Immigration

Canada can’t strip your citizenship without a trial, court rules

A landmark ruling from the Federal Court means that Ottawa will no longer be able to strip Canadians of their citizenship without a hearing.

In ruling on the case of a group of dual citizens who had their citizenship nullified because the Canadian government believed they obtained it through fraudulent means, the court found the government’s revocation powers unconstitutional.

Under the Citizenship Act, thanks to changes brought in by the previous government, the minister of immigration could revoke the Canadian citizenship of any dual resident who, they believe, obtained it through fraud or misrepresentation, or who has been convicted of a terrorist offence.

Those facing citizenship revocation “should be afforded an oral hearing before a court.”

It was at the government’s discretion whether or not there would be a trial on the matter. Thanks to those streamlined rules, revocation could take place after merely sending a letter to the person affected.

Today, the court ruled that such a process ran afoul of the Bill of Rights, a rarely-used piece of the constitution and a precursor to the more widely-known Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Those facing citizenship revocation “should be afforded an oral hearing before a court,” Justice Jocelyne Gagné wrote, adding that they deserve to be afforded “an opportunity to have their special circumstances considered when such circumstances exist.”

Today’s ruling means that all current citizenship revocation cases will be put on hold.

In some ways, these changes were inevitable.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government pushed forward legislation in early 2016 to make similar changes to the Citizenship Act, removing the government’s ability to strip the citizenship of terrorists, and to afford the right to a trial to all those facing revocation. That legislation has been making its way through Parliament for more than a year, and was most recently amended by the Senate earlier this month — meaning it now heads back to the House of Commons for another vote.

“It’s always been kind of a mystery as to why the government was still pursuing revocation.”

Despite that, the Canadian government has nevertheless pushed forward to strip the citizenship of an array of people across the country. The current Liberal government, who campaigned on repealing Harper’s changes, has revoked more citizenships in a year than the previous government did in seven years.

Previously, under both the Trudeau and Harper governments, the government has moved to take away citizenship from Canadians who obtained their citizenship as children.

Joel Sandaluk, a Toronto immigration lawyer, represents a client who got notice that Ottawa was moving to take away his citizenship as recently as last month.

“It’s always been kind of a mystery as to why the government was still pursuing revocation,” Sandaluk says, noting that the government was pursuing legislation to make that very change, and it knew that this case was to be decided imminently.

“It’s either very canny politics or it just kind of feels a little bit manipulative,” he says.

It’s quite possible that the Liberals will need to go back to their own legislation, which is currently making its way through the Senate, to make sure it complies with today’s ruling, Sandaluk says. That means Ottawa likely won’t bother appealing the decision.

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