Canada revokes citizenship of Toronto 18 ringleader using new anti-terror law


Canada revokes citizenship of Toronto 18 ringleader using new anti-terror law

Stewart Bell | September 26, 2015 3:10 PM ET

TORONTO — The government used its new power to revoke the citizenship of convicted terrorists for the first time on Friday against the imprisoned ringleader of the 2006 al-Qaida-inspired plot to detonate truck bombs in downtown Toronto.

Zakaria Amara was notified in a letter sent to the Quebec penitentiary where is he serving a life sentence that he is no longer a Canadian. He still holds citizenship in Jordan and could be deported there following his release from prison.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney confirmed in an interview Saturday that the government had revoked Amara’s citizenship. He called it a “fitting first application” of law that he played a key role in bringing to Parliament.

“I hope that this case makes people realize what we’re really trying to do here,” he said from Regina. “If you basically take up arms against your country or plan to do so, and you’re convicted in a Canadian court, or an equivalent foreign court, through your violent disloyalty you are forfeiting your own citizenship and we’ll just read it as it is.”

Legislation that came into force in May, over the opposition of the NDP and Liberals, allows the government to revoke the citizenship of Canadians who have been convicted of terrorism offences — provided they hold citizenship in a second country.

The law also applies to dual citizens convicted of treason and spying for foreign governments, as well as members of armed groups at war against Canada. A little more than half-a-dozen Canadians have been notified so far that the government was considering revoking their citizenship.

Although the revocation process began in June, well before the federal election was called, the decision to strip Amara of his citizenship comes during a close campaign in which the Conservatives have tried to distinguish themselves from the NDP and Liberals with a platform that emphasizes national security.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair has said he would scrap the citizenship revocation law, and on Friday Liberal leader Justin Trudeau repeated his pledge to repeal it. “The bill creates second-class citizens,” he said. “No elected official should ever have the exclusive power to revoke Canadian citizenship. Under a Liberal government there will be no two-tiered citizenship. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, together with former Toronto 18 member Asad Ansari, are challenging the citizenship revocation law in Federal Court, arguing it is unconstitutional and creates “two-tiered” citizenship by treating naturalized Canadians differently than those born here.

But the Conservatives have said the law would target only the most serious cases. Among those who have received formal notice they may lose their citizenship is Hiva Alizadeh, an Iranian-Canadian who plotted al-Qaida bombings in Canada.

“This is about the value of Canadian citizenship,” Kenney said. “If someone hates Canada so much that they’re prepared to demonstrate violent disloyalty to our country, they forfeit their citizenship. It’s a simple principle.”

He accused the NDP and Liberals of an “absurd fear campaign” that had misrepresented the narrow focus of the law. “The truth is, as far as we can tell, this is likely only applicable to fewer than 30 people in the last decade. So 30 people out of a population of 36 million. This is for the worst of the worst,” he said.

Asked if Amara fit that description, Kenney said: “Somebody who meticulously planned to slaughter hundreds of his fellow citizens for ideological reasons? Yes, I think that’s the worst of the worst.”

Born in Jordan and baptized an Orthodox Christian, Amara moved to Saudi Arabia when he was four. He converted to Islam at age 10 after his friends told him he would go to hell if he didn’t. From age 10 to 13, he lived in his mother’s home country Cyprus until immigrating to Canada in 1997.

A university dropout who worked as a gas jockey in Mississauga, Ont., Amara emerged in 2005 as one of two leaders of a terrorist group that trained on a rural property north of the city and, inspired by al-Qaida, began planning attacks they thought would convince Canada to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

Amara led a faction that was acquiring the components for large truck bombs that were to be detonated during the morning rush hour outside the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service office beside the CN Tower. An Ontario military base was also to be attacked.

Justice Bruce Durno called the plot “spine chilling” and said “the potential for loss of life existed on a scale never before seen in Canada. It was almost unthinkable without the suggestion that metal chips would be put in the bombs. Had the plan been implemented it would have changed the lives of many, if not all Canadians forever.”

In a letter produced at his sentencing, Amara vowed to transform “from a man of destruction to a man of construction.” He asked the judge to “not close the door and give me a chance that one day I’ll be able to pay for the moral debt that I still owe.”

While he was serving his sentence, however, the Conservatives brought in the new citizenship law. In accordance with the revocation system, Amara was given 60 days to make submissions about Canada’s plan to take away his citizenship. His arguments were considered by the official making the decision. He can appeal to the courts.

The decision capped a busy week in counter-terrorism in which: a Toronto youth was arrested on a peace bond over his alleged online activities in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; two extremists who plotted to attack a Toronto-bound passenger train were handed life sentences; and a Calgary man in ISIL was charged with terrorism offences.

Two Pakistanis arrested in Toronto on national security grounds — one of them for plotting a suicide bombing in the downtown financial district and at the United States consulate — were scheduled to be deported as early as Sunday.

National Post with files from Canadian Press