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Some children will have a lesser class of citizenship


Douglas R. Chalke
Executive Director, Sunrise Adoption, North Vancouver, B.C.
January 29, 2009

Update September 25/09: Prediction Comes True! Read a real-life story about a "stateless" child (pdf)

The Canadian government has passed a new citizenship law that resolves a variety of issues about Canadian citizenship (Bill C-37). Buried in that law is a provision that has passed unnoticed, until now, which puts limitations on the Canadian citizenship rights of some internationally adopted children. Recent articles in the National Post, the Globe & Mail and the Ottawa Citizen have brought these provisions to the attention of the adoption community.

Although this new law came into effect on April 17, 2009, I hope it is not too late for adopting parents to express their views (read Complex Citizenship Laws Anger Adopting Parents). The provisions of the new law are complex, so I have set out a series of questions and answers at the end of this article, which I hope will clarify the finer points of the new rules.

A good way to begin understanding the issues is to read the newspaper articles "Critics Fear Two-Tier Citizenship" and "Citizenship Changes Could Create Inferior Citizens". For the perspective of Robin Hilborn of Family Helper, see "Canadian law denies citizenship to children of foreign adoptees"

Essentially the legislation provides that the children of some internationally adopted children will not have a right to Canadian citizenship. In practice, this is likely to affect only a small proportion of all adopted children. What upsets adopting parents, however, is the notion that their children will have a lesser class of citizenship. In effect, the children are being discriminated against. Adopting parents do not want to feel that their children are second-class citizens.

Adopting parents in Canada are losing their tolerance for being discriminated against. Resentment at the inherent discrimination against adopting families built into the EI legislation has been simmering for the past decade (for a detailed description of the discrimination which adopting parents feel about this subject, see our earlier Spotlight, "Adoption in the Workplace"). Now a new law that discriminates against their children is going to have a galvanizing effect on the adoption community.

The Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, 2008, begins with the following words:

"The Citizenship Act, under which CIC grants citizenship to eligible newcomers, affirms that all Canadians have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities whether they are citizens by birth or naturalization."

That changed April 17, 2009. In an attempt to solve the problem of Canadian citizenship being handed down generationally to people who don't actually live in Canada, the government has reduced the citizenship rights of some internationally adopted children, and effectively created a lesser class of citizenship for them. Was this really necessary? It feels like a sledgehammer was used to kill a flea. Could not a more elegant solution have been found to actually deal with the perceived problem?

The Report of the Senate Standing Committee, which reviewed Bill C-37, states:

"Such a distinction would grant citizenship to a first generation born outside Canada while denying it to their children and subsequent generations were they to be born abroad. Such a provision strikes your Committee as arbitrary and unfair."

The Committee also added: "Rather, the Committee urges the government to ensure that all aspects of new citizenship legislation are Charter-compliant and consistent with Canadian values".

As a result of concerns by the Immigration Department about the confusion surrounding the new law, it recently issued a clarification.

In a published response to the concerns of adopting parents, the Minister states:

"Critics have entirely missed the point of how changes to our citizenship law, which come into effect on April 17, 2009, will protect the value of citizenship."

I don't think that is true. Adopting parents probably do understand the concerns that the government has about protecting the integrity of Canadian citizenship. It is the specific solution, which the government has come up with that they are protesting.

It is an insult to adopting parents to say that their children now have a lesser class of Canadian citizenship. The government needs to rethink these provisions and find a solution that does not put limitations on the rights of citizenship for internationally adopted children. The government should find a solution which fits the actual problem. This article is a call to action for adopting parents. Adopting parents who wish to make their views known to the government should do so immediately. Prior to doing so, however, please read the questions and answers set out below. The law is quite technical and there is already confusion about who the law would apply to. This is not helped by the government's own website, which is not clear. If, after reading the article and the new rules, additional questions arise that should be asked in the list below, please send them to me and I will add them to the article.

For the purposes of this article, I will use the terms Class A citizenship to refer to full-rights citizenship and Class B to refer to the new, lesser-rights citizenship.

