Conservative senators are vowing to fight legislation that would restore the citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism, by stalling its passage.
"A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist," said Sen. Daniel Lang, chairman of the Senate national security committee, mocking the "a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian" line from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during a leaders' debate last fall.
The government's Bill C-6, tabled in the Commons last week, seeks to repeal 2014 legislation brought in by the former Conservative government.
Bill C-24, known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, included a change to the Citizenship Act to strip citizenship from dual nationals convicted of terrorism, high treason or espionage. Britain and more than 2o European nations have similar laws.
Before C-24, Canadian citizenship could be revoked only in cases of fraudulent applications.
Bill C-6 would restore citizenship to anyone affected by the existing law, including Zakaria Amara, convicted in 2010 as ringleader of the Toronto 18 terror group, which planned al-Qaida-style attacks to push Canada to abandon its military mission in Afghanistan. Amara can apply for parole this year.
No further action will be taken against nine other terrorists who had been told their citizenship was being revoked. They include an Iranian-Canadian and a Pakistani-Canadian imprisoned for a 2010 plan to bomb military bases in Canada.
"Most Canadians, when someone has planned and enacted a terrorist act in this country and they have dual citizenship, why would they be able to keep their Canadian citizenship?" said Lang.
Other Tory senators are lining up behind him.
"When someone is convicted of such a heinous crime as (conspiring) to behead a prime minister or kill Canadians just because we happen not to have the same values, (and) we want to defend his citizenship?" said Sen. Leo Housakos, former speaker of the Senate.
"I don't think that Canadians have such a disrespect for the value of our citizenship that a convicted terrorist should have the right of Canadian citizenship and a Canadian passport."
But Liberal Sen. Grant Mitchell, from Alberta, believes it is the right thing to do.
"Once you're a Canadian, you're a Canadian. It's a question of rights," he said.
There's a practical consideration, too.
"If we actually sent a convicted terrorist back to the country of their other citizenship, and that country fosters terrorists and terrorism, now we've got a loose terrorist who could fight against our allies and our interests over there …
"So why wouldn't we want to keep them, and keep them here in jail where they can't harm us?"
Tory Sen. Michael MacDonald and other Conservatives question how repeal of the legislation, announced by Immigration Minister John McCallum, aligns with Canada's long-standing practice of revoking the citizenship of people who lied to get into the country, most notably war criminals.
"We've been stripping the citizenship of Nazi war criminals and shipping them back to eastern Europe," said MacDonald. "Is he saying that this is not allowed to be done? What's the difference?"
A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, except when they have citizenship somewhere else
While it is highly unlikely the Senate's Conservative majority would defeat C-6 – the Senate has defeated only six government bills since 1945 — Conservative Sen. Vern White said the bill could be sent back to the House of Commons with amendments, such as delaying its coming into force for five years or prohibiting retroactivity. (The House could then vote to send it back to the Senate unchanged, which would force the Senate to pass it.)
"I would hope that the House understands that when there's strong opposition to a bill there's a reason for it," said White, who sits on the national security committee and sponsored C-24 in the Senate.
"I hope that clear minds would consider the impact and what the Canadian public believes. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, except when they have citizenship somewhere else and are threatening terrorist acts against our country and other countries."
When C-24 was rolled out, there were concerns the criteria to revoke citizenship would be expanded over time to include convictions for lesser crimes.
That is now a possibility in Britain, where Home Secretary Theresa May is pushing to extend the law to British dual citizens convicted of child sex crimes. A British-Pakistani man convicted in 2012 of raping teenage girls is fighting to block being returned to Pakistan.