The Trudeau government used powers granted by the Harper government's controversial citizenship law to make 184 revocation decisions without legal hearings between November 2015 and the end of August. About 90 per cent of the decisions resulted in a negative finding and the loss of a person's citizenship.

The numbers show that the Trudeau government has used the law far more aggressively than the Harper government itself.

But in a Federal Court filing late Friday, the government said it would not grant a moratorium on revocation cases, and added that claims by some that the system was revoking large numbers of citizenship are speculative.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made the sanctity of citizenship an issue in last year's federal election.

"A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian," Trudeau said in a leaders' debate three weeks before storming to victory.

He used it to dress down Stephen Harper for passing Bill C-24, a law that aimed to strip dual citizens of their Canadian passports if they were convicted of crimes of terrorism, treason or espionage against Canada, or took up arms against Canada.

Immigrant communities rallied to the Liberal Party, concerned that Canadians born overseas would be reduced by C-24 to an insecure second-class status.

Once elected, one of the Liberals' first acts was to repeal the parts of C-24 that applied to those convicted of terrorism-related crimes, ensuring that they can keep their Canadian passports.

But the Trudeau government left intact other parts of the law that allow the government to strip citizenship from other holders of Canadian passports for misrepresentation. While misrepresentation on immigration and citizenship applications has been illegal for decades, C-24 allowed the government to revoke citizenship on that basis without legal hearings.

The 184 revocation decisions of the first 10 months of the Trudeau government nearly match the total number of decisions over a 27-year period between 1988 and the last month of the Harper government in October 2015.

Revocations increase as Trudeau takes office

Although the powers being used come from a law passed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives, they have been used much more aggressively under Trudeau.

In the first full month of the law's operation, June 2015, only three revocation decisions were made. None were made in July or August, two in September and two more in October.

The Trudeau cabinet was sworn in on Nov. 4, 2015. That month saw 21 revocation decisions. The following month there were 59. The year 2016 averaged 13 decisions a month up to Aug. 31, the latest data CBC News has been able to obtain.

The monthly average under the Harper government from 2013 to 2015 was only 2.4 cases a month, some under the auspices of C-24 and some under rules that existed previously.

Citizenship revocation decisions by year (in persons)

2013 2014 2015 2016 (8 months)
January 13
February 4 7 25
March 17 7
April 5 14
May 5 16 18
June 4 1 3 7
July 10
August 10
September 4 2
October 1 2
November 4 21
December 7 59
Total 15 15 132 104

Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Liberals accused of hypocrisy

In recent days, following revelations that the birthplace of one of its own cabinet ministers was misrepresented on her passport documents, the government has said it is open to reforming the system.

But in the preceding months, it had used the revocation measures at an unprecedented rate.

"The Liberals criticized these provisions when they were in opposition," says Laura Track of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. "They said they were going to fix it. And yet they have been using it even more than the Conservatives did."

The government says the revocation decisions are being taken to protect the integrity of the citizenship system and are aimed at cases of fraud.

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Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef's place of birth was listed as being in Afghanistan on her passport documents, but she recently learned she was actually born in Iran. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Nancy Caron of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said "many cases that are being processed for revocation are as a result of large-scale investigations into possible residence fraud."

The department carried out those investigations with Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP. Investigations led by those agencies have resulted in the conviction of immigration consultants who helped individuals obtain citizenship illegally.

"The revocation process is then undertaken to determine whether the individuals associated with these investigations, fraudulently obtained their Canadian citizenship through having intentionally misled the government of Canada about key aspects of their citizenship application such as concealing past criminal activities or submitting false documents to demonstrate residence in Canada when in fact they were not living in Canada‎. Many of the decisions to revoke citizenship that have been made since May 2015 directly result from those investigations," Caron said in an email to CBC News.

Monsef case an uncomfortable parallel

But lawyers representing some citizens targeted for revocation say they're seeing cases that don't fit that frame.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says those targeted for revocation include at least two young adults who came to Canada as infants, grew up in the country and have broken no laws, but who are now being stripped of citizenship because the government says one of their parents misrepresented facts on their original application years ago.

In one case, a young man who arrived in Canada at nine months of age said he has been issued with a notice of revocation because his father had failed to report a criminal conviction in his country of origin when the family immigrated to Canada.

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NDP MP Jenny Kwan has advocated for an appeals process to be developed so Canadians having their citizenship revoked could fight the decision. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

He did not wish to speak to CBC News and said he wished to remain anonymous.

The case bears similarities to that of Liberal Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef, who says it was her mother who misrepresented her country of birth when she immigrated to Canada. A spokesperson for Monsef recently said she would update her Canadian passport.

Another citizen being assisted by BCCLA was targeted for revocation because she had declared herself single on her application for permanent resident status when she had left a husband behind in Iran. The woman, who also wished to remain anonymous, said she was fleeing an abusive marriage with an older man and considered herself single.

No moratorium: Federal government

When the Trudeau government introduced legislation to repeal Bill C-24, New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan attempted to introduce amendments in committee that would have addressed the problem of people losing citizenship without any opportunity for a hearing.

But the Liberal chair of the immigration committee ruled those amendments out of scope, and the machinery of revocation without a hearing has continued to operate, and would continue to operate in the future under C-6, the Liberal government's replacement for C-24, which has passed the House and is now in the Senate.

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Immigration Minister John McCallum told the Senate that he would consider a moratorium on revoking citizenship until an appeal process can be devised. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Immigration Minister John McCallum recently told the Commons that C-6 was not intended to change the parts of C-24 that deal with misrepresentation, but suggested that the government may be open to the idea.

"C-6 adheres to our fundamental election commitment that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and it revokes citizenship revocation for criminal acts applied to dual citizens alone. That was the central focus of the bill.

"Citizenship revocation for misrepresentation is under consideration and we are considering further lines of appeal."

The BCCLA has gone to Federal Court seeking a stay in further revocation cases pending a constitutional challenge.

McCallum has suggested the government might consider a moratorium on revocations — but that suggestion seemed to be put to rest with the government's response Friday.

In the meantime, lawyers who work in the field say they continue to be approached by citizens who have received notices of intent to revoke their citizenship in recent weeks.

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to make it clear that misrepresentation was illegal before C-24, but the bill gives the government greater powers to revoke citizenship in cases of misrepresentation.
    Oct 11, 2016 5:44 PM ET