Constitutional challenge planned for Conservatives' citizenship bill

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The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) has announced it plans to challenge new citizenship laws proposed by the Conservative government.

According to a June 19 media release, Bill C-24, which was introduced in February as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, includes changes that violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“This proposed law would allow certain Canadians to be stripped of citizenship that was validly obtained by birth or by naturalization. We think that is unconstitutional, and we intend to challenge this law if it is passed,” says CARL president Lorne Waldman quoted in the release.

She continues: “We have presented our arguments to the House of Commons and to the Senate, in an attempt to get them to change or stop this Bill. But the government hasn’t listened, it refuses to amend the bill, and we feel we will have little choice but to challenge it in the courts.”

The bill has already passed through the House of Commons. CARL has stated it will begin its legal challenge if and when it is approved by the Senate.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and Amnesty International are supporting CARL’s efforts.

BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson is quoted in the CARL release warning that the changes proposed by the Conservatives would create two different rules defining citizenship.

“In Canada, lawfully-obtained citizenship has always been permanent—once a Canadian, always a Canadian—and all Canadians have always had equal citizenship rights,” he says. “This bill turns the whole idea of being Canadian upside-down, so that the Canadian citizenship of some people will be worth less than the Canadian citizenship of others. That is wrong, and it must be challenged.”

The Straight previously reported that the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has found some of the proposed changes are “likely unconstitutional”. A 31-page brief prepared by the CBA’s national immigration law section states that the citizenship-revocation process outlined in Bill C-24 will “primarily be a paper one”, wherein a hearing before a Federal Court judge will only be granted “in limited circumstances”.

Speaking in the House of Commons on June 12, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander responded to critics of the bill and argued that it will “give better service to permanent residents on their way to citizenship”.

“We take our responsibilities with regard to revocation extremely seriously,” he said in reference to concerns like those raised by CARL. “There is judicial review available explicitly in the bill to every aspect of this bill. If citizenship is to be revoked based on a conviction for terrorism, a file would be prepared for the minister. The minister would review it. The person would be given notice and invited to make written submissions. There is provision for a hearing.”

If CARL moves ahead with its legal challenge, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act would join a number of other Conservative rules taken to court in recent years. Lawyers with Pivot Legal Society are fighting a Health Canada regulation that bans B.C. doctors from providing select patients with prescription heroin. Pivot is also challenging mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug dealers. And it’s expected that proposed prostitution laws targeting the clients of sex workers could soon become the subject of a constitutional challenge.

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