Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, has received Royal Assent and is now law. Here’s an overview of the changes this makes to citizenship in Canada.
The history of the current government’s determination to overhaul Canada’s citizenship regime dates to the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Then, the recently elected Prime Minister Harper found himself overseeing the evacuation of around 11,000 Lebanese-born Canadian citizens, many of whom had allegedly never resided in Canada, and many of whom purportedly returned to Lebanon within a month of being evacuated. It was during this time that the term “Canadians of Convenience” was created, and the Government of Canada endeavoured to address the issue.
Limitation on first generation abroad
In 2009, Jason Kenney, then Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, introduced the “first generation limitation” on Canadian citizenship. After April 2009, Canadian citizenship could only be conferred to those who were born abroad if they had a Canadian parent who was either born in Canada, or who was a naturalized citizen. But it would no longer be possible for those first generation Canadian citizens to pass on their citizenship to their children and then theoretically endless generations born outside Canada.
Changes in Bill C-24
In 2014, Chris Alexander, the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, introduced Bill C-24, which overhauls much of Canada’s citizenship regime. Canadian citizenship will now be harder to obtain, and easier to lose.
To apply for Canadian citizenship, permanent residents now both have to have lived in Canada for four years out of the last six, and also have to have lived in Canada for 183 days or more per year in four out of the last six years. Previously, permanent residents only had to live in Canada for three out of the four years prior to their application. As well, much to the chagrin of international students and foreign workers, the time spent in Canada prior to obtaining permanent residency will no longer count toward the residency requirement.
As well, Bill C-24 introduces a requirement that all citizenship applicants have an intention to reside in Canada. While the Government of Canada has been vague on what the practical effect of this provision will be, this requirement combined with the fact that Bill C-24 makes it easier for the Government of Canada to revoke citizenship for misrepresentation in citizenship applications has left many concerned that Bill C-24 will create a second class of citizens who will have to fear working and travelling abroad.
Ending birthright citizenship
The final change to Canada’s citizenship regime will be the most controversial, and has yet to be introduced. Ministers Kenney and Alexander have both proclaimed their dissatisfaction with the law that anyone born in Canada is a Canadian citizen (unless they are the children of diplomats). Both have stated an intention to modify this principle, although specifics have not been provided. In my opinion, if the current government remains in office, the abolition of birthright citizenship in Canada is a question of “when” not “if.”
Value of Canadian citizenship
The Government of Canada’s purported reason for all of the above changes is to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship. I simply do not understand this claim, and do not understand the argument that Canadian citizenship becomes more valuable if fewer people have it. To me, the value of Canadian citizenship is determined by our relative economic, social and political prosperity. It is not determined by reducing the number of Canadians.
By Steven Meurrens
Steven Meurrens is an immigration lawyer with Larlee Rosenberg in Vancouver