September 26, 2016
For Immediate Release
OTTAWA – Today, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) launched a legal challenge to protect the rights of Canadians facing revocation of their Canadian citizenship due to allegations of misrepresentation. The organizations argue that any Canadian facing the loss of their citizenship must have a full and fair opportunity to defend themselves in a hearing. However, this long-standing right to a hearing was taken away by the last government in Bill C-24.
Since it took office, the current government has set targets and initiated revocation proceedings to strip citizenship from between 40 and 60 Canadians per month, despite the fact that it denounced citizenship revocations by the Minister alone, without a hearing, as “dictatorial” while in opposition.
In a legal action filed with the Federal Court today, the BCCLA and CARL argue that the revocation regime created by the former government is procedurally unfair and violates the Charter rights of Canadians.
The process gives Canadians who are being stripped of their citizenship no right to an oral hearing, no right to have their case decided by an independent decision-maker, and no right to disclosure of relevant materials that would allow them to know the case against them. In addition, they have no opportunity to argue why they should not be stripped of their citizenship for humanitarian or compassionate reasons. (Note to editors: Examples of the injustice caused by this unfair process are described below.)
“People facing such a severe consequence – the loss of their Canadian citizenship – should be entitled to basic procedural protections as a matter of fairness” says Josh Paterson, BCCLA Executive Director. “Instead, the government is pressing ahead and revoking citizenships under a process it has publicly acknowledged is unfair. People are losing their citizenship and could face deportation to countries they barely know without ever having a chance to defend themselves in front of an independent decision-maker. This flies in the face of Canadians’ Charter rights and must stop immediately.”
Paterson added: “In Canada, if we get a parking ticket, we can get a court hearing to defend ourselves. But if the government accuses a Canadian of lying and tries to take away their citizenship, they get no hearing and no opportunity to fully defend themselves. Even the person’s kids who grew up here could lose their citizenship, even though they were not at fault. That is absurd, and completely unjust.”
In addition to publicly acknowledging the unfairness of the process while in opposition, the government has also made a public commitment to change the process and create a right to an appeal. In light of this, the BCCLA and CARL requested that the government impose a voluntary moratorium on revocations in the meantime, but the government refused.
“We are baffled by the government’s intransigence on this issue” stated Lorne Waldman, lawyer for the organizations and an executive member of CARL. “A permanent resident subject to deportation for misrepresentation has a right to a hearing and an appeal at the Immigration Appeal Division – it makes no sense that a citizen whose citizenship is being revoked has fewer rights than a permanent resident being stripped of their status. In either situation, an individual should have a right to a fair hearing. Instead, we have a single government official acting as investigator, prosecutor, and decision-maker. This is unjust and contrary to Canadians’ expectations that decisions with significant ramifications for human rights will be made in a fair and transparent manner.”
Earlier this year, the Federal Court issued a temporary stay of proceedings in a number of revocation cases, finding that there is a serious issue with the constitutionality and validity of the revocation process. Individuals able to retain lawyers have been able to get stays of their own cases on the basis of this precedent, but many individuals are unable to retain counsel and are slipping through the cracks. There is no legal aid funding available for these types of cases. BCCLA and CARL stated that that is why they decided to take legal action.
The organizations do not object to the government having the power to revoke citizenship that was acquired on the basis of misrepresentation, but state that citizens must have the right to challenge the revocation in a fair judicial hearing process.
Charlotte Kingston, Director of Community Engagement, [email protected]
Personal stories of Canadians affected by these revocations
Ms. A came to Canada from Iran in her early 20s. She had been married to someone considerably older than her in her home country. She alleges that he raped and abused her. She left him and fled to Canada. Considering herself single, she did not declare the marriage on her application for permanent residence. The government is now claiming that she misrepresented her marital status and is seeking to revoke her Canadian citizenship. If they are successful, she will become a foreign national and face deportation to her home country, where her abusive ex-spouse continues to reside. She has family in Canada who are also Canadian citizens and she does not want to be separated from them.
QUOTE: “I fled an abusive marriage and considered myself single when I arrived in Canada. Now my citizenship could be revoked because the government says I did not state that I was married. I was coming to Canada, in part, to get away from my abuser so I’m terrified I could be deported back to the country where my abuser lives and have to leave my Canadian family behind. But the government isn’t willing to factor any of these humanitarian considerations into their decision, and there’s no other decision-maker I can appeal to.” – Ms. A, a Canadian citizen who wishes to remain anonymous
Mr.H became a Canadian citizen in 2006. He was first served with a revocation notice in 2012. The government alleges that Mr. H spent too much time outside of Canada to qualify for citizenship, but Mr. H claims it is a misunderstanding and can explain the discrepancies in his travel documents. As was his right under the process that was in place when he received the revocation notice in 2012, Mr. H asked that his case be referred to the Federal Court. However, the government took no further action on his case until July 2015, just weeks after Bill C-24 came into effect. The government now claims they can process his revocation according to the new procedure, under which he has no right to take his case to the Federal Court to correct the misunderstanding.
