The Ottawa Sun

Second-generation “cut-off” for foreign-born Canadians unfair: Advocates

Laura Stone

Laura Chatburn was born in England and lives in Toronto. She came to Canada when she was three, the daughter of a British father and a Canadian mother, and spent time in both countries as she was growing up.

“We were always taught to go travel and experience the world,” said the 23-year-old, who wants to have kids one day. “Now it’s like, don’t do that.”

What Chatburn is referring to is an amendment made to the Citizenship Act in April last year which excludes born-abroad Canadians from automatically passing on their citizenship to their children, if those children are born abroad as well. The amendment also affects some foreign-born adopted children.

Critics say this second-generation cut-off creates “second-class citizens” and they want “the anomalies” of the law changed.

“I think it’s unfair,” said Valerie Bolduc, director of community development at the Canadian Expat Association. “Technically, you can be fourth-, fifth-generation born-abroad and have lived in Canada practically your whole life.”

A spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration said the government is reviewing the changes.

“The current Citizenship Act puts limitations on citizenship by descent in order to preserve the value of citizenship by ensuring Canadians have a real connection to Canada,” said spokeswoman Kelli Fraser.

“The government is reviewing how recent amendments to the Citizenship Act affect children born to Canadians outside of Canada, including those who are born to Canadians serving Canada abroad, to see how legislation might be improved.”

She added that a Canadian parent can still sponsor a dependent in Canada and apply for citizenship after the child becomes a permanent resident.

While the second-generation rule applies to people like Chatburn, whose expatriate mother lived in England for 17 years, it primarily affects the families of foreign-born Canadian aid workers, members of the military, embassy workers and journalists who give birth abroad. If those children were to follow in their parents’ footsteps, and live and work abroad, their children would not necessarily be Canadian citizens.

For example, Chatburn’s sister, Helen, is pregnant by her Nigerian husband and works in Nigeria for an organization funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. Helen is also a Canadian citizen who was born in England. But if Helen were to give birth in Nigeria, her child would not be Canadian — so she is flying to Canada at seven months’ pregnant to give birth here.

Parents of adopted children also express concern about the act, because some children aren’t afforded the citizenship rights of Canadian-born children. If a child is made a citizen before moving to Canada, the second-generation rule applies to them, but if they move to Canada as an immigrant and the parents apply for citizenship while in the country, the rule does not apply.

“I’m baffled,” said Kim Paradis, who adopted her 21-month old twins from Vietnam last year, after they were made Canadian citizens before moving here through a speedier process for adoption that took effect in 2007. “We wanted to grant (our children) the full rights of citizenship. We’re quite saddened.”

While it’s not known how many people the amendment to the legislation affects, the Canadian Expat Association estimates that some 2.8 million Canadians live abroad, and that thousands of children born abroad could be ineligible to pass along their citizenship.

According to the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, between 1983 and 1994, almost 4,000 children were born to Canadian Forces members serving at the base in Lahr, Germany. The children of those children would potentially be affected, said spokesman Robert Brookfield.

The amendment may also result in what’s known as “stateless” children, if those children are born to foreign-born parents outside Canada in a country that doesn’t automatically afford citizenship.

“It’s not acceptable, and I think it has to be corrected,” said Mauril Belanger, Liberal MP for Ottawa-Vanier. Belanger said he is working on drafting another private member’s bill on the matter, after he found a previous one to be insufficient.

Senator Jim Munson also expressed his concerns about the bill: his son was born overseas and is considering living abroad.

MP Olivia Chow, the immigration critic for the NDP and wife of leader Jack Layton, said the amendment to the Citizenship Act unfairly affects those who work on Canada’s behalf in other countries.

“They are ambassadors to our country,” said Chow. “They are trading for us, they are fighting on our behalf.”