Canada currently finds itself in the midst of a historically long election. Perhaps more so than any other campaign in recent memory, the world is paying attention. Will Canadians re-elect a government that has tarnished the country’s global reputation on everything from climate change to human rights? Or will they elect a government dedicated to resuscitating the country’s reputation and impact in the international arena? As of now, it’s anyone’s guess who will get the keys to the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex. But one issue that deserves greater scrutiny is how the current Conservative government’s policies of justice and accountability have come at the expense of domestic and international security.
Wait a second… Isn’t Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who came into power following the so-called “sponsorship scandal” that decimated the Liberal Party, all about accountability? Isn’t his pitch to Canadians that he is the only leader with a steady hand in uncertain times, the only political leader willing to make the tough decisions to keep Canadians safe from extremism at home and terrorism abroad? That is certainly how Harper wants his track-record and platform to be consumed by Canadians. But it could not be further from the truth.
In the lead-up and during this election, observers have pointed out that the Harper government has implemented policies which essentially establish a form of two-tier citizenship. The Conservative’s most recent effort on this front, Bill C-24, permits the government to withdraw the citizenship of Canadians convicted of terrorism and who have dual-nationality. According to the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association,
As a result of this new law, dual citizens and people who have immigrated to Canada can have their citizenship taken away while other Canadians cannot. The government’s press release last week tried to justify this discriminatory law by raising the threat of “jihadi terrorism”…
Under this law, the only Canadians who can never lose their citizenship are those born in Canada who do not have another nationality (and are not eligible to apply for another nationality). No matter what crimes they may be accused of, these first-class citizens can never have their citizenship taken away. On the other hand, Canadians with another nationality (and those who are eligible to obtain another nationality) now have second-class status, even if they were born in Canada: under Bill C-24, their citizenship can be stripped.
This is undoubtedly an affront to the very meaning of Canadian citizenship and to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Many have rightfully pointed to the moral corruption of the bill as well as the government’s general wrecking-ball approach to balancing civil rights and national security. But what seems to be lost in this debate is how, in practice rather than just in principle, Harper’s approach to justice and accounability is deeply misguided. Indeed, the government’s policies make Canadians and the world less safe.
Consider this all-too plausible scenario. Let’s say that a dual-national is stripped of his citizenship after being convicted of terrorism and supporting ISIS terrorist activities in his birthplace of Syria. The terrorist is consequently stripped of his Canadian citizenship, leaving the individual with only Syrian citizenship. What happens next? Rather than prosecuting the terrorist and putting him in jail, the government would deport him. Where to? Back to Syria where, armed with an emboldened grudge against Canada, the likelihood of him engaging in the kind of terrorist activities that threaten Canadians and the world are enhanced.
How do we know this is true? Because of the government’s record.
In 2011, the government released a list of thirty alleged war criminals believed to be residing in Canada and whom it wanted to see deported – or as the Immigration Minister so primitively put it at the time, “rounded up and kicked out of Canada”. The government relied on Canadians believing that simply getting rid of war criminal was a good in itself. In essence, it was a preposterous and political game of “if we can’t see the problem, it doesn’t exist.”
But here’s the catch: the government ensured it would do absolutely nothing to see that those alleged war criminals would be held accountable for their atrocities. The decision rightly caught the ire of the United Nations Committee Against Torture note which observed
with regret the recent initiative to publicize the names and faces of 30 individuals living in Canada who had been found inadmissible to Canada on grounds they may have been responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity. If they are apprehended and deported, they may escape justice and remain unpunished.
In short, rather than guaranteeing that even a modicum of justice was served, the Harper government’s hand-washing exercise simply booted perpetrators of war crimes out of the country. Now it’ll do the same with convicted terrorists. Of course, not all former perpetrators of mass atrocities, terrorism, or human rights violations will re-commit. But when they are brought to account and put in prison, the chance that they will be able to is zero. When they are deported with no guarantee that they’ll be prosecuted, the chances that they will put others in danger is all too real.
When the Harper government came to power almost a decade ago, it did so promising a commitment to accountability and sensible approach to security. But its policies, pursued only ostensibly in the name of justice have, in fact, endangered the lives of Canadians and made the world a less secure place.