Canadian Citizenship - 2009 changes

Changes to the Citizenship Act that took effect on 17 April 2009 had significant impacts on who can inherit Canadian citizenship from their parent. The changes introduce a new risk that children of Canadian citizens will be stateless.

The changes effectively create two classes of citizenship, with a lower class that has no right to pass on their Canadian citizenship to their children (natural born or adopted).

1st class citizens

Canadian citizens who are:

  • born in Canada, or
  • naturalized citizens (after immigrating to Canada)1

continue to have the right to pass on their citizenship to their children (i.e. their child will be a Canadian citizen even if born outside Canada).

2nd class citizens

Canadian citizens who are:

  • born abroad to a Canadian citizen parent,2 or
  • foreign-born adopted children of Canadian citizens who were granted citizenship under the new direct grant provisions for adopted children (introduced in 2007)

do not have the right to pass on their citizenship to their children (i.e. their child will not be a Canadian citizen if born outside Canada, nor will their foreign adopted child be entitled to direct grant citizenship).


You should be concerned if:

  • You believe that all citizens should have equal rights and obligations, without regard to the manner in which they acquired citizenship.
  • You oppose statelessness and in particular the prospect of the children of Canadian citizens being stateless.
  • You, your family or friends might be personally affected.


The following are some scenarios to illustrate the implications of the changes:

  • Maria’s parents are Canadians who live near the US border.  Maria was born in the closest hospital which happened to be in the US.  She is now spending a few years working in Europe with her husband who is not a Canadian citizen.  If she gives birth in Europe after 17 April 2009 her child will not be a Canadian citizen.  If she wants to return to Canada with her child, she will need to sponsor the child as an immigrant through the Family Class.
  • Paul was born overseas to Canadian parents who were working with an international humanitarian NGO.  Paul grew up in Canada but as a young adult decided to follow his parents’ example and volunteered abroad.  While overseas he met a refugee woman and they are expecting a child in May.  The child will not be a Canadian citizen and may be stateless, because the mother’s country of origin no longer recognizes her and the country where they live does not give citizenship by birth on the territory.
  • Lian was adopted abroad by her Canadian parents in 2008.  She received citizenship through the new direct grant process created in 2007.  As she grows up, her parents will struggle to reassure her that she is fully accepted as a Canadian citizen and yet warn her about the risks of giving birth abroad because she has a second class citizenship.


Work out if you are a 1st or 2nd class citizen.  Do the same for your children.  Then consider the implications.

If you are a 2nd class citizen: If you are a 1st class citizen:
Think twice about giving birth outside Canada: your child will not inherit your Canadian citizenship and might be stateless. Think twice about giving birth outside Canada: your grandchild might be stateless.
You do not have the option of direct grant citizenship if you are adopting a child abroad. Think twice about obtaining direct grant citizenship if you are adopting a child abroad: your grandchild might be stateless.
Think twice about going to the nearest hospital to give birth, if it is in the US.   You will face a lot of bureaucratic hurdles when you return to Canada with your non-Canadian baby. Think twice about going to the nearest hospital to give birth, if it is in the US.  Your grandchild might be stateless.
Try to choose a life partner who is a 1st class citizen if you are planning to have children.  Your partner will then be able to pass on Canadian citizenship to your children.



  • Circulate the information about the changes as widely as possible so that Canadians are aware of the risks and implications of giving birth abroad or applying for direct grant citizenship for their foreign adopted children.
  • Press Parliamentarians to amend the law to reverse these changes and to ensure that all citizens are equal and that no children of Canadian citizens are stateless.


Q: Why did Parliament pass these changes to the Citizenship Act?

A: These changes were included in a bill (C-37) whose main purpose was to restore citizenship to “lost Canadians”.  Parliamentarians felt it was urgent to pass the bill in order to respond as quickly as possible to “lost Canadians”.  However, some Parliamentarians did express concern over the changes to the right to pass on citizenship.  In fact the Senate Committee in its report described these changes as “arbitrary and unfair”.

It is worth noting the irony of Parliament passing amendments to the Citizenship Act that restore citizenship to some “lost Canadians”, but at the same time create new categories of “lost Canadians”.

Q: Why were these changes introduced?

A: The purpose of the changes is to prevent citizenship being passed on from generation to generation in families that have settled outside Canada.  However, the changes make no distinction between, on the one hand, a person who is born in another country where they have citizenship and where their family is settled, and on the other hand, a person who happens to be born in another country but who has lived most of their life in Canada and may have no citizenship other than Canadian.

Q: How could a child be born stateless?

A: Such cases will be the exception because most children will inherit a citizenship from at least one parent, and in some countries (although not that many) citizenship is available to anyone born on the territory.  Other countries will offer citizenship to babies born on their territory who would otherwise be stateless.

Nevertheless, citizenship laws are complex and often conflicting and the problem of statelessness is huge.  There are an estimated 15 million people in the world who are stateless.  Refugees are sometimes stateless.

If the child is not entitled to citizenship from either parent, nor to citizenship from the state on whose territory the child is born, the child will be stateless.

Q: What does the Citizenship Act do for stateless children of Canadian citizens?

A: The Act contains a strange and largely meaningless provision by which a stateless child can obtain citizenship but the child must first live in Canada for three years.  Yet the child has no right to enter Canada and as a stateless child no right to a passport, so it is not clear how the child could travel to Canada to establish residence.  Even if those obstacles are overcome, the child will remain stateless for at least three years.

The provisions mirror the minimum obligations established by the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to which Canada is a party.  The Convention provides, as the first option, that citizenship be granted “at birth, by operation of law” to children of citizens born in another territory who would otherwise be stateless.  However, the law does not adopt this preferred option, but instead limits itself to the absolute minimum allowed by the Convention. This is unworthy of Canada.

In practice, given the lack of solution in the Citizenship Act, parents of stateless children would likely need to turn to the immigration process: i.e. sponsor their child as a permanent resident and then apply for citizenship for the child once in Canada.  The immigration process however does not solve the problem of how the stateless child is going to travel to Canada without a passport.

Q: Why doesn’t the law at least provide citizenship immediately to children of Canadian citizens who would otherwise be stateless?

A: There is no obvious answer to this question.


Citizenship and Immigration Canada information about the changes:

Text of Bill C-37:

Canadian Council for Refugees submission on Bill C-37:

Senate Committee Report on Bill C-37:

Proposed regulations, Canada Gazette, 13 December 2008, (contains an account of the implications of the changes):

Information from the United Nations about statelessness:

Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness:

February 2009 (slightly revised)



1. This includes foreign adopted children who came to Canada through the immigration channel and were naturalized citizens after first being Permanent Residents (this was the only option before 2007 changes to the Citizenship Act).

2. There is an exception for children born to, or adopted by, a parent who is working outside Canada for the Canadian government or a Canadian province or serving with the Canadian forces.