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End second-class citizenship

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On Monday, September 26 2016 the BCCLA and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers announced that we are taking the federal government to court to halt the revocation of citizenships under an unjust and unconstitutional process established by Bill C-24.

In 2014 the BC Civil Liberties Association mounted a nationwide campaign to oppose the changes to the Citizenship Act proposed by Bill C-24. Our community won a huge victory earlier this year when the new government made some changes to C-24 and moved to restore citizenship equality through Bill C-6.

Once passed, the new law will erase the parts of Bill C-24 that allow citizenship revocation as a punishment for dual citizens, and end the threat of losing your citizenship if you move away from Canada for work, family, or personal reasons. It will also provide greater flexibility and help obtain citizenship faster. This would never have happened without your incredible support for our work on this issue.

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While repealing the revocation provisions was a great start, Bill C-24 created some other serious problems that the government has chosen not to fix in its new Bill. Under the current law a person can still lose their citizenship if it is found that it was obtained by misrepresentation. We don’t object to the government having the power to deal with serious misrepresentations, but under Bill C-24’s system, a single government official can decide to take away a Canadian’s citizenship, and that citizen has no right to a fair hearing to challenge the government’s accusation, or even a right to see all the evidence brought against them.

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Just imagine it— you’re filling out a long and complicated form as part of your immigration application, and you accidentally make a mistake. Or you filled everything out correctly but a bureaucratic error is made by the ministry in processing your application. You’re granted citizenship and you build your life here, but years later you receive a letter from the government stating that they intend to revoke your citizenship, and rip you away from your family and friends, all without a fair hearing.

case11To make matters worse, the Minister is not allowed to consider humanitarian grounds, so even if you are fleeing violence or a threat to your safety in your country of origin, that cannot be taken into account.

Before Bill C-24, any Canadian in this situation had the right to a hearing in a court of law, where a judge could decide whether their citizenship should be taken away. Now, that right to a hearing is gone.

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The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all Canadians the right to a fair hearing when the government imposes serious consequences on them, and this is all the more important when the stakes are so high.

Taking away someone’s citizenship on the basis of fraud is a very serious allegation, and that person should have the right to challenge that ruling, and to see the evidence brought against them.

Revocation may be justified if someone’s misrepresentation was serious, or if they concealed serious criminality when they applied for citizenship.but all cases must have a fair hearing process in which the individual is given the opportunity to defend themselves.

In November, a case brought by individuals who have been caught up in this unjust process will ask the courts to determine whether this process is a violation of their right to a fair hearing. While the courts prepare to settle this question, many individuals have had their revocations put on pause— but not everyone.

Many individuals are still being issued revocation notices and having their citizenship revoked under this unfair process. Some of these people with access to lawyers have been able to halt these proceedings while the court decides whether the process is fair. Many people without lawyers have had their citizenship taken away.

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We’ve asked the government time and time again to press pause on these revocations while the courts decide if this process is constitutional, but they have repeatedly declined.

Until the courts decide whether the process is constitutional, it is extremely unjust that some people are able to halt their revocation proceedings while others are not. That’s why we are going back to court to challenge this process.

We are calling for all citizenship revocations to be put on pause until the courts consider whether this process is a violation of people’s Charter rights.  We are also calling on the government to do the right thing and correct this unjust and unfair citizenship process before they are ordered to do so by the courts.

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We have a long history of legal successes, but we can’t sustain this case without the support of donors like you. This kind of court case is expensive and we need all the support we can get.

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