On February 6, 2014, the federal government tabled Bill C-24, introducing sweeping changes to Canada’s citizenship laws.  For more information about Bill C-24, please see our legal primer.

The government’s statements in support of Bill C-24 are shrouded by myths and misinformation.  The circulation of these myths and misinformation is one of the biggest barriers to understanding the pernicious effects of this proposed legislation.  This page highlights some of the proposed law’s key provisions to correct the record and provide accurate information.

Bill C-24 proposes to give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the authority to strip dual nationals of Canadian citizenship in certain circumstances. Stripping a person of citizenship is an arbitrary and medieval practice that serves no valid purpose, and is inconsistent with basic notions of justice as outlined in Canadian law. The words of United States Chief Justice Earl Warren remain as true today as they were in 1958: “Citizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior . . . And the deprivation of citizenship is not a weapon that the government may use to express its displeasure at a citizen’s conduct, however reprehensible that conduct may be.”

The federal government has falsely claimed that citizenship stripping is commonplace in other countries, and that the new law “brings Canada in line with most of our peer countries”. In fact, the only western state to make use of this practice in the last few years is the United Kingdom, and it is an outlier whose use of it should serve as a cautionary tale. Citizenship stripping has been unconstitutional in the United States for over 50 years.

The new law proposes to give elected officials the power to strip Canadian citizenship of people who commit unlawful acts. But it is not the job of elected officials to make these judgments. Canadian law already has established mechanisms by which to punish criminal wrongdoers. Unlike the Conservative government, CARL has full confidence in the Canadian criminal justice system’s ability to effectively punish individuals who violate the law. We do not need to revive the medieval practice of banishment to achieve the goals of punishment, namely deterrence, retribution, denunciation, and rehabilitation. We now have the benefit of a modern judicial process that includes prosecution, trial before an independent judge and, in the event of conviction, a punishment that expresses society’s condemnation with the full weight of the law.

The new law allows the Minister to revoke citizenship if he believes citizens did not have the intention to live in Canada when they applied for citizenship. This means that Canadian citizens could be stripped of their citizenship without a hearing, if they move to another country to be with a dying relative, to live with their children, or to pursue a business, academic, or other employment opportunity.

In support of the new law, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander has stated that “citizenship is not a right, it is a privilege”. This is inaccurate. Canada has pledged its commitment to the aspirational rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has a right to a nationality, and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of nationality. Canadian courts have also long recognized that citizenship is foundational to one’s membership in Canadian society. The Supreme Court of Canada, for example, has stated that it “could not imagine an interest more fundamental to full membership in Canadian society than Canadian citizenship”. The Federal Court of Canada has similarly stated that citizenship “constitutes both a fundamental social institution and a basic aspect of full membership in Canadian society”. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has also held that the revocation of citizenship clearly triggers the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Under Canada’s current laws, citizenship can only be removed after a hearing before a judge. Under the new law, the Minister will, in most cases, make this decision without a hearing. Bill C-24 intends to remove the right of citizens to appeal to the courts. Instead, a person whose citizenship is revoked will have to apply to the Federal Court for permission to start an appeal. It is likely that in many cases, the Federal Court will be reluctant to disagree with the Minister’s assessment of the evidence so the scope of any review by the Courts will be very limited.

The federal government has stated that the new law will “ensure citizenship applicants maintain strong ties to Canada”. Under the new law, a person who applies for citizenship will not be able to count time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident towards his/her citizenship application. There is no reason why time spent as a non-permanent resident should not count towards citizenship. If the idea behind imposing wait time for citizens is to ensure that citizenship applicants have lived in Canada, it should make no difference that the applicant was in Canada with some other form of status other than permanent residence status (for example, as a student). This proposed change would also adversely impact refugees, who often have to wait for years to obtain permanent residence in Canada.

The federal government has stated that the new law reinforces the value of Canadian citizenship. The new law introduces a requirement that persons who apply for citizenship must show intent to reside in Canada after they obtain citizenship. Of course, the government may legitimately encourage present and future Canadians to reside in Canada. But that’s not what this provision does. Rather, it empowers government officials to speculate on an applicant’s future intentions, and then potentially deny them citizenship on the basis of that conjecture. It also holds out the implicit threat that if a naturalized Canadian citizen takes up a job somewhere else (as many Canadians do), or forms a relationship with someone abroad (as many Canadians do), the government may move to strip him/her of citizenship for misrepresenting their intention to reside in Canada when they were granted citizenship. Whether the government acts on the threat is not the issue; it is enough that people will be made insecure and apprehensive by the possibility that a government official may arbitrarily decide to launch revocation proceedings against them if they leave Canada too soon, or remain away too long.

The federal government has stated that the new law will protect the value of Canadian citizenship. This is patently untrue. The value of Canadian citizenship does not lie in cruelly depriving some citizens of their most basic rights, or in drawing distinctions that represent new Canadians as objects of suspicion and mistrust. Instead, the value of Canadian citizenship lies in a commitment to rights protection, equality, dignity, and multiculturalism, as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Canadians, we make our citizenship feeble if we give government ministers the power to extinguish it. The value of Canadian citizenship is diminished – not enhanced – by the new law proposed by the government.