If a demonstrator in Kyiv was charged with terrorism for taking part in protests and then moved to Canada and became a citizen, failing to divulge that false accusation upfront could see that person stripped of citizenship.
That's one of the problems with the proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act, said globe-trotting human rights lawyer David Matas. The Winnipeg-based immigration-law expert and Nazi-hunting litigator sees good news and bad news in the changes.
The proposed law is better than the current one because it removes the federal cabinet from the process, it allows for an appeal and consolidates the legal proceeding to revoke citizenship and remove international criminal fugitives from Canada, Matas said Thursday. He was speaking at Welcome Place. The refugee resettlement agency in Winnipeg has helped thousands of newcomers who've fled tyranny and terrorism.
"The old law, requiring cabinet approval, meant the government legal arm could win in court and then the political arm, cabinet, could reverse the result," he said.
Matas said that's what happened with Wasyl Odynsky and Vladimir Katriuk, who the courts said entered Canada by hiding their Nazi past. The cabinet, without reasons, said they could stay.
"I went to court for the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada to argue that cabinet could not do that, that cabinet had to revoke citizenship," Matas said Thursday. The courts sided with cabinet, letting those who the court found lied about their Nazi past on entry remain in Canada, Matas said.
"It is a relief to see the proposed law takes away from cabinet this power which has been so badly used."
The strategy of Nazis in Canada was "litigation to death," Matas said. Even those who lost their cases in court at every stage had to go through so many steps the process was never completed before they died, he said.
The proposed changes combat the endless-litigation strategy, Matas said.
On the downside, the changes make citizenship too easy to lose in cases that have nothing to do with international crimes, he said.
Currently, citizenship can be revoked on only one ground -- false representation or fraud or knowingly concealing material circumstances. The proposed amendment expands the grounds for revocation. They include convictions for treason or terrorism. Terrorism is a charge repressive regimes use against opponents who resort to violence to try dislodging them, Matas said.
In the case of a rebellious Ukrainian or Russian who emigrates to Canada and becomes a citizen, their citizenship can be revoked for a foreign conviction of terrorism even if they're convicted in absentia and regardless whether the conviction happened before or after the accused became a Canadian citizen, Matas said.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes tyranny and oppression can lead to rebellion, he said.
"When tyrants and oppressors convict their rebellious opponents of terrorism and the opponents are Canadian citizens, Canada should not legally be able to revoke the citizenship of those citizens merely because the oppressors and tyrants label that rebellion terrorism."