EXCLUSIVE: Tories move to strip citizenship from Canadian-born terrorist

Exclusive: Tories move to strip citizenship from Canadian-born terrorist

Case of Saad Gaya, convicted bomb plotter, a major test for controversial new law


Convicted terrorist: Saad Gaya pleaded guilty and is serving 18 years in prison.

The Harper government is attempting to revoke the citizenship of a convicted terrorist who was born and raised in Canada, Maclean’s has learned—a first under a controversial new law that has triggered intense debate during the election campaign.

Saad Gaya, 27, is believed to be the only Canadian-born citizen (terrorist or not) to ever face the prospect of being stripped of his citizenship. Until now, there was no legal mechanism to undo what has long been considered an irreversible birthright.

A member of the so-called “Toronto 18,” Gaya pleaded guilty to his role in an al-Qaeda-inspired bomb plot and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Although he was born in Montreal and grew up in Oakville, Ont., the Tories say recently enacted legislation provides the power to rescind Gaya’s citizenship because they believe he is a dual national of Pakistan—by virtue of the fact his parents, who immigrated to Ontario more than three decades ago, were born there.

Gaya, who has never lived in Pakistan, has launched a Charter challenge in Federal Court, arguing that the government’s revocation system amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment” and could have “a sufficiently severe psychological and social impact.”

“For many individuals captured by the new revocation provisions and who would now face deportation, including the Applicant, their other nationality derives from a country with which they have no meaningful connection, have little or no familiarity with the language or culture, and have no family or other support network,” reads Gaya’s court filing, submitted Sept. 18. “The Applicant was born and grew up in Canada. His family is in Canada and has been since before he was born.”

That Saad Gaya was a terrorist is not in dispute. A former honours student at Hamilton’s McMaster University, he confessed to participating in a 2006 conspiracy to detonate bombs in southern Ontario in retaliation for Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. Although a judge concluded he was not the plot’s driving force, he was a loyal, willing underling who followed every order; the day he was arrested (June 2, 2006), police videotaped him at a north Toronto warehouse unloading what he believed to be a truckload of explosive fertilizer.

Gaya himself described his criminal behaviour as “shameful,” “politically naïve,” and “irrational.”

Yet despite his undeniable guilt, the Tories’ push to revoke Gaya’s citizenship presents an uncomfortable (and potentially unconstitutional) possibility: that a person born in Canada could lose his Canadian status and be deported to a country he’s never known—all because his parents were born there and, by extension, passed their dual nationality onto him.

“Exiling someone who was born in Canada, and who has never been to the country they’re going to be deported to, is a horrible punishment,” Lorne Waldman, Gaya’s lawyer, tells Maclean’s. (Again, immigration experts say no one born in Canada has ever had his citizenship revoked. Before the new law came into force, only a naturalized Canadian who acquired citizenship through fraud or misrepresentation could be stripped of that status.)

In effect since May 29, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act was portrayed by the Conservatives as another critical tool to combat the “ever-evolving threat of jihadi terrorism.” The law allows the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone convicted of serious crimes against Canada’s security, including treason, espionage and terrorism—providing that person is a dual national who holds citizenship in a second country. International treaties do not allow Ottawa to leave a person stateless, which means terrorists who hold only Canadian citizenship can’t be stripped of their status.

Critics say the law, introduced as Bill C-24, creates “two-tiered” citizenship because the harsh new rules apply only to dual nationals, not to the vast majority of Canadians. They also argue that revocation essentially amounts to banishment for those who fit the criteria—and that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects even an admitted, convicted terrorist from being punished twice for the same crime.

“The concern is the law creates two classes of citizens,” says Peter Edelmann, a Vancouver immigration lawyer. “Two people who commit the exact same offence are subject to different consequences: you have banishment as a punishment for certain people, and not for others. For me, it’s not a question of assessing: ‘How do you punish terrorists?’ It’s a question of: ‘Are dual nationals less Canadian?’ If the answer is yes, I think that has some very profound implications.”

Those potential implications were thrust into the centre of the federal election campaign last week when the National Post reported that Zakaria Amara—the confessed ringleader of the “Toronto 18” bomb plot, now serving a life sentence—became the first candidate to have his citizenship revoked under the new law.

Born in Jordan, Amara immigrated to Canada as a young boy before growing up to become a prime target of the country’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Security (CSIS). A gas-station attendant in Mississauga, Ont., Amara was so obsessed with Internet jihad videos and avenging the “slaughter” of Muslims that he hatched what a judge later described as a “spine-chilling” plan: a trio of truck bombs aimed at the Toronto Stock Exchange, the downtown offices of CSIS, and an unnamed military base. It’s “gonna be kicking ass like never before,” he told an accomplice, unaware of the police wiretap recording their words.

