Should governments seek public approval on counter terrorism policy?
By now, I am sure that you are aware of the fact that a referendum carried out by the Colombian government on a peace deal with the FARC guerrillas was narrowly defeated. The difference between those in favour and those opposed was razor-thin, something like 50.2-49.8% In other words, the vote could have gone either way. My reading is that the low turnout was due in part due to bad weather and perhaps some complacency since everyone had predicted a comfortable margin of victory for the yes side (again showing that you can’t always rely on polls).
In a previous blog I argued in favour of a peace accord but also recognized that there were many valid reasons why some Colombians had a hard time accepting an agreement under which terrorists would walk away relatively scot-free after decades of human rights violations. In the end, those opposed won the day, and while both the government and the rebels have said that they will honour an existing ceasefire, the lack of a way forward does not bode well as many want the conditions for amnesty toughened.
But, I think there is a more fundamental question that needs to be asked: should the government have gone with a referendum in the first place? Should Colombians have had a say in the matter? More broadly, should governments consult their electorates on counter-terrorism policy?
My late father-in-law once told me something very profound. He had made the acquaintance of the Speaker of (Canadian) Parliament who was an MP from my father-in-law's home riding. The speaker and my father-in-law were once talking about how often governments should ask the opinion of voters on a variety of issues.
My father-in-law replied, very wisely I thought, that governments do exactly that – every four years. This consultation is called an election. Parties put out their platforms and voters cast their ballots, in part, on whether they like what they hear. We then trust, perhaps naively, in those politicians to do what they said they would.
In other words, they don’t have to ask us for our views on every little matter. My father-in-law believed it to be a huge waste of money for our officials to spend on asking us what we think: he felt that they were being paid to make decisions. He may have been a foreman at Stelco (a steel company in Hamilton) but he had a lot of wisdom to impart.
What does any of this have to do with terrorism? A lot, actually. Governments seem to think that they need to run counter-terrorism policies by their citizenry before implementing them. This may be admirable, but it is neither efficient nor helpful. With all due respect to my fellow Canadians, they are not experts in terrorism, nor should they be. After all, were the government to plan a new strategy to fight cancer, would it ask its citizens to comment on the technical merit of the science involved?
There are opportunities for input aside from elections every four years. Experts can be brought in to voice their opinions and this is exactly what is done both in parliamentary or Senate hearings and within departments. Canadians with something to say have ample time to do so.
The fact is that our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies are competent and know how to tackle the terrorism problem. They are constrained in what they do by both laws and policies and there are mechanisms (maybe there should be more parliamentary oversight) to register complaints.
I am not sure what is gained by seeking public approval for counter-terrorism strategy, a position adopted by the Trudeau government with its green paper on national security. Nor am I certain why the Colombian government opted for a referendum on the peace process with the FARC.
I am not trying to be elitist. It’s just that we elect governments to do a job and if we don’t like the job they do we kick the bums out of office. That is how democracy works. Perhaps, we should leave counter-terrorism strategies to the professionals: those who disagree with how it is being done can always try to sign up and effect change from within.
Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/
What does it mean to be Canadian?
What kind of Canada do we want?
If you’ve tuned into the election coverage lately, you’ll know these aren’t meaningless questions. They’re being hotly debated by our federal party leaders because of a new law that fundamentally changes the answers to those questions.
Bill C-24 came into effect earlier this year, turning millions of Canadians born abroad (or whose parents or grandparents were born abroad) into second-class citizens.
The way this law has been written, anyone getting citizenship now could lose it if they move abroad for work, study, or family reasons.
Taking care of a sick parent abroad, moving to another country to marry, or studying at a prestigious foreign university could leave someone legally vulnerable to having their citizenship revoked.
That’s because new Canadians now have to promise they intend to live in Canada. If they move away, the government could decide they’ve broken their promise and that they lied about their intentions when they became a citizen.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Many Canadians born and raised in this country who have a right to foreign citizenship through their parents, grandparents, or spouse, or because of a right of return to an ancestral homeland, are suddenly vulnerable.[/quote]
Now, a young person whose family is new to Canada might have to think twice about accepting that full scholarship to Harvard—because it could mean putting her Canadian passport in jeopardy. Her Canadian-born competitor, however, doesn’t have to worry.
People born here have no fear of losing their citizenship because they move away. Government officials have claimed that they don’t actually intend to use the new law to punish new Canadians in this way, but they refused to remove those sections of the bill. Instead, they have deliberately created a two-tier citizenship regime.
Fewer rights for some Canadians
That’s bad enough, but this new law also penalizes new Canadians and their families in other ways.
That’s because the federal government decided that it can, in some cases, revoke the Canadian citizenship of anyone with another passport (or anyone the federal government thinks is even eligible for one) – whether they are born in Canada or abroad.
