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Why Ottawa is right to reverse the law stripping terrorists of their passports

Zakaria Amara in a picture from his high school yearbook in 2002.

If you were looking for conclusive proof that the Harper government law stripping convicted terrorists of their Canadian citizenship was dangerous and wrong, you were handed it last week when the Trudeau government tabled a bill to repeal Stephen Harper's handiwork.

One government taketh away, another giveth back, all for political gain. This is not how citizenship was supposed to work.

Under Bill C-24, adopted by the Conservatives in 2014, Ottawa has the power to revoke the Canadian citizenship of any person convicted of terrorism who happens to be a dual citizen of another country. The "Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act" was a move straight out of the Harper political handbook, under the chapter about exploiting fears of terrorism and playing to a sensationalized version of patriotism.

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Intentionally or not, the law divides Canadians into different classes: natural-born citizens on the one hand; and immigrants who obtain citizenship on the other. Most, if not all, of the latter retain their original passports and become dual citizens. Bill C-24 demonizes them as deserving of additional punishment should they commit an act of terrorism.

The Tory position was, and remains, that Canadian citizenship is a privilege that can be revoked at the pleasure of a government. But that is patently untrue. The government can't take the citizenship away from a natural-born Canadian who holds no other passport, no matter how heinous or treacherous their crime. It is a violation of international law to make a person stateless.

Unconcerned about the inherent inequity of the law, the Harper government used C-24 to revoke the passport of Zakaria Amara, the convicted Jordan-born terrorist serving 24 years in prison, during the heart of the election campaign last September. Justin Trudeau saw a political opening and vowed to change the law. He won the election, and now he is keeping his promise.

"A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian," Mr. Trudeau likes to say. Let's hope that sentiment lasts longer than one election cycle. For Canadian citizenship to have value or meaning, it must be a right that, once earned, can't be turned on and off like a light switch in the prime minister's office.

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