With the help of an undercover informant, the RCMP arranged a sting operation, delivering what Amara thought was three tonnes of ammonium nitrate to complement the remote-controlled detonators he had already built. Saad Gaya was among those who met the truck at the warehouse. “It is difficult to put into words Zakaria Amara’s degree of responsibility,” Justice Bruce Durno said during his 2010 sentencing hearing. “He was the leader and directing mind of a plot that would have resulted in the most horrific crime Canada has ever seen.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair have both vowed to scrap the revocation law if their respective parties prevail on Oct. 19. “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” Trudeau told Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the Munk Debate on foreign affairs on Sept. 28. “You devalue the citizenship of every Canadian in this place and in this country when you break down and make it conditional for anyone.”

“A few blocks from here, he would have detonated bombs that would have been on a scale of 9/11,” Harper replied, referring to Amara, but not naming him. “This country has every right to revoke the citizenship of an individual like that.”

The government has alerted a handful of others that their citizenship could be in jeopardy, including Asad Ansari, a fellow “Toronto 18” convict who is now free; Hiva Alizadeh, an Iranian-Canadian serving a 24-year sentence for plotting al-Qaeda bombings; and Misbahuddin Ahmed, Alizadeh’s co-conspirator, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Like Gaya, Ansari and Ahmed have launched their own constitutional challenges in Federal Court, fighting to have the law struck down before Ottawa has a chance to apply it in their cases.

But Gaya’s predicament is especially unique. As the only Canadian-born convict targeted for revocation so far, his case raises potentially troubling questions about just how wide the net should be cast—if at all. Voters who may agree that a foreign-born terrorist should be stripped of Canadian citizenship may not be as comfortable with the law being applied to a born-and-raised Canadian. As Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati argued while Bill C-24 was being debated: “Anyone who is born on Canadian soil is a Canadian citizen. You can’t take that away.”

The specifics of the government’s case against Gaya may prove equally unsavoury to some Canadians.

In early August, a senior immigration official mailed a Notice of Intent to Revoke Citizenship to Gaya’s current home at Warkworth Institution, a medium-security facility near Brighton, Ont. The letter acknowledges that Gaya was born in Canada, but claims he is a citizen of Pakistan by descent because his father, who moved to Canada in 1977, and his mother, who immigrated here in 1981, were both Pakistani-born.

But the paper trail gets somewhat confusing. The notice goes on to acknowledge that Pakistan did not recognize dual citizenship when Gaya’s parents swore their oaths as Canadian citizens in the 1980s, so they were technically no longer Pakistanis when their son, Saad, was born in Montreal on Nov. 17, 1987. However, the Harper government now says the parents’ dual citizenship was retroactively reinstated when Pakistan passed an updated citizenship law in May 2004.

Which also means, according to Ottawa, that Gaya suddenly became a Pakistani citizen, too—making him a dual national now eligible for revocation under the new Act, despite the fact he was born here.

Gaya disputes that conclusion. “The Applicant has never applied for Pakistani citizenship and denies that he has Pakistani citizenship,” his court filing reads.

The government has yet to respond to Gaya’s court action, and a hearing date has not been set.

Gaya pleaded guilty in 2009 to participating in a terrorist group that intended to cause an explosion likely to cause serious property damage, bodily harm or death. He then proceeded to read a lengthy statement to the court, accepting full responsibility for his “shameful” actions but insisting that “right from the outset of my involvement in all of this, I was given assurances that no one would get hurt and that this was not going to be like the London bombings of 2005.”

“I am not someone who has grown up in a hate-soaked environment, brainwashed to believe that I am part of some eternal war against the Western civilization,” he continued. “That is not who I am and these are not the values that are instilled in me … I did not take part in this crime out of hatred against this society or its people. I really believed at the time, albeit incorrectly, that by participating in this scheme I would only be assisting the Afghan population in determining their own future without any outside interference. I was young and politically naïve. Today, however, I recognize how irrational and unreasonable this line of thought was. My views have matured and I know with certainty that I will never commit such a mistake again.”

Gaya, who turns 28 in November, is eligible to apply for parole next year. What happens when he’s eventually released—and which country he’ll live in—is suddenly much less clear.

