Canadian-born Saad Gaya, convicted terrorist, targeted for revocation of citizenship

A convicted terrorist who was born and raised in Canada is asking a court to quash the federal government's attempt to strip him of his Canadian citizenship.

Government alleges that Gaya, born in Canada, retroactively became a Pakistani citizen

Saad Gaya, shown here in a court sketch, is serving an 18-year sentence for his role in the Toronto 18 bomb plot. (Alex Tavshunsky/CBC)

A convicted terrorist who was born and raised in Canada is asking a court to quash the federal government's attempt to strip him of his Canadian citizenship.

In an application to the Federal Court, Saad Gaya says revoking his Canadian citizenship would constitute "cruel and unusual treatment." 

Gaya, who is serving an 18-year sentence for his role in the Toronto 18 bomb plot, is one of at least four men convicted of terrorism who have received notices from the government saying it intends to strip them of their citizenship.

But Gaya is the only one who was born in Canada.

Retroactive Pakistani citizenship?

The Conservatives' substantial changes to the Citizenship Act, which included expanding the grounds for the revocation of citizenship, came into effect in May

Under the newly revamped act, the government can strip the citizenship of dual nationals, but not if it renders them stateless.

Gaya was born in Montreal to Pakistani immigrants who came to Canada over 30 years ago. His parents lost their Pakistani citizenship when they became Canadian citizens.

But in documents filed in Federal Court on Sept. 18, the federal government is alleging that Gaya's parents had their Pakistani citizenship retroactively restored in 2014.

Based on that claim, the government says that stripping Gaya of his citizenship would not render him stateless because he retroactively became a dual national the moment his parents did.

"I think that's going to be a tough argument to defend," said Carissima Mathen, an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa.

"This case really shows how arbitrary the application of the law is, and it's really through a pure accident of birth that someone is a dual citizen," she said in an interview with CBC News.

The changes to the act are currently being challenged in court by a coalition of civil liberties groups.

Josh Paterson, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association — one of the groups challenging the changes in court — said deporting a convicted terrorist doesn't enhance Canada's national security.

"People who try to commit terrorist acts should be tried and dealt with according to the Canadian criminal justice system."

It doesn't make any sense from a public safety perspective," Paterson said.

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'Double punishment'

Gaya's lawyer is arguing in court that "the act imposes an unfair onus on the individual to establish that revocation would not render them stateless." 

In an interview with CBC News, Lorne Waldman said, "It's really just double punishment. There's no other justification for it."

Waldman argues in court documents that Gaya "has never applied for Pakistani citizenship" and denies that he has it.

Conservative Parm Gill, who appeared on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, told CBC's Rosemary Barton that he was "absolutely unaware" of the government's efforts to strip Gaya of his citizenship.

Gaya received the government's notice on Aug. 6, according to court documents.

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'Two classes of citizens'

The government has recently stripped the citizenship of Zakaria Amara for his role in the Toronto 18 bomb plot. Asad Ansari and Saad Khalid, two other members of the Toronto 18 group, were also informed by letter of the government intends to strip them of their citizenship.

Misbahuddin Ahmed, a convicted terrorist and former Ottawa hospital technician, is asking a court to halt the government's attempt to revoke his citizenship.

Gaya's lawyer argues that the new revocation provisions in the act create "two classes of citizens" — a position supported by the NDP and the Liberals.

During a radio interview with AM980's Andrew Lawton in London, Ont., Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said their position was "political correctness on steroids."

"Of course there are tiers," Harper said on Wednesday "and one tier is that the ordinary immigrant does not in any way identify with the kinds of persons that are out to destroy this country." 

The Conservative leader did not shut the door to the idea of revoking the citizenship of dual nationals who commit other types of crime.

"We can look at options in the future," Harper said as he went on to defend the new provisions.

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