Canada is a peaceful place. Specifically, we aren’t exactly a target for international terrorism: as Edward Snowden reminded a group of journalists last winter, lightning kills more Canadians annually than politically motivated violence, and it’s mostly home-grown radicalism responsible for our sparse history of terror attacks. On the opposite side of the coin, the world tend to look upon us fondly — to outsiders, we’re a land defined primarily by an abundance of syrup, snow, and over-vocalized contrition. For a few decades, we’ve also maintained an image of multiculturalism. In theory, Canada is a “cultural mosaic,” a nation accepting of foreign people and traditions.
But things have changed. Amid the rampant Islamophobia dominating Prime Minister Harper’s election campaign, Bill C-24 — which was passed last June — adds to a laundry list of threats to these multicultural values. Under this legislation, we’re not the same Canada we once were, the one loved and lauded worldwide.
Consider, for example, how Zakaria Amara, a dual citizen born in Jordan but raised in Canada, had his citizenship revoked last month under Bill C-24 as a convicted terrorist. He had planned to fill rental trucks with explosives and detonate them at various locations in Toronto, an act that, apparently in light of his foreign birth, encouraged Defense Minister Jason Kenney to claim Amara “forfeited his own citizenship.” Nine other C-24 cases are currently under review.
Thus, the bill that the media criticized for creating second-class citizens is now doing exactly that. C-24 garnered attention last summer from the left, who demonized it for creating a two-tier citizenship system, wherein constitutional rights become conditional for some but not others. Canadians who possess dual citizenship risk revocation should they be convicted of a terrorism offence and sentenced to five or more years in prison. Those born within Canadian borders, and others who immigrate and lose their original citizenship, can wreak all the havoc they want — they’ll remain Canadian citizens regardless.
It seems reasonable at first glance. If we can get rid of individuals willing to murder and maim, why shouldn’t we? But a closer inspection reveals disconcerting consequences for the institution of citizenship and basic human dignity. What it means to be recognized as a Canadian has been transformed by a bill that so audaciously claims to protect constitutional rights, while hinting at a Tory mentality comfortable with ethnicity-based discrimination.
The Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party have rightly promised to repeal the act if voted into power. They seem to recognize its dangers. “As soon as you make citizenship for some Canadians conditional on good behaviour,” Justin Trudeau said in a leaked audio recording last summer, “you devalue citizenship for everyone.”
The Opposition aren’t the only ones against the Act. Legal experts too are wary of its repercussions. According to the work of Dr. Kent Roach, a law professor at U of T, we tend to define terrorists as “an external threat that must be defeated rather than as citizens who must be rehabilitated.” But four of Canada’s convicted terrorists fit the dual-national characterization. Many of them were born here, like Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who was responsible for the 2014 shootings on Parliament Hill. So where does the idea of an “external threat” come from?
More generally, it doesn’t make sense that C-24 would act as a deterrent for potential terrorists. In fact, it’s difficult to understand why the bill exists in the first place. C-24 seems an unnecessary instance of fear-mongering and ethnic injustice. It really only succeeds in sending a message to Canadians that some of us are, by law, more valuable than others. And like Harper’s divisive beliefs about refugee health care and “old-stock Canadians,” it undermines a country with the institutional and cultural potential to abolish ethnic nationalism.
Terrorism is a fundamentally divisive act. It aims, through fear and violence, to subjugate rival belief systems. It is ironic that Harper’s Canada, so shaken by the prospect of terrorism, would pre-emptively divide its citizenship using the very same tactic. As students in a multicultural city and campus, it is imperative that we reject this xenophobic Kool-Aid from the Harper Government, and stand opposed to their disappointing brand of “wedge politics.”
Malone Mullin is a fifth-year student studying philosophy.