Citizen Cain

Canada is a great country.  We consistently rank among the best places in the world to live, according to various surveys.   What we offer is clearly attractive if we consider the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, seeking to come here.  And we accept, on average, a quarter million new residents every year.  Many of these eventually become citizens and go on to make amazing contributions to this country.

But, to adapt an old phrase, what the State granteth can the State taketh away?  In other words, can the government reverse a decision to make someone a citizen?  Can it “uncitizen” someone?

This issue came to the fore recently with the news that several convicted terrorists have received notice that their Canadian citizenship will be voided and they will be deported to their country of origin (see National Post story here).  I submit that we should ask the question: is this a good thing (setting aside if it is constitutional – most cases will probably be challenged in court)?  It goes without saying that citizenship can only be revoked where the person has another citizenship to fall back on (you cannot render someone stateless).

There is no question that terrorism is a truly heinous crime.  By definition, it entails the death of innocent civilians all in the name of some cause, be it religious, political or ideological.  And the government has argued that those carrying out (or merely planning) such acts have in effect forfeited their right to be Canadian.  From one respect, this is a no-brainer.  No country would confer citizenship on someone who intended to do harm.  I suspect that the vast majority of Canadians would agree that these criminals don’t belong here.

Nevertheless, even ignoring the elephant in the room (i.e. why is this coming up now in the midst of a federal election that has seen terrorism used by some to sow fear in the population), I still think that there are four things that should be brought to the debate.

  • should Canada send its former citizens to countries where torture is a possibility, if not the norm?  For decades, this nation would not extradite criminals to countries where the death penalty could be applied for the offense committed.  The home nations of several terrorists clearly do not have stellar human rights records.
  • does it make a difference whether the act was actually carried out?  All the convicted terrorists in Canada were caught before they could carry out their plans.  Should that matter?
  • should each case be judged independently on whether the individual has expressed remorse and where there is a real possibility of redemption (I grant that it is very hard to determine sincerity in this regard)?
  • in all these cases of terrorism, the convicted criminals radicalised here in Canada, not elsewhere.  To mangle the Pottery Barn motto, we (speaking metaphorically) broke them, so we own them.  This is very different from the infamous National Security Certificate cases where those individuals came to Canada radicalised and were hence deemed inadmissible a priori.  Should we be ejecting people who transformed into terrorists in our own backyards?   If so, how does that solve the problem of homegrown radicalisation?  Does it act as a deterrent?

I don’t have the answers to these questions but they do strike me as relevant.  I do think we need to act in rational, measured ways and not let the horror of terrorism muddy our decision making.

Terrorists – those that survive – are marked people.  They carry the scar of what they did for the rest of their lives and will have to deal with that on many levels (personal, psychological, etc.), just as Cain did in the Old Testament.  I am not advocating that we feel sorry for those who would kill us out of hate and intolerance.  What they were planning to do was despicable.  Maybe they should be deported from this amazing country in the end.

It’s just that we should not rush to this decision.  After all, what’s the hurry?  They certainly are not going anywhere and do not pose a threat while in prison.  Let’s do the Canadian thing and take our time with this one.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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