Toronto Globe and Mail | June 13, 2001

Some citizens aren't equal

Criminals can appeal; naturalized citizens facing deportation can't. It's unjust, says MP ANDREW TELEGDI

By Andrew Telegdi

Yesterday Prime Minister Jean Chretien gave Nelson Mandela honorary Canadian citizenship. Ironically, the spirit of justice and reconciliation exemplified by Mr. Mandela is sadly lacking in our treatment of the citizenship rights of naturalized Canadians -- as demonstrated by the case of Serge Kisluk, a Ukrainian-born naturalized Canadian citizen. He fought, until his death last month, to be allowed to remain in Canada. The federal government had accused him of being a suspected Nazi collaborator (a charge never proven), revoked his citizenship and sought his deportation. His widow, Todosia Kisluk, stated, "He was destroyed, we were both destroyed." Mr. Kisluk pleaded his innocence until his last breath.

The present unjust citizenship-revocation system has its genesis in the darkest periods of Canadian immigration history -- the era of the Chinese Head Tax, the Asian Exclusion Act, unjust internment of thousands of Canadians of Japanese ancestry, the turning away of the St. Louis, and the "none is too many" policy for Jewish refugees. On May 28, 2000, Canadians honoured the unveiling of the monument for the Unknown Soldier. He too might have been an immigrant; if he was, and if he had merely been wounded and in need of hospitalization, would he have been deported?

The revocation provisions of our present Citizenship Act are a remnant of this past. As it stands, if the government believes that an immigrant originally gained entry into Canada by "false representation or fraud or by knowingly concealing material circumstances," it gives that person notice. The person whose citizenship is in question has 30 days from the time the notice is sent to contest the allegations. If the person does contest them, the case is heard by one fallible Federal Court judge -- whose finding is final. It is not subject to an appeal, either by the Crown or the accused, to any other court. The judge makes the finding on the basis of balance of probabilities (i.e. speculation).

Now compare this to criminal cases, such as those of Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall or David Milgaard -- all convicted according to a standard requiring the court to produce a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In each case, the accused had full appeal rights. In each case, a wrong decision was rendered despite a process far more rigorous than that of citizenship-revocation cases, where lower standards invite injustice.

In its proposed changes to the current Citizenship Act, the government was actually going to make its citizenship-revocation procedures even more draconian. It was going to extend its power to revoke citizenship not only of the person found to have fraudulently obtained citizenship but also of the dependents -- this at the whim of the government. As well, Ottawa proposed to lower the standard of proof by eliminating the word "knowingly" from the phrase "concealing material circumstances." In the face of opposition, these changes were abandoned.

Defenders of the present Citizenship Act say they support it because it enables them to go after people complicit in war crimes. Such allegations need no proof. They are being used simply to justify an unfair process.

On May 16, 2000, I resigned as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration because I could not support the proposed Citizenship Act, Bill C-16, which trivialized the citizenship rights of nearly six million Canadian citizens -- i.e. those born outside Canada. I could not accept that a cabinet, a political body, is qualified to act as a court of final appeal.

I am not alone in my concern for citizenship appeal rights that are free from political interference. Among those who supported such appeal rights in recent presentations to the House of Commons and Senate committees were the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and B'nai Brith. The lone exception was the Canadian Jewish Congress.

My deep belief in the importance of citizenship derives from my own experiences. My stepfather was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. He, my Roman Catholic mother, my siblings and I fled Hungary in 1956 after the Soviet tanks crushed freedom. We crossed land mines at night to reach freedom. I treasure that freedom and my Canadian citizenship.

And so I ask why some want to continue to relegate nearly six million Canadians not born in this country to second-class status and exclude them from the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in which all Canadians take pride. If we honour the spirit of Nelson Mandela -- if we are to honour the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, the Soviet gulags, the killing fields of Cambodia, apartheid and other atrocities -- surely we want to enhance human rights, not weaken them. Let's end the injustice of the present citizenship-revocation process. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms must apply to all Canadians.

Andrew Telegdi is the member of Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo.