Manitoba·Opinion

Should Canada strip convicted terrorists of their citizenship?

The recent conviction of Hiva Alizadeh has once again shone a light on changes to Canada's Citizenship Act that now allow government to strip dual citizens of their Canadian citizenship if convicted of certain terrorism offences.
Hiva Alizadeh, one of three men charged with terrorism-related counts after a 2010 RCMP investigation, was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to terrorism offences in a Canadian court. (Sketch by Laurie Foster-MacLeod)

The recent conviction of Hiva Alizadeh has once again shone a light on changes to Canada's Citizenship Act that now allow government to strip dual citizens of their Canadian citizenship if convicted of certain terrorism offences.

While Canada should strip Canadian citizenship from terrorists convicted in Canada, the government should amend its law to ensure that Canadian citizens convicted of terrorism offences outside of Canada do not lose citizenship.

Although the ability to strip Canadian citizenship from convicted terrorists is important, Canada should also keep its eye on the big picture ensuring the safety and security of Canadians and other innocent civilians around the world. If this means keeping a convicted terrorist behind bars in Canada as opposed to stripping away his or her citizenship to allow them to go abroad to wreak havoc, Canada must do this.

Alizadeh was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to terrorism offences in a Canadian court. He will be eligible for parole in nine years.

Shortly before pleading guilty, Alizadeh tried to have certain search warrants used against him set aside, arguing that they were obtained illegally.

Alizadeh was afforded a court hearing, had legal representation at that hearing, and was given the opportunity to have his case heard. He lost this hearing after the judge found that the search warrants were constitutional.

Under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,  Alizadeh was given the right to hire a lawyer, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, and had the right to trial by jury.

If a Canadian citizen is convicted of terrorism after being given all of these and other legal rights, stripping away Canadian citizenship is appropriate.

Compare this to Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian citizen convicted in Egypt of terrorism offences. Immediately after he was convicted, the Canadian government, as well as other western countries, denounced the decision. After a few days, the Canadian government confirmed that his Canadian citizenship would not be taken from him.

This was the correct decision. The reason that Fahmy should not be stripped of his citizenship is that he did not have the same legal protections in his Egyptian trial that Alizadeh had in his Canadian trial.

No other country has our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While some countries have similar legal systems, when stripping a person of their Canadian citizenship, there should only be one standard — a conviction in a Canadian court.

The problem with debating whether Canadian citizenship should be stripped from individuals convicted of terrorism is whether this debate causes Canada to miss the bigger picture.

Recently, an alleged Canadian member of ISIS reportedly burned his Canadian passport and posted a video of this online. Clearly, for many terrorists, Canadian citizenship is of little importance. Stripping them of Canadian citizenship will neither punish them nor make them less of a threat. Suspending their Canadian passports, which may limit their ability to travel, may be as good a measure as any.

If Canada's decisions to take away Canadian citizenship from individuals convicted of terrorism results in convicted terrorists being set free to wreak havoc in other countries, Canada will be doing the world a disservice.

When Alizadeh's prison term ends, what will Canada do? Will Canada simply take away his citizenship and then deport him? If so, will we be unleashing a terrorist on innocent civilians in another country?

Stripping away citizenship of convicted terrorists should not result in these terrorists being allowed to roam free to kill and maim innocent civilians elsewhere in the world. Canada has a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen.


R. Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.

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