Gaya’s court filing


Exclusive: Tories move to strip citizenship from Canadian-born terrorist

  1. We gonna do this to Paul Bernardo ya think?

    • Where were SHs’ parents born??? Steve has been found in contempt of Parliament and may be argued as treasonous….

  2. I could not care less about this individual. He made his own bed when he chose to murder his fellow citizens.
    But I am appalled at the idea that the present government can strip the citizenship of a person born in Canada, or of any Canadian citizen.
    My wife and children are dual citizens. Too often, I have heard this government conflate environmental activists and other people they don’t like with terrorists. If they are able to set this precedent, I see nothing to stop them from trying to strip more of us of our birthright as citizens. In fact, I am certain that they would try to expand this power to go after other people on their long list of enemies, which seems to include anyone who does not vote Conservative.
    Hard cases make bad laws, and this is the worst kind of slippery slope.

    • Exactly. While I have no real sympathy for Gaya himself, the precedent this sets is unconscionable.

      • What is ‘unconscionable’ about this?

        You have no sympathy for Gaya because he deserves none. He will lose his citizenship and deservedly so.

        • What is unconscionable is that Harper has created different classes of citizens, based on where you – or your parents – were born. Different laws depending on parentage. He was born here and so should have exactly the same rights, and face exactly the same penalties as anyone else born here.

          I have no sympathy for him – but I believe in one law for all citizens.

          Next we’ll have internment camps; different laws based on skin colour and sex; basically, back to the “good old days” of rampant racism and sexism. May as well toss out the rule of law and become the dictatorship that certain segments of our society seem to crave.

          • Nonsense. If He committed treason he has automatically revoked his rights.

          • The new Canadian Citizenship Act brings back the archaic use of banishment, and all naturalized Canadians and those whose parents (or even grandparents, where the country allows for continued citizenship after emigration) are now a lower class of citizen. We are at risk of losing our citizenship if we commit a terrorist offence “punishable” (even if we do not get the full sentence) by a five year sentence. We can blithely say we would never commit such a terrorist offence, but the government in power decides what in its wisdom is “terrorism” and this will change from time to time. Also if we commit such an offence in another country, with different laws and different definitions we are liable to loss of Canadian citizenship as well.

          • @ Blacktop: Gaya was born in Canada to Canadian citizens. They voluntarily gave up their citizenship in another country to come here.

            My parents were born in pre-Confederation NL. They became Canadian citizens when NL joined Canada (or as we prefer, when Canada joined NL).

            Gaya and I are both Canadians born to people who were born in another country but became (solely) Canadian. The lone difference, that Harper & Co are trying now to leverage, is that – due to changes in laws in his parents’ country of origin, he could potentially – if he chose – seek to become a citizen there in addition to his home and native land. For that to happen in my case, NL would first have to separate and again become its own country.

            So why should Gay and I be subject to different punishments for the same offence? And why should the decision to mete out this additional punishment reside somewhere other than in a court of law?

            This runs contrary to principles of equality and the rule of law.

            Am I appalled by his actions? Of course. Do I think he deserves greater punishment than “old stock” Canadians? No. I am not a bigot. I don’t let my xenophobia overrule my sense of fairness and justice. I don’t let emotion overrule logic.

            And yes, I’m saying that at least some of those things apply to you, if you think it is okay to treat one Canadian differently from another on the basis of his or her parents’ place of birth.

        • You have exactly the kind of totalitarian mindset that Harper does. People like you and him are a danger to Canadians.

    • Agreed, this issue is far bigger than this terrorist, it would set a horrible precedent for Canadian society, especially a society which prides itself on believing in rehabilitation.

      • A 4 minute animated video which looks at the issue of Bill C-24 and risks of loss of citizenship is now on Utube. You can see it at https://youtu.be/tTK3XKoqyAo

  3. The bigger question is how can someone born and raised in Canada want to bomb the country? What makes them feel that way? Brainwashing? Why is it mainly Muslims?

    • Mainly Muslims?? What about the Fenians, and the FLQ, the Squamish five, Air India…..

      • Some people have short memories…

    • Ever hear of Timothy McVeigh? Militias? The fool that flew an airplane into the Fed building in Texas? The rancher who’s been using federal grazing land without paying, who had a bunch of knuckleheads with assault rifles confront the Federal agents who were trying to detain him? What are you talkling about Muslims? Do you know how many Muslims have been killed by the West’s incursions into the Middle East? Are you even awake?

    • Of course, if you’re a CPC supporter, you’re gonna get in trouble for raising in public the dread spectre of “root causes.” Why worry about prevention when we can build bigger prisons – or toss people out?

