Should Convicted Terrorists in Australia have their Citizenship Revoked?

Should convicted terrorists in Australia have their citizenship revoked?

Almost every day the headlines are buzzing over the current refugee crisis in Europe. Isis is running rampant in countries like Iraq and Syria leaving millions of refugees fleeing their homes. These displaced citizens do not know what to do or where to turn. It is just a matter of survival. With this tension it is no wonder that some people are being courted towards acts of terrorism and its promise of a better life in the now or hereafter.

In an attempt to discourage Canadians from participating as terrorists in conflicts abroad, Canada enacted the Anti-terrorism Act or “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” in May of this year. This Bill broadens the authority of Canadian government agencies to share information about individuals. It also gives the Canadian government authority to revoke the citizenship of Canadians who have been convicted of terrorism offences and hold a dual citizenship.

Last week Canada used its new power to revoke the citizenship of dual Canadian/Jordanian citizen Zakaria Amara. Amara was convicted on terrorism charges for his role as the ringleader of the 2006 al-Qaida-inspired plot to detonate truck bombs in downtown Toronto.

The Australian government is following suit with its announcement of an even broader citizenship revocation law as a counter-terrorism measure. The proposed changes to the “Citizenship Act” will be twofold: 1) “renunciation by conduct” and 2) “revocation by conviction.” The “revocation by conduct would be an extension of section 35 of the act, which states: “a person ceases to be an Australian citizen if the person: (a) is a national or citizen of a foreign country; and (b) serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia.”

As reported in The Guardian, “the law is directed to dual nationals who have gone overseas and have “serious involvement” with a terrorist group. “ Although the Australian government will try to include provisions in the legislation to define what type of conduct is covered (i.e. taking up arms or financing terrorist groups), “serious involvement” is not specific and as such runs the risk of being interpreted subjectively. The term terrorism itself is so broad that it could apply to much lower-level criminal offences.

There is also consideration that this law could be applied to not only people currently holding dual citizenships but also to second generation Australians who have the potential of acquiring dual citizenship from their parent’s country of origin.

Another issue with this proposed anti-terrorism legislation and revoking those convicted of terrorist related criminal offences of their Australian citizenship is that it will not only be for people convicted of terrorism offences, it can also be applied to those just suspected of committing a crime of terrorism. Revoking citizenship and punishing someone for crimes of terrorism are conducive of the public good but taking away someone’s citizenship without proof of guilt could result in innocent people wrongly accused of the crime losing their citizenship.

Although terrorism is a repugnant crime and the perpetrators need to be held fully accountable for these crimes, they are crimes non-the-less and as such should be subject to the same penalties as non-terrorist crimes such as rape and murder.

According to Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles “citizenship is a privilege, not a right and any dual national seeking to harm the Australian people by joining a terrorist group such as [Isis] should no longer be afforded our nation’s citizenship.” However, this can be viewed as using immigration policy to solve terrorism problems and many feel undermines the role of the courts.

A more effective strategy would be to hinder the terrorist’s movements and limit his or her mobility by issuing arrest warrants or cancelling his or her passport. Keeping people from re-entering Australia is more effective at keeping terror out of Australia than revoking someone’s citizenship.

Finally, the ability to revoke the citizenship of a person with dual status creates a “two-tiered” citizenship and suggests that people with dual citizenship are lesser citizens than their naturalised Australians counterparts.