A controversial Canadian law that allows the government to strip citizenship from convicted terrorists will now have its first test case, providing a preview of what could happen in countries considering similar legislation, including Australia.
Canada's immigration minister has begun the process of revoking Hiva Alizadeh's citizenship, VICE News has confirmed, using sweeping new powers under the "Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act," previously known as Bill C-24.
The act empowers the minister to strip Canadian citizenship from convicted terrorists, traitors, spies, and enemy combatants, as well as those found to have falsified their immigration applications, provided they hold (or could apply for) the citizenship of another country.
Alizadeh, an Iranian-Canadian, was convicted last fall after pleading guilty to explosives possession with the intent to cause harm as part of a terrorist conspiracy. His arrest was part of a 2010 police operation known as Project Samosa, which busted a small ring of plotters based in the nation's capital and found bomb-making equipment in their homes.
Alizadeh will have 60 days to demand a hearing, though that is entirely at the minister's discretion. If the process is successful, Alizadeh could be deported to Iran, a country frequently criticized by the Canadian government for its poor human rights record. It is unclear whether Iranian authorities would agree to his return.
"We have been clear: Canadian citizenship is a privilege that carries both rights and responsibilities," Kevin Menard, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, told the National Post this week. "Dual nationals who commit the most serious crimes, those who seek to harm Canada and Canadians, will face serious consequences: we will move to revoke their Canadian citizenship."
But lawyers have opposed the act, saying it turns dual citizens into "second-class citizens" and follows an opaque process that gives too much power to the minister. The Canadian Bar Association wrote that it seems akin to "banishment or exile." Since it applies to anyone who could claim foreign citizenship, including through parents or grandparents, it could result in Canadian-born citizens being deported to countries they have never even set foot in.
Ziyaad Mia, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says that the new law has "eroded the value of citizenship for those who are dual citizens."
He said that the bill is "fundamentally unfair, and unconstitutional." Since Alizadeh is already serving a sentence, Mia says it's discriminatory to subject him to further retroactive punishment simply because of his dual citizenship status. He also worries that the law could be used against people convicted of terrorism offenses abroad, such as former al Jazeera journalist Mohammed Fahmy. Though the government has said it will not seek to revoke Fahmy's citizenship, there is nothing to stop it from doing exactly that in other cases where people have been branded as terrorists by oppressive regimes with weak judicial systems.
The new provisions are similar to an even more wide-ranging Australian bill introduced to parliament last week. The "Allegiance to Australia Bill" states that dual citizens automatically renounce their Australian citizenship if they act "inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia." The bill lists a range of conduct that would qualify, most of it focused on terrorism and militancy, and broadly similar to that in the Canadian law.
But unlike in Canada, the Australian bill does not require a conviction, prompting critics to charge that it gives the immigration minister judge-like powers. Some have also pointed out that the definition of terrorism activities is vague, and could be used against people who upload propaganda or even "like" a Facebook page with extremist messaging.
Alizadeh's case could provide a model for what countries like Australia can expect once they "strengthen" their citizenship laws. His case seems like a cut-and-dry example of a well-developed terrorist conspiracy with overseas support, making it unlikely to arouse much public sympathy.
According to an informant who provided intelligence to security services, Alizadeh traveled to Afghanistan on two occasions between 2007 and 2009. While there, he pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Omar and was instructed to carry out terrorist attacks in Canada, the confidential source revealed.
Based on that information, police obtained a search warrant for Alizadeh's home, as well as that of another associate, Misbahuddin Ahmed. During the search, they found extremist propaganda, instructions for making bombs, waging guerrilla warfare, and kidnapping Americans, and a partially constructed detonator made from a circuit board. Defence lawyers later challenged the search warrant. But after a judge found it admissible, Alizadeh pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 24 years in a federal prison, with six years credit for time served.
As part of his plea, Alizadeh confessed that he had spent two months in a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, where he received weapons training and learned to make remote-detonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He then returned to Canada in 2009 but remained in contact with extremists based in Afghanistan, communicating with them using coded language via a secret e-mail accessed through library computers and via a pay-as-you go cell phone registered to a fake name. He recruited his co-conspirator, Misbahuddin Ahmed, an X-ray technician, and then attempted to bring in a third associate, who was later cleared of all charges.
Constitutional lawyer Rocco Galati has already challenged the new act, claiming that the Governor General went beyond his constitutional authority in granting it royal assent. The Alizadeh case may provide an additional avenue to challenge the law before the courts.
Follow Arthur White on Twitter: @jjjarthur