OTTAWA – Maryam Monsef could be stripped of her citizenship without a hearing under a law the Liberals denounced while in opposition but which they’ve been enforcing aggressively since taking power, civil liberties and refugee lawyers say.
The democratic institutions minister revealed last week that she was born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she’d long believed. She said her mother, who fled Afghanistan with her daughters when Monsef was 11, didn’t think it mattered where the minister was born since she was still legally considered an Afghan citizen.
Monsef has said she will have to correct her birthplace information on her passport.
If Monsef’s birthplace was misrepresented on her refugee claim and was relevant to the ruling on her case, her citizenship could be revoked, regardless of whether it was an innocent mistake or the fault of her mother, said immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman.
She could even be deported, said Waldman, part of a group that launched a constitutional challenge of the law Monday.
The minister’s office did not respond to a question about the place of birth recorded on Monsef’s citizenship, permanent residency and refugee applications, saying in a statement only that the minister “is committed to addressing this matter and has stated she will work to resolve it.”
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association argue that the citizenship revocation law, known as Bill C-24, is procedurally unfair and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Josh Paterson, the BCCLA’s executive director, said Monsef’s case demonstrates the absurdity of the law, which was passed by the previous Conservative government.
“The minister’s situation … is exactly the kind of situation that many other Canadians are facing right now because of this unjust process,” Paterson told a news conference.
“When we get a parking ticket, we have a right to a court hearing … You leave your garbage in the wrong place and you get a ticket, you have the right to a hearing and yet for citizens to lose their entitlement to membership in Canada based on allegations of something they may or may not have said 20 years ago, they have no hearing? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
When he was in opposition, John McCallum denounced the law as “dictatorial” and since becoming immigration minister, he’s promised to amend it to create an appeal process, Paterson said.
Nevertheless, repeated requests that the government stop enforcing the law until it can be changed have been ignored. As recently as two weeks ago, Paterson said Justice Department lawyers informed his group that the law would continue to be enforced.
Indeed, he said the Liberal government has been enforcing the law “aggressively,” setting targets to strip 40 to 60 Canadians each month of their citizenship.
McCallum said Monday that the government is “certainly considering options for changes” in the law. He did not say why the government is enforcing it with such zeal in the meantime.
His department, meanwhile, denied that it imposes a target for the number of revocations each month. But it does have “performance standards targets” to ensure it has the resources to efficiently review and resolve cases.
According to the department, 206 individuals have been stripped of their citizenship since May 2015 _ about 18 per month.
Waldman said he’ll be in court next month on a case similar to Monsef’s, in which “the government is seeking to revoke the citizenship of two children who came to Canada at a very young age, not because of anything they said but because their father allegedly misrepresented on his application for permanent residence.”
“So even though the children are completely innocent … the government is still going after the children, saying that because their father lied on his application, they should lose their citizenship and their permanent residence as well,” Waldman said.
Under the law, a single government official acts as investigator, prosecutor and decision-maker, Waldman said. A person who receives a notice of citizenship revocation has no right to a hearing or an appeal and has no chance to argue that he or she ought to retain citizenship on humanitarian grounds.
The Federal Court issued a temporary stay of proceedings in a number of revocation cases earlier this year, but Waldman said that relief is available only to those who can afford a lawyer.
The purpose of Monday’s legal challenge is to win a stay for all Canadians who face the loss of their citizenship.
Earlier Monday at an electoral reform event, Monsef shrugged off a suggestion from Conservative leadership contender Tony Clement that she should step down as minister pending an investigation into her citizenship application process.
The confusion over her birthplace is “a very big deal for me personally and for my family,” she said.
“But who I am has not changed and this is something that my family and I will work out together. However, my commitment to Peterborough-Kawartha, my commitment to this file, they’ve not changed.”