Conservatives move to revoke citizenship from home-grown Canadian: Walkom
Saad Gaya was born in Montreal and holds no other passport. The government plans to exile him anyway.
For many, the Conservative government’s new power to strip Canadians of their citizenship just got a bit closer to the bone.
With its decision to banish 27-year-old Saad Gaya from the country of his birth, the government has made it clear that the new revocation law will apply not just to naturalized citizens but to those born here.
It’s the first time in decades — perhaps in history — that Ottawa has moved to expel a native-born Canadian from the country.
Gaya was part of the so-called Toronto 18. In 2009 he pled guilty to charges of conspiring to set off explosives in downtown Toronto. He is currently serving an 18-year jail sentence.
The government also plans to strip other convicted terrorists of their citizenship. But until Gaya’s name surfaced, the focus was on those who had been born outside of Canada — that is, naturalized Canadians.
Bomb-plot ringleader Zakaria Amara, for instance was born in Jordan. And I suspect that many assumed this made him particularly vulnerable to a law that allows Ottawa to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage.
But it turns out that Stephen Harper’s government takes a remarkably broad view of dual citizenship.
Gaya was born in Montreal in 1987. That made him a Canadian. His parents, originally from Pakistan, were also Canadian at the time of his birth. They were not Pakistani.
That’s because both parents had been required under Pakistani law to give up the citizenship of their birth country on becoming Canadian. Both had willingly done so well before Saad was born.
So why does the government view Saad Gaya as a dual national? Apparently, Pakistan eased its ban on dual citizenship in 2004, when he was 16.
According to Ottawa’s strange logic, that means Saad’s parents could be considered to have been Pakistani at the time of his birth (even though they weren’t) and that therefore their son is a citizen of Pakistan.
In documents filed with federal court, Gaya says he is not a Pakistani citizen and has never applied for citizenship from that country.
But that doesn’t matter. Under its new law, the Conservative government does not have to prove Gaya is the citizen of another country. He has to prove to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander that he is not.
That’s one of the many reasons why the British Columbia Civil Liberties Union and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers is challenging the law as unconstitutional, says Gaya’s solicitor, Lorne Waldman.
Is Gaya an irredeemable villain? Certainly Superior Court Justice Bruce Durno didn’t think so when he sentenced him. Durno said he thought Gaya had “learned a significant lesson” and no longer posed a threat to public safety.
Indeed, evidence presented by the Crown at Gaya’s trial portrayed him as a naive freshman who was more interested in soccer than politics and who ended up involved in something he never entirely understood.
He told police that that he agreed to join the bomb plot in order to protest Canadian military involvement in the Afghan war. But he also told them that until he was approached by the plot’s ringleader he had no idea that Canadian troops were even in Afghanistan.
If the government does succeed in banishing Gaya, it will be something of a first. Canada has a long history of taking away the rights of immigrants to live here. During the “red scare” of the 1920s, for instance, police rounded up and exiled those the government viewed as foreign agitators.
Yet even when it discriminated against native-born Canadians from specific ethnic backgrounds — as it did with Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War — it generally refrained from expelling them.
Canada’s first Citizenship Act, which held from 1948 to 1977, allowed the government to strip citizenship from naturalized Canadians convicted of treason or espionage. But the native-born were exempted.
The Conservatives have changed all of that. Critics accuse them of creating a two-tier citizenship system, where those who are dual nationals have fewer rights.
But in a strange way, the Conservatives are equal-opportunity revokers. The Gaya case demonstrates that when the government is determined to banish those it considers miscreants, it will simply call them dual nationals — whether they are or not.
Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.