Edmonton Journal | Feb. 13, 2003 | Bohdan Klid

Flawed law sanctions two-tiered citizenship

Naturalized citizens stripped of rights

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Bohdan Klid
Freelance [Guest column, A17]

On Friday, Feb. 14, 2003, Parliament's Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration will be in Edmonton for public hearings on Bill C-18, An Act Respecting Canadian Citizenship.

The proposed bill should not be passed without major revisions, as several sections are seriously flawed, especially 16-18, which grant extraordinary powers to the state to strip naturalized Canadians of citizenship. Section 16 gives the government power to accuse a naturalized citizen of committing a crime (constituting grounds for citizenship revocation), and then proceed with denaturalization in a judicial proceeding that does not offer the same safeguards and protections that a Canadian-born defendant would enjoy if faced with a similar charge.

The procedure uses civil, not criminal standards, and allows presumption of guilt by fraud during immigration or citizenship acquisition. The current citizenship law allows this practice. However, in cases where the law has been used against several alleged Second World War war criminals, the Crown has failed to prove criminality on the part of the accused, but has proceeded with denaturalization anyway on the assumption that the accused fraudulently entered Canada during immigration, although the government has not proven these charges either with any direct evidence.

It seems wise therefore for the government to follow criminal standards in citizenship revocation procedures. Section 17 sanctions the hearing of evidence in secret on national security grounds or to protect sources (even information inadmissible in courts) in citizenship revocation proceedings, without the presence of the accused and her/his counsel. There are no provisions for parliamentary oversight or verifiability of secret evidence. Also, allowing confidential information constitutes the withholding of evidence, thus denying the accused due process. While one might expect such practices in authoritarian or totalitarian states, it is chilling to contemplate secret trials in a democratic country.

Section 18 allows the government to denaturalize a citizen by ministerial order within five years of naturalization. Stripping anyone of citizenship in a purely bureaucratic procedure constitutes a denial of due process. Granting such powers to the citizenship minister should not even be considered.

The extraordinary powers proposed in Bill C-18 would encourage abuses against individuals or groups, especially in politically charged or crisis situations. The government of Canada has on a number of occasions abused its powers, sometimes with tragic consequences to individuals, members of minorities and entire ethnic communities.

During the First World War, thousands of Ukrainians were interned as "enemy aliens." In the Second World War, the entire Japanese Canadian community fell victim to security excesses that led to internment and loss of property.

Bill C-18 hinders the development and functioning of Canada as a liberal democratic state and society. The revocation processes in the proposed bill lead to and even require the undermining and denial of civil rights of naturalized citizens, subjecting them to legal procedures not allowed against Canadian-born citizens. Provisions in the draft law effectively deprive naturalized citizens of Charter rights and undermine the principle that all have equal status before the law.

The bill's drafters have also ignored the maxim that the state and its functions should be constructed and limited by checks and balances. Critics of Bill C-18 have claimed that it sanctions a two-tiered citizenship. This is true, as no Canadian-born citizen can be denaturalized in the manner outlined. However, if citizenship revocation is allowed, then it should be based on findings of fact according to criminal, not civil standards, and the amount of time a person could be subject to denaturalization limited to five years after citizenship acquisition.

According to Section 12 of the proposed Act: "All citizens have the same rights, powers, privileges, obligations, duties, responsibilities and status without regard to the manner in which their citizenship was acquired." The Parliament of Canada should rewrite this law on the basis of this declaratory statement.

Bohdan Klid is vice-president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Alberta Provincial Council