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Minister defends move to strip offending dual nationals of citizenship

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Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

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Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - The public thinks it is "absolutely legitimate" to strip dual nationals of their Canadian citizenship if they commit acts of treason, terrorism or espionage, says the federal immigration minister.

Chris Alexander told the House of Commons the Conservatives won a strong mandate to reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship based on allegiance to the country.

Opposition MPs put Alexander on the defensive Wednesday over Tory legislation that would greatly broaden the grounds for taking away citizenship — even from some people born in Canada.

Currently, someone may be stripped of Canadian citizenship for attaining it through false representations.

The federal bill would increase the scope to include those born in Canada but eligible to claim citizenship in another country — for instance, through their parents — and expand the grounds for revocation to include several criminal offences.

Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati is spearheading a planned constitutional challenge of the provision, calling the government proposals reckless.

NDP multiculturalism critic Andrew Cash said the bill, currently before the Senate, would allow the government to deport a Canadian-born citizen who happens to have citizenship elsewhere to a country "they have no connection to."

"This is nonsensical and it's most likely unconstitutional," Cash said during question period in the House of Commons.

"Why did the government turn down every single suggestion put forward to try to fix this bill?"

Alexander accused Cash of being "lost in the thickets of his own ideology."

The "arbitrary" change put forward by the government cuts to the absolute core of what it means to be Canadian, said Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett.

"How can the minister justify this abuse of power which tramples on the rights of Canadians, even those who were born here in Canada?"

Alexander said the Conservatives were fixing flaws introduced by the Liberals in 1977 — legislation that "actually cheapened Canadian citizenship, opened it to abuse and put to one side the whole question of allegiance and loyalty to this country."

The government's legislation would create different classes of Canadian citizens and allow it to banish people from the country, the Canadian Bar Association says.

In a brief on the bill, the association says banishment is one of the most serious punishments that can be inflicted on a citizen — one that has not been in common use since the Middle Ages.

At a Senate committee examining the bill Wednesday, Barbara Jackman, a member of the association's national immigration law section, suggested the bar for losing citizen would be far too low.

She pointed to the recent case of Canadian Greenpeace activists who faced prosecution for protesting at a Russian oil platform in the Arctic.

"Had they been convicted, they could have lost citizenship, that's how broad it is," Jackman said.

"That's just a protest, but that protest can be characterized as terrorism. I think in addition to that, it's what comes next? Once you open the door ... citizenship is not secure for any Canadian. That is not the understanding that Canadians have of their citizenship."

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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