Canada to restore right of citizens born abroad to pass citizenship to children also born outside country

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Canada plans to restore the right of citizens born abroad to pass their citizenship to children also born outside the country, following a court ruling that a “first-generation limit” in the law was unconstitutional.

The federal government announced legislation to amend the Citizenship Act, removing a “second-generation cut-off” introduced by the previous Conservative government, after an Ontario court ruled in December that the limit was unconstitutional.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to continue to minimize differential outcomes as much as possible for children born abroad … compared to children born to Canadians [in Canada],” said Marc Miller, the immigration minister, to reporters on Thursday. “Not everyone is entitled to [citizenship], but for those who are, it needs to be fair.”

The previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper limited citizenship by descent to a single generation in 2009 following criticism of the $85m spent evacuating 15,000 Canadian citizens from Lebanon during the brief 2006 war with Israel, with Conservatives labelling such dual nationals “Canadians of convenience”.

Since then, Canadian citizens born abroad have been unable to pass their citizenship to any children born outside the country, creating what some have called a generation of “lost Canadians” and what critics argued amounted to a two-tiered system of citizenship.

The new bill would allow a Canadian born abroad to pass on citizenship if they have a substantial connection to Canada, demonstrated by showing they have spent at least three years in the country.

The “substantial connection” clause is aimed at addressing anti-immigration critics who claim that many immigrants leave Canada after obtaining passports and will only return to claim benefits.

“Today is a historic day for lost Canadians and their families,” said Jenny Kwan, a member of parliament and immigration critic for the New Democratic party, hailing the bill.

“This unjust law caused significant hardship and suffering to many Canadian families, separates families and rendered children stateless. It failed to recognize Canadians are global citizens who travel, study and work abroad, fall in love abroad and have families abroad.”

Citizenship remains a contentious issue in a nation with such high immigration. The immigration system is “falling apart”, said Tom Kmiec, Conservative MP and shadow immigration minister, in a statement. “Common sense Conservatives will fix our immigration system that the Liberals have broken.”

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It is not clear how many people could be entitled to citizenship as a result of the bill, said Don Chapman, who fought to regain his citizenship after being born in the country and then taken to the United States as a child by his father. Mr Chapman coined the term “lost Canadians” and runs an organization of the same name advocating for citizenship rights for children of Canadians abroad.

“You won’t have a huge outpouring of people moving to Canada, but you will have a huge number of people that actually qualify for Canadian citizenship,” said Mr Chapman.

American actors Gene Hackman, Shirley MacLaine, and Warren Beaty are among those who could become Canadian as a result of the bill, Mr Chapman said.

“Will they come? I don’t know. I doubt it. But they would have the right.”


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