Many Canadians born and raised in this country who have a right to foreign citizenship through their parents, grandparents, or spouse, or because of a right of return to an ancestral homeland, are suddenly vulnerable.
Some Canadians now have fewer rights than other Canadians, just because of where they or their families are from.
Under the new legislation, individuals convicted of certain serious crimes in Canada, or convicted of such crimes abroad (including in countries that do not have fair trials or rule of law) could lose their citizenship.
Dictatorships often accuse human rights activists and journalists of terrorist offences to silence and punish them. Canadian law now penalizes such people by placing their Canadian citizenship at risk.
Bill C-24 makes us less safe
But even in cases where individuals have legitimately done wrong, the argument that Bill C-24 makes us safer doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]e could be sending a dangerous offender to a country that is hostile to Canada and lacks the rule of law.[/quote]
In fact, it dangerously misses the point. People who are a legitimate threat are best dealt with through the criminal justice system, where they are incarcerated and separated from society.
Far from eliminating the threat, the ancient practice of banishment only displaces it.
At best, by expelling a dangerous offender, we’re shunting our problems off onto other nations. At worst, we could be sending a dangerous offender to a country that is hostile to Canada and lacks the rule of law.
This makes us decidedly less safe.
Challenging Bill C-24
In practice, these aspects of the new law will disproportionately affect visible minority Canadians, who have arrived in Canada in great numbers only one or two generations ago.
By promoting unequal treatment of Canadians, the law is discriminatory and violates the Charter.
The BC Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have launched a constitutional challenge, because it violated fundamental human rights guaranteed to all of us under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—and because we believe it’s fundamentally wrong to treat some Canadians as second class.
Other parts of the bill are equally problematic, but unfortunately we have little recourse to challenge them in the courts.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]ith Bill C-24, the government is telling millions of Canadians that they are somehow less Canadian than others – that despite their building this country and making Canada their home, they don't really belong here.[/quote]
Canada has always been a country of immigrants. Bill C-24 will change that by making it more difficult for immigrants to gain citizenship by lengthening the time it takes, increasing the cost, adding barriers for the oldest and youngest immigrants, and removing the possibility of appeal.
Time spent in Canada as a student, temporary worker, live-in caregiver, or refugee will no longer count towards citizenship.
The application fee has tripled in price, in addition to a costly language testing process which now is required of immigrants as young as 14 and as old as 64 (previously, only adults age 18 to 55 needed to take the test).
Canada used to have some of the highest naturalization rates in the world.
High naturalization rates are associated with higher employment rates and greater integration – outcomes that are good for everyone. This will change under Bill C-24.
Immigrants built our country, and we should continue to welcome them. We believe that all of us should be treated as equals under the law. It doesn’t matter what colour our skin is, or what country our families came from.
But with Bill C-24, the government is telling millions of Canadians that they are somehow less Canadian than others – that despite their building this country and making Canada their home, they don't really belong here.
That’s wrong, and it diminishes all of us. That’s why we are fighting it. We’re fighting for the Canada we want to be, and the Canada that, until now, we’ve always been – where every Canadian is treated equally under the law.
Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.
While last week’s U.K. election highlighted similarities between our system and Britain’s, this week marks the anniversary of Canadians setting themselves apart from the old country.
Sixty-nine years ago yesterday, Parliament passed the Canadian Citizenship Act.
Prior to 1947, Canadians were considered British subjects and lacked distinct citizenship. Though, Canadians had been considered a unique subset of British subjects since 1910 — other British subjects who were not residents of Canada required permission to land in the country.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Other than the short-lived Irish Free State, Canada was the first Commonwealth country to have its own nationality law. Two years after the creation of Canadian citizenship, Australia and New Zealand followed suit.[/quote]
The prime minister at the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King, had spent the previous 20 years advocating for citizenship. By 1946, Canada’s participation in the two world wars had forged a uniquely Canadian identity and advanced King’s argument that Canada was a mature country with its own character worthy of recognition.
Paul Martin, Sr., who was then secretary of state for Canada (a positioned abolished in 1996), tabled the Canadian Citizenship Act 1946. The bill received first reading in the House of Commons on April 2, 1946, and passed on May 14. It took effect on January 1, 1947, and at Canada’s first citizenship ceremony two days later, King was declared ‘Citizen 0001′.
Other than the short-lived Irish Free State, Canada was the first Commonwealth country to have its own nationality law. Two years after the creation of Canadian citizenship, Australia and New Zealand followed suit.
But Canadian citizenship was not immediately a universal honour. First Nations were not considered Canadian citizens until 1956, and Inuit had to wait until 1960 for recognition.
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.