer the bill to the Supreme Court, based on the statement in the Charter of Rights that “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada” — a provision the Charter specifies cannot be overruled by the notwithstanding clause.

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Worsening matters, according to critics, is that the bill provides only a limited window opportunity for judicial review in cases where Canadians are having their citizenship revoked. While claiming that no Canadians will be left stateless as a result of the bill, it also does not specify how the Canadian government intends to procure citizenship from foreign nations for Canadians who are targeted for deportation.

If one wants to understand the objections which exist to Bill C-24, it is best to survey a few examples from our recent national history.

In September 2002, a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, was detained at the John F. Kennedy International Airport. He was then deported — not to Canada — but to Syria, where he was held for almost one year under suspicion of being a member of Al Queda and was tortured.  Eventually, he was released, and was cleared by a commission of all connections to terrorism.

Under Bill C-24, Arar could have had his Canadian citizenship revoked, which would’ve made it considerably more difficult for him to access Canada after his imprisonment in Syria. Other groups, such as the 30 Greenpeace activists who were arrested in Russia last year for protesting against offshore oil exploration in the Pechora Sea, could also see their citizenship denied under the new bill.

“…it is the provision in the bill which allows Canadians to be stripped of their citizenship if they commit crimes in other countries (“treason, high treason, espionage, or terrorism”) or serve in an armed force which has “engaged in an armed conflict with Canada” which have attracted the most attention.”

Indeed, some critics have pointed out that even Nelson Mandela, an honourary Canadian citizen since 2001, would be eligible to have his citizenship revoked under Bill C-24. Worth noting, in this respect, is that for a long time the African National Congress was viewed as a terrorist group by the Canadian government — a designation which even today prevents many former ANC members from traveling to Canada. And while Harper publicly lauded Mandela after his death last year, he was actively involved in anti-ANC activism during the 1980s and 1990s, as a founding member of the Northern Foundation and as an MP in the Reform Party.

What the example of the evolving relationship between Harper and the ANC shows is the extreme elusiveness of the term ‘terrorism’ — a kind of catch-all of all modern social evils.  Terrorism, by definition, potentially encompasses everything from left-wing activism to radical environmentalism to Middle Eastern revolutionism (or, in the case, of Arar, people who were never ‘terrorists’ in any hypothetical respect!).

Many of the groups and individuals who we demonize today may, in future, receive the sort of public redemption members of the African National Congress, or Maher Arar, have widely enjoyed.

Given the amorphous nature of these political labels, the Supreme Court would do well to think twice about giving the Harper government widespread powers to revoke Canadian citizenship if they have the opportunity to review Bill C-24.

Konrad Bongard is a freelance columnist for Pardon Applications of Canada, the nationwide processing firm for Canadian Pardon (Record Suspension) & U.S. Entry Waiver applications.  The opinions expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Pardon Applications of Canada.  For a list of statistical references used in this article, or more information on Pardon Applications of Canada, call 866-383-9744 or email info@pardonapplications.ca