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Ottawa softens stand on stripping citizenship over false papers

Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef, seen in Parliament Hill on Sept. 21,

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Immigration Minister John McCallum says he is open to granting a moratorium on the revocation of citizenship from Canadians who misrepresented themselves in their applications, an issue that has been thrust into the spotlight by the circumstances of cabinet minister Maryam Monsef's citizenship.

Mr. McCallum's comments come a week after the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers filed a legal action with the Federal Court asking the government to put a stop to all revocations until it could fix a law that allows citizenship to be stripped without a hearing.

"I will consider that moratorium. I won't rule it out unconditionally," Mr. McCallum told Senate Question Period on Tuesday. "What I am saying is that we would welcome a reform to the system."

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Read more: Heralded as Canada's first Afghan-born MP, Maryam Monsef shocked to discover truth of roots

The Federal Court application made headlines when lawyers on the case said that Ms. Monsef, Democratic Institutions Minister, could have her citizenship revoked under the current law for having an incorrect birthplace listed on her citizenship papers. Ms. Monsef said she only learned that she was born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she had believed, after an inquiry from The Globe and Mail last month. She said her mother never told her and her sisters they were born in Iran because she did not think it mattered.

While Ottawa is considering the moratorium on revocations, the government says it is committed to eventually reinstating the right to a hearing for Canadians who face losing their citizenship because they misrepresented themselves in their citizenship and permanent residency applications.

Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar said she is going to propose an amendment to the government's citizenship Bill C-6 to reverse the Conservative law that took away the long-standing right.

"I am hopeful that they will allow this amendment to be tabled," Ms. Omidvar said. "Everybody's hoping they're able to do it in this bill at the Senate. But if not, I've been told that it will be fixed through legislation."

MPs tried to table the amendment to Bill C-6 at the House immigration committee earlier this year, but was it declared to be out of scope by the committee chair. Ms. Omidvar noted that the Senate procedure rules are different, so the amendment still has a chance in the Red Chamber.

In the meantime, the government continues to enforce its revocation powers. Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said the government appears to be in a rush to issue as many revocation notices as possible before the law changes.

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"We had seven new clients in the last week," Mr. Waldman said. "It's really disconcerting for me that they are continuing to proceed with the process that the government agrees should be changed."

The government has to decide how it will respond to the Federal Court application by Wednesday. Unaware of the deadline, Mr. McCallum told reporters after Question Period that a decision would have to be made quickly.

"If it needs an answer tomorrow, I'll have to look at it quickly," Mr. McCallum said.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, was surprised Mr. McCallum did not know the deadline for such a high-profile decision, which carries serious ramifications for those affected.

"With every week that this carries on, there are more Canadians who are potentially having their citizenship revoked without a fair process," Mr. Paterson said. "The government should respond quickly and they should agree to stopping these proceedings that they admit are unfair before court has to force them to do so."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Michelle Zilio is a reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau. Previously, she was the associate producer of CTV’s Question Period and a political writer for CTVNews.ca. Michelle has also worked as a parliamentary reporter for iPolitics, covering foreign affairs, defence and immigration, and as a city desk reporter at the Ottawa Citizen. More

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