Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Argument for law lost in insults

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Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander lashed out at "activist immigration lawyers" from the Canadian Bar Association who are opposed to a government bill that would allow the government to take away citizenship from dual citizens convicted of treason, espionage and terrorism.

Alexander called the position of these lawyers "shameful" and implied they were "attempting to drum up business by promoting the interests of convicted terrorists and serious criminals over the safety and security of Canadians."

Instead of resorting to name-calling, what the minister should have done is outline why these changes are necessary. Canadians deserve to hear persuasive arguments from their politicians, not insults.

Back in law school, a law professor once told me there was an old saying that if you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have neither the facts nor the law on your side, call the other side names.

Curiously, however, when one looks more closely, one finds the government has both facts and much of the law on its side.

Instead of name-calling, what the minister should have said is the government's proposal to take away citizenship from dual citizens convicted of treason, espionage or terrorism is legal, constitutional and good public policy.

He should have argued Canadians convicted in this country of these crimes should have their Canadian citizenship taken away. He should have argued these crimes are neither petty crimes nor political crimes but crimes designed to bring down the Canadian government and Canadian society.

Surely an individual who commits crimes to destroy the Canadian way of life should have their Canadian citizenship taken away.

The minister should have also argued that the process to strip treasonists, spies and terrorists of Canadian citizenship is built on fairness and due process. In Canada, before a person is convicted of these crimes, he or she is guaranteed a fair trial, is first presumed innocent, is given the right to a lawyer, has the protections of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and has that guilty finding upheld by appeal courts.

I believe that adequate protections exist for these individuals under the current law.

Finally, the minister should have argued taking away Canadian citizenship for individuals convicted of terrorism outside of Canada is also fair since the proposed law would require the foreign terrorism conviction be equivalent to a Canadian terrorism conviction.

Unfortunately, the criteria on how equivalency will be determined have not been detailed and, for that reason, I have concerns about this change.

The argument put forth by the Canadian Bar Association's "activist immigration lawyers" is that the proposed changes create two tiers of citizens and is unconstitutional. This argument is based on genuine concerns surrounding constitutionality and due process -- two values that make Canada the democracy it is. It is not designed to "drum up business" from treasonists, spies and terrorists.

Alexander should stick to making arguments as opposed to hurling insults. He should convince Canadians stripping citizenship from perpetrators of these heinous crimes is good public policy and the process is constitutional.

Alexander's words are clearly unbecoming of a cabinet minister. His words not just lower his stature but the stature of all elected officials. It is sad to see a cabinet minister and former ambassador reduced to shrill sound bites.

For the most part, I believe the facts and the law are on the government's side. This being said, it would be nice to hear the government make their argument without calling the other side names.

 

R. Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2014 A9

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