  4. And he’s eligible for parole next year? And one of them is already out and roaming the streets? To hell with that – get them out now!

    • Where to? He’s Canadian.

      Are you THAT frightened?

      • Have you ever seen the results of a powerful bomb going off amongst a group of people? I have.

        The smoke, the din, the smell of blood and burnt flesh is almost overpowering. This man, and his companions, wanted to do this to people who are your neighbours, your friends, your family.

        They wanted to do this because they hate you. They hate your way of life and your western birthright. You are a target in thousand year old war against the infidel, one that will be waged until you submit, or die.

        That you see ‘us’ as the enemy is telling…that you think none of this is worth worrying about is breathtaking in its naiveté.

        One day, we will all suffer because of the foolish and wooly headed amongst us.

        • Such violence happens all over the world for a variety of causes……but you don’t panic and head for the bunker. You solve the problem, you don’t run from it.

          Perhaps we shouldn’t have invaded their country hmmm?

          Now get a grip on yourself.

          • invaded their country? The kid is Canadian! please think before you speak. Are you saying that we as a country should stand by and allow the blatant slaughter of people, that we as a country should not have the inherent right of self defense? the idea of stripping a Canadian Citizen of his or her god given right to be a Canadian by being born here, is Cruel an unusual punishment. Should we do that for Paul Bernado, if he should ever get out of prison? He murdered people, raped women. This kid plotted to kill people to commit an act of terrorism. he is serving a prison sentence for his warped ideals. Sending him to a country where he is not a resident makes no sense. But I can guarantee he will be back, only this time, he will be invading a country, the country of his birth!!

        • Not arguing any of that. But why should the law applicable to an individual depend not just on where you were born – but where your parents were born? That creates two separate sets of laws: One for Harper’s beloved “old stock” and another for the rest.

          Once we start down that road, where does it end? Are we going to have Muslim internment camps, the way we did for the Japanese in WW II? Or worse?

      • Wherever his other citizenship is. That’s where to.


      • Speak for yourself Hell will do just fine.

        • Okay then – how about we exile YOU there? You have as much relevant experience for surviving there…

    • Glad to see you believe in due process of law – not.

  5. So much here…

    First , the timing if 100% political…guy comes up for parole in 2016 and CPC drops the bomb 2 days before Munk debate …trying to tie it into Niqab and fear of the “other”

    Something seems familiar here http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/nov/23/guardian-profile-lynton-crosby

    We have a court system here…if you want a terror convicted person in jail ofr life…introduce legislation to make it so….have life mean life for terror….they’ve been in majority since 2011 and wouldn’t get this done…because it’s red meat for a campaign.

    If you lock a guy for life…he’s locked up for life..deport him…and he’s free to commit acts abroad or even to still conspire against Canada from somewhere else…which I guess still helps the CPC propaganda machine.

    Finally, you may want to deport him…what if the other country won’t take convicted terrorists either?

  6. I agree that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Too bad Trudeau does not believe that when it comes to Canadians who also hold US citizenship, as evidenced by the lack of any official LPC statement concerning the US imposed FATCA IGA that would force the handover of the financial information of such Canadians to the US government. I guess what Trudeau meant to say is “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, when it’s not inconvenient”.

    [I know, 99.99% of you have no idea what I’m talking about]

  7. This is awesome! What other traits that our government of the day indepentally declares “not Canadian values” can we revoke citizenship for? And does it have to be limited to what the tyranny of the majority feel at any given time or can it be further simplified to just what the PM feels? What about Mormonism? Atheism? Opposition party sympathizes? Pull those citizenships!

    We could really clean up this country by letting any given Prime Minister of the day determine whose values align enough with his/her own to warrant citizenship.

    This seems like a really well thought out plan by Stephen Harper.

  8. Bye bye. Good riddance. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. All I wanted to do was kill as many Canadians as I could, and you are forcing me to leave. That is so unfair. Sarcasm off.

    • And when this country takes a dislike to something that YOU are? Chrisian, Buddhist, brown,, educated, whatever…….and strips YOU of your citizenship?

  9. The crime minister is the most dishonest, despicable, offensive, unethical, unprincipled individual Canadians have ever had running our government. He is a dangerous dictator with a psychopathic personality and the fear Canadians should have is of HIM! Not ISIS or terrorists or the niqab!

    Whether or not he’s managed anything well during his time in office is up to questioning but even if he has it will never have a chance to outweigh the numerous acts he’s committed against Canadians and Canada which are in direct conflict to democracy and our constitution.

