Home / Global Governance and Human Rights / Canada and The Second-Tier Citizen: How The Fight Against Terrorism Has Led to Discrimination

Canada and The Second-Tier Citizen: How The Fight Against Terrorism Has Led to Discrimination

October 9th, 2015

Amarpreet Cheema – Research Assistant

The fight against terrorism has continued to plague the security agendas of the international community, especially since the rise of the Islamic State (IS). The brutality and intensity that IS has displayed has resurrected a renewed sense of urgency by states in regards to their counterterrorism strategies. Much attention has been given to power players such as the United States in their approached to fighting terrorism, which has placed much critique on those states that are more prominently placed in the media. As such, this article will place emphasis on the counterterrorism strategy that the Canadian government has implemented in the awake of the rise of IS. The Canadian example is an interesting one to consider, as recent laws employed by the government have created a second-tier citizen. The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act commonly referred to as Bill C-24 has restructured what it means to be Canadian. Securitizing the essence of citizenship in order to combat radicalization and terrorism has the ability to undermine the mosaic cultural fabric of Canada but as well, sets an unsettling precedent for other nations looking to prevent terrorism at the local level.

Ambiguity and Terrorism Definitions

In order to assess the Canadian approach in combating terrorism, it is imperative to briefly remark on what the government has deemed this notion entails. Similar to the definition that is delineated under the Terrorism Act 2000 in the United Kingdom, the Canadian Criminal Code under section 83.01 states terrorism as an act committed ‘”in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause’” with the intention of intimidating the public ‘”…with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act”.[1] Much like the United Kingdom’s interpretation of terrorism, the Canadian denotation has framed the notion in a criminal context. This notion of criminality has been echoed by many states when implementing counterterrorism legislation. However, an issue that has arisen with these definitions is that the international community has been unable to come to shared conception of terrorism. There remain ambiguities in what the practice actually is, despite holding a dominant place in the narrative of the global community. The various approaches taken in outlining what is terrorism has been subjected to cultural relativism that allows for debate to enter into what this strategy entails. The idiom that epitomizes the inability for states to come to a common understanding is the phrase is ‘one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist’. This phrase highlights the biggest predicament in garnering a universal approach as it is dependent upon which state or organization and what political perspective they are viewing this phenomenon from. Terrorism, whether state sponsored or by individual actors, needs a clear definition. The Canadian delineation has framed the issue in a criminal context following the lead of the global community. Nevertheless, the concept has escaped a universal definition, which had and will only further undermine efforts to combat it.

How Canada is Fighting Terrorism With Discrimination

Having briefly delineated the Canadian definition of terrorism, and the general conceptual issues with the global approach in outlining this phenomenon, it is imperative to discuss Canada’s response to the renewed threat of terrorism. Most recently, Canada has legislated a new anti-terrorism act, Bill C-51, under which the intelligence gathering agencies, including CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service), have been given a wider breadth to operate under. This new bill has sparked much outrage in Canada; particularly concerns about the stability of the rule of law are worth nothing. Under this law, “judges may now be asked to give warrants to allow for disruption measures that contravene Canadian law or the Charter, a role that goes well beyond the current contexts in which judges now give warrants”.[2] Expanding the role of the judiciary can have lasting consequences of the impartiality that is at the crux of the rule of law. It creates a link between the judiciary and intelligence that can implicate the legal sphere in committing violations against the very citizens it has been tasked with protecting. What is worth noting is that these new powers require judicial oversight when it might violate Charter Rights or Canadian laws. With little oversight it has created a dangerous relationship with judges. As such Bill C-51 is indicative of a general trend amongst nations, for example the US’s Patriot Act. That is the expansion of the powers of intelligence agencies that are subject to little judicial oversight or have created the notion of collusion between these two branches in undermining rights. The Canadian approach to counterterrorism has created a system that can undermine the rule of law and has expanded CSIS powers to such an extent that without proper oversight it could result in human rights violations.

