Revocation must offer fair hearing: judge
Ruling strikes down provisions to strip people of citizenship without giving chance to explain
TORONTO — 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. 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.
In one of the cases, Fiji-born Thomas Gucake became a permanent resident in 2001 when he was 15, and a citizen in 2005. He later became a decorated Canadian soldier, having served three tours in Afghanistan.
In November 2015, the government said it was stripping Gucake of his citizenship because information from 2007 showed his father failed to disclose a minor criminal conviction from Australia.
“It seems highly unfair to me that under the amended act, there is no requirement that Mr. Gucake’s personal situation be considered,” Gagne said.
The Senate has already passed changes to proposed government legislation that would conform to Wednesday’s court ruling, effectively handing the revocation issue back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.