Last month, Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was sentenced to seven years in prison for terrorism by an Egyptian court. Under a new law passed by Parliament a few days before, Canadians convicted of certain terrorism offences abroad can have their Canadian citizenship stripped away. Fahmy's case shows why this law needs to be changed. Since Canadians cannot be assured their rights will be protected in a foreign court, they should not have their citizenship stripped away for a foreign terrorism conviction.
Fahmy and his journalistic colleagues were accused of defaming Egypt and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. Fahmy and his colleagues have consistently maintained they were simply reporting the news. Fahmy's conviction has been condemned internationally as an attempt to muzzle journalists.
On the day of the verdict, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird released a statement stating Canada was "disappointed" with the verdict and was "concerned" about the judicial process that led to the conviction. Earlier this week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi distanced himself from the verdict stating his government "had nothing to do with it."
Despite the international condemnation and the Egyptian president's recent remarks, the fact remains Fahmy has been convicted of terrorism abroad. Because of this, the question of whether he could lose his Canadian citizenship remained.
Within days of Famy's conviction, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the man's Canadian citizenship. The response from the government was swift. Canada had "no intention" of revoking Fahmy's citizenship "whatsoever."
While this answer of the government is welcome, the fact that a question about Fahmy's Canadian citizenship had to be asked has exposed a major flaw in Canada's new citizenship law. Why should Canadian citizenship be revoked from dual citizens convicted of terrorism abroad?
For terrorism convictions inside Canada, revoking citizenship is valid. In Canada, accused criminals are presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Only after a fair and public hearing in which the accused has all the protections of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms can a person be convicted. Among other things, the charter provides an accused with the right to a lawyer and the right to be informed of the reasons of arrest. If, after all of the protections under the charter and all court appeals are exhausted, a person is found to be guilty of terrorism beyond a reasonable doubt, then Canadians can be satisfied the person is guilty. Taking Canadian citizenship away from these terrorists is justified.
However, when a Canadian citizen is put on trial abroad, he or she may not have the same protections. To take a Canadian's citizenship away in these circumstances is not justified.
The government has argued the law protects Canadians since it must be shown the foreign terrorism conviction is equivalent to that of a Canadian terrorism conviction. However, there is no definition of the criteria to determine this. Even with criteria, the fact remains Canadians cannot be assured their charter rights will be protected when tried abroad.
The argument that Canada will only recognize convictions from certain countries may not be enough. The problem with Fahmy's conviction is the Canadian government has, in the past, taken away Canadian permanent residency from individuals convicted of terrorism in Egypt because the Egyptian conviction was found to be equivalent to a Canadian conviction. How can one terrorism conviction in Egypt be found to be equivalent to a Canadian conviction while another conviction will not be found to be equivalent?
While Canada should not take away citizenship from Canadians convicted of terrorism abroad, this does not mean Canada should let foreign terrorists go free. Canada should put accused terrorists on trial in Canada regardless of where the offence occurred. Not only would this give Canadians assurance the rights of the accused are protected, but, if found guilty, the convicted terrorist would go to jail.
Putting terrorists in jail will better protect Canadians than taking away Canadian citizenship and allowing a terrorist to leave Canada to continue to wreak havoc around the world.
R. Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.