Liberals set to unveil changes to how to get, lose Canadian citizenship

Liberals want to undo the previous Conservative government's controversial changes to the Citizenship Act

Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 24, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 24, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

OTTAWA – The federal Liberals are to reveal today how they’ll undo the previous Conservative government’s controversial changes to the Citizenship Act.

The most hotly debated element of the Conservatives’ 2014 amendments was a provision to strip people of citizenship if they were convicted of crimes such as treason or terrorism and also held citizenship in another country.

The changes led to accusations that the Conservatives were creating two classes of citizens, but they argued the move was in keeping with laws in other countries.

Chris Alexander, the immigration minister at the time, said the law ensured “those who wish to do us harm will not be able to exploit their Canadian citizenship to endanger Canadians or our free and democratic way of life.”

The move was attacked as unconstitutional, though a court challenge failed, and as setting a dangerous precedent. There was particular concern in ethnic communities that, over time, the criteria to revoke citizenship would expand to include convictions for lesser crimes.

Attacks on the bill were a key element of the Liberals’ election strategy in heavily diverse ridings and they pledged to overhaul the law.

An exchange on the issue between then-prime minister Stephen Harper and current prime minister Justin Trudeau was one of the more heated moments in the federal leaders debate on foreign policy, with Harper asking why those convicted of terrorism shouldn’t have their citizenship taken away.

“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” Trudeau responded.

“And you devalue the citizenship of every Canadian in this place and in this country when you break down and make it conditional for anybody.”

During the campaign, the Conservatives moved to revoke the citizenship of a member of the so-called Toronto 18, a group of men convicted for plotting to place bombs in Southern Ontario, but the matter is still before the courts.

Other changes in the law included an expanded requirement for people to pass language tests to qualify for citizenship, increased regulation of immigration consultants and a retroactive grant of citizenship to the so-called “Lost Canadians” and their descendants.

Immigration Minister John McCallum has said he doesn’t intend to repeal all of the changes.