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Asad Ansari was convicted of knowingly participating in a terrorist group in relation to his involvement in a foiled 2006 terror plot. Following his conviction, Ansari's Canadian citizenship was threatened with revocation through the application of Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. The Bill amended the Citizenship Act and created a mechanism for revoking the citizenship of dual citizens convicted of terrorism-related offences who were sentenced to at least five years in prison. The new provisions could be applied retroactively to capture Canadians like Mr. Ansari who were convicted prior to the implementation of Bill C-24. The Bill also reduced the procedural protections afforded to citizens facing revocation.
Mr. Ansari joined the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) to challenge the constitutionality of those amendments, arguing that the provisions violate multiple rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter). Six months after the Statement of Claim was filed, the government introduced Bill C-6, which would repeal provisions allowing citizenship revocation for terrorism-related offences.
Mr. Ansari was born in Pakistan, but left the country for Saudi Arabia when he was seven months old. He became a permanent resident of Canada at the age of twelve, and a citizen at the age of sixteen. He is a citizen of both Pakistan and Canada.
In June of 2006, Mr. Ansari was charged with knowingly participating in or contributing to the activity of a terrorist group for the purpose of enhancing the group's ability to carry out a terrorist activity, contrary to section 83.18(1) of the Criminal Code. He was accused of participating in the infamous "Toronto 18" group whose plot to detonate truck bombs and to storm Parliament and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was uncovered in 2006.
Specifically, the Crown argued that Mr. Ansari attended a training camp organized by the group's leaders, Fahim Ahmad and Zakaria Amara, in December 2005, and that he subsequently provided computer assistance to Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Amara. Although Mr. Ansari maintained that he was unaware of the group's terrorist goals, Justice Dawson concluded that, while Mr. Ansari might not have been privy to all of the details of the terror plot, he could not plausibly have been unaware of the general nature of the group's activities. He was convicted by a jury on June 23, 2010 and sentenced to six years and five months imprisonment, which amounted to time served. In his reasons for sentencing, Justice Dawson took into account the fact that Mr. Ansari's involvement in the group was not at the most serious end of the spectrum.
Mr. Ansari appealed his conviction, but before a decision was rendered, he received a letter from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration notifying him that the Minister was considering revoking his Canadian citizenship. The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act had come into effect less than two months earlier, creating a mechanism for revoking the citizenship of dual citizens convicted of terrorism-related offences. Prior to the amendment, the Citizenship Act allowed citizenship to be revoked only in cases where a person had obtained citizenship through fraud or false representation.
The new revocation provisions were only applicable to Canadians with citizenship in more than one country. Canada is a party to international treaties, including the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prevent it from rendering a person stateless. Thus, under the amended Citizenship Act dual citizens convicted of a terrorism-related offence could have their citizenship stripped, whereas a "mono citizen" could commit the same offence without being subject to the additional punishment of citizenship revocation. This significant distinction between dual citizens and mono citizens led many Canadians to criticize the amendments as creating two tiers of citizenship, with dual citizens treated as second-class.
In August of 2015, the day after Mr. Ansari's appeal was denied, he joined the BCCLA and CARL to challenge the constitutionality of the amendments to the Citizenship Act. According to the Statement of Claim, Bill C-24 violated multiple rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter. Specifically, it was argued that the revocation provisions constituted cruel and unusual punishment, infringed the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, and violated the constitutional guarantee of equality and non-discrimination. They also challenged an amendment that required individuals applying for Canadian citizenship to prove that they intend to continue to reside in Canada, arguing that it violated the rights to equality and freedom of movement guaranteed by the Charter.
The election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October 2015 brought about a change in the government's position on Bill C-24 and the practice of revoking the citizenship of terrorists. Mr. Trudeau had voiced his opposition to Bill C-24's revocation provisions throughout his campaign. Immediately following his election, counsel for the Attorney General of Canada requested an indefinite adjournment of Mr. Ansari's constitutional challenge and the cases of four other convicted terrorists who had brought similar challenges.
In February 2016 the government introduced Bill C-6, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act. Bill C-6 repealed the provisions allowing for revocation of citizenship for offences related to national security and removed the requirement that a person applying for citizenship show that he or she intends to continue residing in Canada. However, the Bill did not address the changes, introduced by Bill C-24, that reduced the procedural rights for citizens threatened with revocation for allegedly obtaining citizenship through fraud or misrepresentation. The BCCLA and CARL are currently in the process of launching another legal challenge to the constitutionality of those provisions. Bill C-6 was passed by the House of Commons on June 17, 2016 and, on December 15, 2016, was referred to committee after passing its second reading in Senate.
Mr. Ansari's current whereabouts are not publicly known. However, based on the timing of the change in government, which occurred before the revocation of Mr. Ansari's citizenship was completed, and the new government's disavowal of the revocation provisions at issue in his case, it appears as though Mr. Ansari was able to retain his Canadian citizenship.
- March 8, 1985: Mr. Ansari is born in Pakistan.
