A federal judge has just given the Trudeau government the kick in the pants it apparently needs to get on with fixing a bad law left over from the Harper era.
The law involves changes to Canadian citizenship. One of the most glaring flaws is a measure that allows immigration officials to revoke a person’s citizenship without the possibility of a hearing before an independent decision-maker.
This week Federal Court Justice Jocelyne Gagné ruled that those parts of the law violate the constitutional right to a fair hearing. She quashed the citizenship revocations of eight people who challenged the law, and gave the federal government 60 days to fix it.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s department says it is considering whether to appeal. It should drop that idea and move quickly to do away with the unconstitutional parts of the law.
The Harper government brought in the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” in May 2015. It gave immigration officials the power to strip someone of their citizenship if they concluded the person had lied or committed fraud in their application.
Since that measure came into effect, the number of people losing citizenship has gone up dramatically. In the past two years 235 people have had their citizenship taken away; that compares with only 167 in the previous 17 years.
No one wants to see people lie their way into the country. But the Harper law has also penalized people who omitted information from their citizenship applications for understandable reasons.
One of those who had her citizenship restored by Justice Gagné is a woman who failed to mention she was no longer living with her sponsor. It turned out she had divorced and remarried and subsequently established a career and family in Canada. Is that really grounds for such a heavy penalty?
Changing the law would at least allow her and others to explain their situations before an impartial decision-maker and appeal the loss of their citizenship. In her ruling, Justice Gagné noted that losing citizenship can have an enormous impact on a person’s life. Some have given up citizenship in other countries and can effectively be rendered stateless.
“This,” she wrote, “along with the loss of many crucial rights associated with citizenship, augurs in favour of a high degree of procedural fairness.” In other words, allowing people an opportunity to challenge the loss of citizenship at a fair hearing is essential.
Fixing this flaw in the law should be a no-brainer for the Trudeau government. Instead, it has vigorously applied the law and its plan to change some parts of the Harper act, contained in Bill C-6, would leave automatic revocations in place.
To make it even easier for the government, the Senate has already shown the way. It passed an amendment to Bill C-6 that would restore the right to an independent hearing and sent it back to the House of Commons.
The government would be well-advised to adopt the Senate’s amendment, fix the law, and get in line with what the court told it this week.
By STAR EDITORIAL BOARD