When Asad Ansari was sentenced in October 2010, he had “no reason to appeal it,” says his lawyer John Norris.
At the time, Ansari had already spent more than three years in pre-trial custody, a time period a judge deemed the functional equivalent of a six-year sentence. Following Ansari’s conviction for participating in the activities of the terrorist group known as the Toronto 18, the Crown did not seek more time in prison and Ansari was free to go.
But in 2014, nearly four years after his sentencing, the federal government sent a letter to Ansari notifying him his citizenship may be revoked in accordance with the newly passed Bill C-24. The controversial bill, passed under the government of Stephen Harper, gives the minister of immigration powers to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism and sentenced to at least five years in prison.
Ansari had long missed the deadline to appeal his sentence, but yesterday, the Ontario Court of Appeal extended that deadline due to the retroactivity of the citizenship law, which Ansari was not aware at the time of his sentencing.
“. . . The collateral consequences — loss of Canadian citizenship — are of such magnitude as to render it unjust to deprive the applicant of the opportunity to seek a variation of the sentence to remove himself from the reach of the amendment,” the unanimous bench said, adding “the interests of justice favour the extension” of the appeal window.
“To refuse the order, a substantial injustice may occur, wrought by legislation not in force or within the reasonable contemplation of any of the participants in the trial process, but made retrospective by an enactment passed years later,” said the court.
Ansari was convicted of participating in the activities of a terrorist group. He was found to have gone camping with members of the Toronto 18 near Washago, Ont., and participating in marching and simulated combat exercises, some of which were videotaped. Later, he helped produce a video for the leaders of the group to use for recruitment purposes.
Ansari already tried, unsuccessfully, to appeal his conviction.
“If his conviction had been overturned, then that would [have been] the end of his exposure to potential citizenship revocation. But the act also requires that you’ve received a sentence of five years or more for that conviction,” says Norris. “So even if that conviction stands, if he only deserved a sentence of less than five years, that would also get him out from under the provisions.”
Norris says his practice is seeing more and more cases of clients looking for legal help as they learn about previously unknown immigration and citizenship consequences of their convictions and sentences.
“This ruling isn’t going to encourage people to do one thing or another; it’s these other changes [in the law] that are giving people reason to come to court,” he says. “And now this ruling gives a very nice framework for analyzing whether they should get an extension or not.”
Norris says his client is also challenging the constitutionality of Bill C-24 at the Federal Court. It’s unclear what would happen to that challenge, given the Liberals’ election promise to repeal the law.
“If that happens, then of course there would be no reason to pursue the constitutional challenge but until that happens, that challenge remains before the Federal Court,” he says.