- October 1985: Mr. Ansari moves to Saudi Arabia. He is seven months old.
- August 5, 1997: At the age of twelve, Mr. Ansari becomes a permanent resident of Canada.
- May 10, 2001: Mr. Ansari becomes a Canadian citizen. He is sixteen years old.
- December 24, 2005: According to the Crown, Mr. Ansari attends a terrorist training camp in Washago, Ontario with several other individuals who are alleged to belong to the "Toronto 18" terrorist group. After attending the camp, Mr. Ansari allegedly continues to provide computer assistance to the group.
- June 2, 2006: Mr. Ansari is arrested and charged with knowingly contributing to the activities of a terrorist group for the purpose of enhancing its ability to carry out a terrorist activity, in violation of s. 83.18(1) of the Criminal Code.
- May 3, 2010: Mr. Ansari's trial begins. He pleads not guilty.
- June 23, 2010: A jury finds Mr. Ansari guilty of contributing to the terrorist group.
- October 4, 2010: At his sentencing hearing, Mr. Ansari is sentenced to one day in jail in addition to the time he served in pre-trial custody. In total, his sentence amounts to approximately six years and five months.
- May 29, 2015: Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, comes into effect. It makes a number of changes to the Citizenship Act, including the introduction of provisions allowing the government to revoke the citizenship of Canadians convicted of terrorism-related offences.
- July 10, 2015: Mr. Ansari receives a letter from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration indicating that the Minister is considering revoking Mr. Ansari's Canadian citizenship under s. 10(2) of the Citizenship Act.
- August 19, 2015: The Ontario Court of Appeal rejects Mr. Ansari's appeal.
- August 20, 2015: Along with the BCCLA and CARL, Mr. Ansari launches a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the amendments introduced by Bill C-24.
- October 27, 2015: Justice Department counsel request an indefinite adjournment to the case due to the change in government.
- February 25, 2016: The government introduces Bill C-6, which would repeal the amendments allowing for revocation of citizenship for dual citizens convicted of terrorism-related offences.
- June 17, 2016: Bill C-6 is passed by the House of Commons.
- December 15, 2016: The Bill is referred to committee after passing its second reading in Senate.
Role or Position
Mr. Ansari was twenty-one years old when he was charged with knowingly contributing to the activities of a terrorist group. He was found guilty and sentenced to six years and five months in prison. The subsequent enactment of Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, allowed the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to begin the process of revoking Mr. Ansari's Canadian citizenship based on his conviction for a terrorism-related offence.
Along with the BCCLA and CARL, Mr. Ansari challenged the constitutionality of the amendments, alleging that the new provisions violated his rights to life, liberty, security of the person, and equality, as well as his freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. The case was adjourned in October 2015, following the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had promised throughout his campaign to repeal the provisions at issue. In February 2016, the new government honoured that promise by introducing legislation to repeal the provisions of the Citizenship Act that created two tiers of citizenship.
Implications and Consequences
Equality: Bill C-24's amendments to the Citizenship Act violate the Charter's guarantee of equality by creating differential treatment and imposing disadvantages based on the enumerated ground of citizenship. The amendments allowed the Minister to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals, while mono citizens enjoyed immunity from revocation because of Canada's international commitments to refrain from rendering a person stateless. Thus, the effect of the amendments was to perpetuate arbitrary disadvantage against dual citizens, contrary to section 15 of the Charter, by subjecting dual citizens to a more severe punishment for the same crime.
Liberty and Security of the Person: Citizenship revocation infringes the rights to liberty and security of the person, protected by section 7 of the Charter. It restricts liberty by removing fundamental aspects of the individual's freedom, including mobility and voting rights, and violates the right to security of the person by causing prolonged psychological suffering and by risking serious mistreatment upon deportation. Those infringements are exacerbated by the lack of procedural fairness that resulted from Bill C-24's reduction of procedural rights.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Mr. Ansari's case raised the question of cruel and unusual punishment. Depriving a person of his citizenship creates serious harm by stripping him of his fundamental civil rights and deporting him to a country to which he has little connection or where he may be unsafe. Mr. Ansari and his family left Pakistan when he was a baby. Similarly, Mr. Alizadeh, another dual citizen threatened with revocation, was a citizen of Iran but had fled that country and was granted refugee status in Canada because, as a Kurd, he faced persecution in Iran. Saad Gaya, another member of the Toronto 18 who faced revocation, was actually born in Canada. Mr. Gaya's parents lost their Pakistani citizenship when they became Canadian citizens before he was born, but a change in Pakistani policy in 2004 meant that they regained citizenship, and Mr. Gaya retroactively gained citizenship as well. He had never been to Pakistan.
Stripping the Canadian citizenship of a person who does not have a meaningful connection to any country except for Canada is a punishment that shocks the conscience. Furthermore, it is grossly disproportionate to the state's objective since it is imposed in addition to a punishment that is, in and of itself, determined to be appropriate and proportional to the offence.