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August 24, 2013

Fighting terrorism, the Harper way

Reuel S. Amdur

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Last May, Tory MP Devinder Shorey introduced a private member's bill, C-425. It is now before the House. There are three elements in the bill.

The first reduces the waiting time for permanent residents to become citizens from three years to two if they sign up for three years of service in the military and have completed basic training.  The second makes a dual citizen forfeit Canadian citizenship if the person engages in “an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces”.  The third section bars a permanent resident from becoming a Canadian for doing the same.

The bill is tricky—big time. 

The first problem with the bill is that in all likelihood there are no permanent residents in the Canadian military.  Only in exceptional cases, of special need, and only with the authorization of the Chief of Defense Staff or his designate, may such a person be allowed to join the forces.  So we have a bill the introductory section of which applies, for all intents, to no one.  Why would anyone introduce such a silly measure? 

If anyone were to oppose a bill with such a laudatory purpose, that person becomes the target for the tender mercies of Prime Minister Harper’s mud-slinging brigades.  “You are against this generous move to promote service in the military and to recognize the commitment of fine New Canadians?  Clearly you are not patriotic.”  Can’t you just imagine the smears blasting out on radio and television commercials?

This introductory piece of nothingness also serves to bring on the main course, making it all a single package, promoting the military and attacking the terrorists.  Surely a worthy combination.

The next bit of trickiness is that, while the bill is a private member’s bill, Jason Kenney the Citizenship and Immigration Minister at the time, has made it abundantly clear that the government is on side.  So why did the Conservatives not present it as a government bill?  For good reason. 

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who is a law professor, explained why in a speech in the House on February 15.  Because it is a private member’s bill it avoids the requirement of “the constitutional approval of the Minister of Justice pursuant to the Department of Justice Act.”  In other words, the bill does not need to be screened to determine its constitutionality prior to submission.

Cotler pointed to constitutional issues that would need to be addressed in a piece of legislation such as this: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provisions on mobility rights (entering and leaving the country), security of the person, and discrimination based on citizenship.

The aim is clear: Without any consideration of the constitutionality of the bill, put it out there.  Then play the Tories’ black-and-white game once more.  Are you for terrorism or against it?  Remember the bit about “Are you for the pedophiles or against them?”  And “Are you for law and order or are you soft on crime?”  It is a game that proves very popular, but you are a sucker if you fall for it.

Now Kenney says that he wants to talk to Shorey about a possible government amendment to the bill to extend the penalty to all binationals who commit acts of terror anywhere.  This twist was inspired by recent terrorist attacks in Bulgaria and Algeria.  However, if such an amendment is in fact adopted and the clever but ill-conceived bill is passed, its implementation will be spotty—no question.

The events in Bulgaria and Algeria apparently involved Canadians who were also nationals of one or more Arab countries.  But let’s look at a different scenario.  Take the instance of Canadian Jews who are also Israeli citizens and who live in West Bank settlements.  Settler attacks against Palestinians and their olive groves are an ongoing problem.  If a Canadian settler is caught for such terrorist attacks and—unlikely though it is—is convicted in an Israeli court, will Canada cancel his citizenship under this new law?  You would be foolish to bet that it would.

Louis Riel took up arms against Canada and was hanged for it.  Within a century, his likeness appeared on a Canadian postage stamp.  Nelson Mandela waged a terrorist campaign against the government of South Africa, and Canada made him an honorary citizen.

There is one other aspect to this Tory campaign of hysteria. 

That is the fear-mongering aimed at New Canadians and more specifically at Arabs and Muslims.  This campaign has brought out of the woodwork rednecks complaining about dual citizens and, to use Kenney’s phrase, “Canadians of convenience.”  All of this from Kenney who has been reaching out to Canada’s ethnic community groups—and hoodwinking too many of them.

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