    For all of those transgressions much less the thieves he appointed to the Senate, our resources he’s sold to the chinese and his scrapping of our manufacturing industry he can never be forgiven much less given another chance to totally ruin our great country.

    He is not a nice person in any manner of speaking and not nearly good enough at his job to be forgiven for all his transgressions against the country he’s suppose to be “leader” of.

    • It’s another of Trudeau I’s moral inheritance from the US constitution, as is the power he gave the Supreme Court. Ur right Jim. Wylee Cyotee reads like a nut case. In fact a blurb like that coold get the feebies on him in the US.

      • How do you figure? Do you deny that Harper’s party has been convicted of numerous election lawbreaking? That they have been caught in all kinds of other wrongdoing?

        Do you deny the “Fair” Elections Act has made it harder for certain citizens to vote, or that it has made it harder to investigate breaches of electoral law – and citizens’ ability to find out, when such investigations actually take place? Or that it has made it easier for the ruling party to manipulate the length of the election to outspend its opponents?

        Do you deny that Harper has ignored the Charter on any number of occasions, resulting in costly court battles (that he has lost in the legal sense, but which has been used as a way to raise funds for his party)? That he has relentlessly attacked the courts for doing its job – and the Chief Justice for having the nerve to try to save him from a costly public embarrassment?

        I could go on like this for pages.

        And then there’s the Creating Second-Class Citizens Act (C-24) and the treasonous C-51.

        We shouldn’t be talking about re-electing him; we should be talking about the appropriate length of his prison term.

  10. Looks like the Supreme Court will have to slap Harper back into the gutter one more time.

  11. The only extent of this law that makes sense is in regards to terrorism charges and deportation of people who have at some point come to Canada. You can’t just revoke the citizenship of people who have lived here legitimately for the majority of their lives. Heck, my mother was born in the UK, and under Harper’s law, she is a second class citizen and the government could revoke her citizenship for no reason if they wanted to. That, I have a problem with, but if you are convicted of terrorism related charges and you hold some form of citizenship in another country, the government should rip up your citizenship and banish you from the country. I don’t see why they can’t just exile and banish people born in Canada though that have been found guilty of terrorism charges of any sort.

    • because Steve, the loss of your citizenship by being born here, is cruel and unusual punishment. You also have to think that terrorism, by definition is the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. The Dali Lama, is thought of as one of the wisest and sage leaders of the World, however China considers him a separatist and Terrorist. We allow him freedom of movement in Canada? While I agree that all terrorists foreign and domestic, should be hunted down and prosecuted hopefully before an act takes place, the idea of any natural born Canadian losing his citizenship is appalling.

  12. no I don’t think so, but Paul Bernardo’s murder of people is a blatant act of domestic terrorism. He created a situation where people were terrified to leave their homes. He brought a province to the brink of chaos, in the pursuit of this killer. Terrorism is defined as the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. No we are not going to do this to Paul, maybe we should, but in the end, if he was born a Canadian, then he has to the right against Cruel and unusual punishment. The loss of citizen is without a doubt cruel, and unusual, and inherently wrong!!

    • … and if he were not born here?

  13. Permit me to highlight and comment on the well-written but slightly biassed article.

    It states that “… he is a dual national of Pakistan—by virtue of the fact his parents, who immigrated [sic] to Ontario more than three decades ago, were born there”.

    It does not tell us how much time his parents have spent in Pakistan during those three decades although, certainly, they have dual citizenship. It is uncertain if he has applied for citizenship (He is eligible, and it must be applied for).

    Thus, they “… passed their dual nationality onto him”.

    An ambiguous comment. Whilst they provide eligibility, he must apply for dual citizenship.

    “… the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects even an admitted, convicted terrorist from being punished twice for the same crime”.

    Is it any different than five years in jail followed by five years (or more) of house arrest, i.e., five years in jail followed by five years (or more) overseas. Just one punishment.

    “It’s a question of: ‘Are dual nationals less Canadian?’ If the answer is yes, I think that has some very profound implications.”

    Yes, and I am sure that we all know someone who prefers to be either, British, French, Chinese, or Somali, etc., as a descriptor of their Canadian citizenship.

    “Gaya disputes that conclusion. “The Applicant has never applied for Pakistani citizenship and denies that he has Pakistani citizenship,” his court filing reads”.

    Elsewhere, an application is said to be in dispute, and awaits confirmation. Personally, I feel that if no application has been made (and received) then, he does not have dual citizenship.