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May 11, 2017

Stripping people of Canadian citizenship without hearing unfair, judge rules


Stripping new Canadians of their citizenship without giving them a proper chance to explain themselves is a violation of their rights, a Federal Court judge declared Wednesday.

In a key decision, Judge Jocelyne Gagne struck down provisions of the Citizenship Act enacted by the former Conservative government under Stephen Harper, saying they conflict with principles of fundamental justice.

The decision comes in eight cases — considered as test cases — that challenged the constitutionality of the changes made in May 2015. Those amendments barred people from going to court to fight the loss of their Canadian status, in some cases leaving them stateless, over alleged lies on their residency or citizenship applications.

The changes also barred people from reapplying for Canadian citizenship for 10 years after revocation.

“Clearly, citizenship revocation is an important decision,” Gagne wrote in her ruling. “Since there is no right of appeal from a revocation decision of the minister under the amended act, the need for procedural fairness is all the more acute.”

The eight cases involved people already stripped of their citizenship or facing a similar fate for various reasons. Three were accused of lying about where they were living before they applied for citizenship. Two others were minors when their parents allegedly misrepresented their residency.

In other cases, their fathers had failed to declare criminal convictions when applying for permanent residence.

The applicants attacked the rules on various grounds, among them the failure to guarantee a hearing before an independent and impartial adjudicator. They also complained the government could keep information leading to revocation secret, and that the rules didn’t allow consideration of the circumstances that led to the alleged application fraud.

While the government insisted the rules were fair, Gagne disagreed.

The applicants, the judge said, should be entitled to a hearing in court or before an administrative tribunal in which they know the case against them and where they have a proper opportunity to defend themselves.

“None of these are guaranteed under the amended act,” Gagne noted. “Given the importance of Canadian citizenship and the severe consequences that could result from its loss, the principles of fundamental justice require a discretionary review of all the circumstances of a case.”

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