QUOTE: “I can explain the things the government believes are “misrepresentations” in my case, and I fully intended to do so back in 2012 when I was first served with the revocation notice. That’s why I asked for a referral of my case to the Federal Court. But then the government refused to do anything with my case for over three years. This caused me and my family considerable distress and suffering while we wondered what would happen. In 2015, the government created a new process that stripped me of my right to explain myself to an independent decision-maker, and then they reactivated my case. I just want to explain myself to someone impartial who will listen.” – Mr.H
Ms. B is an Egyptian national and became a Canadian citizen when she was eight years old. Because she was a minor, her citizenship was processed under her mother’s citizenship application. In September 2015, when Ms. B was 18 years old and no longer a minor, immigration authorities (“CIC”) served her parents with notice of their intention to revoke her and her family’s citizenships on the basis of misrepresentation. Ms. B. was never served with these documents, and her parents did not tell her about the notice. Although she was an adult, her parents made representations on her behalf to CIC, without telling her, but her citizenship was revoked in December, 2015. She didn’t find out until January, 2016. Ultimately, because it had failed to serve her, the Minister withdrew its revocation decision against her and issued a new notice of intention to revoke her citizenship in March, 2016. Ms. B is an a student at a Canadian university and has always considered herself first and foremost a Canadian. She has never lived in Egypt and does not speak the Egyptian dialect. She never made any misrepresentations herself, but is facing the loss of her Canadian citizenship because of her parents’ alleged misrepresentations.
QUOTE: “I was completely shocked when I learned that Canada had revoked my citizenship without even hearing from me. I didn’t think such a thing could happen here. As a kid, I was always under my parents’ control, and my father was always the decision-maker in our family. But I felt safe and secure knowing that once I was 18, I would have the right to make my own decisions as an adult. I identify with Canadian democratic values and culture and always dreamed of building a life for myself in this country. I made a decision to go to school in Canada, away from my parents, to pursue my goal of becoming a teacher and contributing to Canadian society in a meaningful way. I want to continue living here in Canada, where my fundamental rights as a woman are protected by the Canadian Constitution. I now feel very vulnerable. I do not feel I can safely return to and reside in Egypt, given all of the instability and insecurity in that region.” – Ms. B, a Canadian citizen who prefers to remain anonymous
Mr. C and his family, including parents and two brothers, were landed as permanent residents of Canada in 1997, when Mr. C had just turned 2 years old. Since then, he has spent his entire life in Canada, gone to school, graduated and started a successful career. He has little connection to his parents’ home country. About six months ago, all five family members were served notices of intent to revoke citizenship based on an allegation the father had not disclosed a minor criminal conviction in their home country on their original permanent residence application over 20 years ago. At the time of the alleged misrepresentation, Mr. C would have been about nine months old. Now, the entire family faces loss of citizenship, automatic loss of their permanent resident status, and removal without access to even an administrative hearing or any mechanism whereby humanitarian and compassionate circumstances can be taken into consideration by any decision-maker. Further, it’s clear from the notice itself that the Minister was apprised of the failure to mention the prior criminal conviction over a decade ago but decided not to pursue it until the laws recently changed to make the revocation process easier.
QUOTE: “I’m shocked that I could lose my Canadian citizenship on the basis of something my father allegedly did when I wasn’t even a year old. I have made my home and my life in Canada – it’s the only country I’ve ever known. But that doesn’t matter under this unfair process. The humanitarian and compassionate reasons for letting me stay are considered irrelevant.”
Mr. Z became a Canadian citizen in 2006. At his citizenship interview, he states that he explained all of his absences from Canada. The immigration officer checked his passports and confirmed that he had completed the required number of days of residence. However, he received a revocation notice in July 2015 alleging that he had been out of the country for longer than he had claimed on his citizenship application. Mr. Z presented evidence regarding what happened at his citizenship interview and argued that the evidence, which was accepted by the government, contradicted the allegations in the revocation notice. Despite this, the government revoked his citizenship without even giving him an oral hearing to explain himself.
QUOTE: “I was devastated when I was told that the government was trying to revoke my citizenship. The allegations against me are not true and I have not been given an opportunity to explain! Under the new system, I have no option of going before an independent decision maker. I feel helpless.” – Mr. Z