Maryam Monsef could be stripped of her citizenship without a hearing under a law the Liberals denounced while in opposition but which they've been enforcing aggressively since taking power, civil liberties and refugee lawyers say.
The democratic institutions minister revealed last week that she was born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she'd long believed. She said her mother, who fled Afghanistan with her daughters when Monsef was 11, didn't think it mattered where the minister was born since she was still legally considered an Afghan citizen.
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Monsef has said she will have to correct her birthplace information on her passport.
If Monsef's birthplace was misrepresented on her citizenship application as well, that would be grounds for revocation of citizenship, regardless of whether it was an innocent mistake or the fault of her mother, said immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman.
Misrepresentation could lead to deportation
And if the misrepresentation was on her permanent residence and refugee applications, she could even be deported, said Waldman, part of a group that launched a constitutional challenge of the law Monday.
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association argue that the law, known as Bill C-24, is procedurally unfair and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Josh Paterson, the BCCLA's executive director, said Monsef's case demonstrates the absurdity of the law, which was passed by the previous Conservative government.
"The minister's situation ... is exactly the kind of situation that many other Canadians are facing right now because of this unjust process," Paterson told a news conference.
"When we get a parking ticket, we have a right to a court hearing ... You leave your garbage in the wrong place and you get a ticket, you have the right to a hearing and yet for citizens to lose their entitlement to membership in Canada based on allegations of something they may or may not have said 20 years ago, they have no hearing? It just doesn't make any sense."
Law to be enforced
When he was in opposition, John McCallum denounced the law as "dictatorial" and since becoming immigration minister, he's promised to amend it to create an appeal process, Paterson said.
Nevertheless, repeated requests that the government stop enforcing the law until it can be changed have been ignored. As recently as two weeks ago, Paterson said Justice Department lawyers informed his group that the law would continue to be enforced.
Indeed, he said the Liberal government has been enforcing the law "aggressively," setting targets to strip 40 to 60 Canadians each month of their citizenship.
Waldman said he'll be in court next month on a case similar to Monsef's, in which "the government is seeking to revoke the citizenship of two children who came to Canada at a very young age, not because of anything they said but because their father allegedly misrepresented on his application for permanent residence."
'Incredibly aggressive position'
"So even though the children are completely innocent ... the government is still going after the children, saying that because their father lied on his application, they should lose their citizenship and their permanent residence as well," Waldman said.
"The government is taking an incredibly aggressive position with respect to revocation."
Under the law, a single government official acts as investigator, prosecutor and decision-maker, Waldman said. A person who receives a notice of citizenship revocation has no right to a hearing or an appeal and has no chance to argue that he or she ought to retain citizenship on humanitarian grounds.
The Federal Court issued a temporary stay of proceedings in a number of revocation cases earlier this year, but Waldman said that relief is available only to those who can afford to hire a lawyer.
The purpose of Monday's legal challenge is to win a stay for all Canadians who face the loss of their citizenship.
Earlier Monday, Monsef shrugged off a suggestion by Conservative leadership contender Tony Clement that she step down as minister until an investigation can be conducted into her citizenship application process.
The confusion over her birthplace is "a very big deal for me personally and for my family," she said.
"But who I am has not changed, and this is something that my family and I will work out together. However, my commitment to Peterborough-Kawartha, my commitment to this file, they've not changed."