The creation of this imbalanced counterterrorism strategy by the Canadian government that rewards security priority over fundamental rights is seen most prominently in Bill C-24, the aforementioned Citizenship Act. Essentially, “C-24 permits the government to strip citizenship from Canadians who hold another nationality if they’re convicted of certain crimes (the crimes include terrorism, treason and spying)”.[3]  As such, creating a system of second-tier citizenry where those who hold or by ancestry can have access to another nationality have become in a sense ‘less’ Canadian. Under this new system, Canadians who hold no other nationality and have no access to another one are considered first-class. Whereas, those who are dual citizens, this includes those who have ancestral ties in another nation that awards them citizenship even though they may not be aware of it, as being second-class. Putting at risk a large majority of Canadians from revocation of their national identity. As a result, the Canadian government has effectively implemented discriminatory legislation in order to export terrorist threats out of their country. If a citizen is convicted of committing the crimes ascribed under this legislation they will have their citizenship removed; the question remains is how does this prevent terrorism? All this legislation does is remove the threat but not eliminate, while in the processing violating the rights of its citizens. Creating a system of inequality puts at risk the multicultural nature of the Canadian identity. Like the Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-24 has the ability to undermine the rule of law in Canada as these cases fall under the prevue of this legislation are adjudicated by the citizenship and immigration minister instead of the courts; as a result, it could deny people the right to due process.[4] Trying to adapt with the every changing nature of terrorism, and the rise of new threats such as IS has led the Canadian government to implement new counterterrorism legislation that has created a system of judicial imbalance and discrimination. The need to combat terrorism on the domestic level has created a sense of urgency that has overshadowed the rights of individuals for the sake of security. Creating fractures in the societal and legal spheres does not adequately nor can it effectively address the issue of terrorism on the domestic or international level.

Why the International Community Should Be Critical of Canada

The Canadian example of counterterrorism is a stark reminder of another important battle that the international community is facing in regards to terrorism is the forfeiting of human rights for securitization. The creation of second-tier citizens has both political and social consequences on the global level. Politically, it sets a precedent for other nations to impose similar laws. More significantly, it has the potential of being in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement, which is enshrined in various international laws, notably the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1984 Convention Against Torture. It has the potential to create a legal loophole that could undermine this customary norm. On the societal level, the creation of second-tier citizenship opens the way for violation of human rights norms by undermining notions of universality. Further, it allows a dialogue of discrimination to enter the public forum on terrorism that can lead to individuals feeling unnecessarily threatened by or entitled over others. Societal discontent will just add fuel to the fire, and could lead to further radicalization.  Shedding light on countries like Canada who have taken a discriminatory approach to counterterrorism is important to highlight because of the potential impact it can have on the narrative of terrorism in the international community. As the global war on terror continues to intensify, it is imperative that it is not at the expense of individual rights as this is the very thing that this conflict is trying to defend.

[1] Memorializing the Victims of Terrorism< http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/victim/rr09_6/p3.html >

[2] “Open letter to Parliament: Amend C-51 or kill it” Published February 27, 2015 <http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/open-letter-to-parliament-amend-c-51-or-kill-it>

[3] “Meet the Man Challenging Canada’s New Two- Tiered Citizenship System” Published October 31, 2014 by E.K. Hudson < http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/meet-the-man-challenging-canadas-questionable-two-tiered-citizenship-system-159>

[4] “What dual citizens need to know about Bill C-24, the new citizenship law” Published June 17 2015 <http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/what-dual-citizens-need-to-know-about-bill-c-24-the-new-citizenship-law-1.2426968>

About Amarpreet Cheema

Amarpreet has a keen research interest in humanitarian intervention, international organizations, Responsibility to Protect, international law, terrorism, and security discourse in various legal frameworks. She has a keen research interest in humanitarian intervention, international organizations, Responsibility to Protect, international law, terrorism, and security discourse in various legal frameworks.