Q1. Who does the new law apply to?
A. The new law applies to adopted children who receive their citizenship abroad, pursuant to the new direct citizenship provisions enacted in Canada on December 23, 2007. [See also Q10 below]

Q2. Who is not subject to the new rules?
The new rules do not apply to the following:

(a) adopted children born in Canada;

(b) Internationally adopted children who come to Canada on a permanent resident visa and subsequently obtained Canadian citizenship after their arrival in Canada. Up until now this has been the situation of most (but not all) children adopted overseas and brought to Canada. They will not be affected by the new rule, despite what it says on the Canada Immigration website.
The web posting "New Citizenship Rules" states:
"This limitation will also apply to foreign-born individuals adopted by a Canadian parent. The adopted children of Canadian citizens will be considered to be the first generation born abroad. This means that:
If a person born outside Canada and adopted by a Canadian parent has a child outside Canada, that child will not be a citizen by birth;........"

This information is misleading. In a clarifying email from the Ministry of Citizenship & Immigration (which doesn't seem to be posted anywhere at the moment), an official makes it clear that the restriction on obtaining Canadian citizenship only applies to situations described in the above quote and where the parent of the child born outside of Canada originally was granted Canadian citizenship overseas pursuant to the new 2007 direct to citizenship route. This misstatement on the government website has caused some parents to believe that the new law will apply to their children, when in fact it will not.

(c) The new law will not apply to children who would normally fall into the Class B citizenship definition, but whose parent is working overseas with the Canadian government (Federal or Provincial) or serving overseas in the armed forces. Instead, these children will have Class A citizenship. However, children whose parents are working for Canadian corporations, the United Nations, who are on vacation, or who are otherwise travelling outside of Canada do not get this exemption and will have Class B citizenship. This is a distinction which is hard to justify. If you work for one kind of employer your children are Class A citizens, and if you work for a different kind of employer your children are Class B citizens. Surely there is a better way to sort this out.

Q3. What is the most serious consequence of this new law?
The most serious consequence that is evident at this time is that a child born overseas to an adopted person has a reasonable chance of being a "stateless individual" (this would be the adopting parents' grandchild). This leads to a number of questions:

(a) Why would this happen? - Only some countries grant citizenship to a child born in their country (Canada and the USA being examples of countries that do that). Many countries rely on the citizenship of the child's parents or some other criteria. The child would be born stateless if they did not derive a citizenship through either parent and they are also born in a country where birth on soil does not give access to citizenship. As a stateless person, the child would have no obvious way to come to Canada.

(b) Is there a remedy? - A child of a Canadian who was born stateless abroad would have the option of applying for a grant of citizenship on the basis of statelessness. The amended Citizenship Act has provisions for granting citizenship to stateless children of Canadian citizens, but the child must first live in Canada for three years. This stateless child would have neither a passport nor a right to enter Canada, so it is not even clear how the child could travel to Canada to establish residence. One can only hope that there will be a benevolent immigration officer overseas who has empathy for the predicament that the Class B Canadian citizen finds himself in, and will grant the stateless child some sort of visa to come to Canada. This event will be 20, 30 or 40 years into the future. It is hard to predict what the world will look like then in terms of population and pressures on the Canadian immigration system. What will immigration officers say to a Class B Canadian citizen in 30 years who wants to bring their stateless child back to Canada? Adopting parents today will be the grandparents of that child. We can all hope it's a sympathetic response.

(c) Any born-abroad Canadian adopting parents could immediately face the problem outlined in (b) above. Again, this is because the provisions of the new law apply to children born outside of Canada as well as to those adopted.

Q4. What happens if my adopted child has Class B Canadian citizenship and gives birth to a child overseas?
That child, your grandchild, will not acquire Canadian citizenship. He or she may be eligible to be sponsored as a permanent resident, and then apply for citizenship as soon as he or she becomes a permanent resident.

Q5. How does it work for subsequent generations? Do they have Class A or Class B Canadian citizenship?
Generational Chart Showing Whether Descendants have Class A or B Canadian Citizenship Rights:

Parents Child

(Adopting Parents)



(your adopted child)

If this child receives Canadian Citizenship overseas under the 2007 law, he/she will have Class B Canadian Citizenship


(your grandchild)

If the child of the adopted child above is born outside of Canada, he/she will not be entitled to automatic Canadian Citizenship. The child may apply to enter Canada on a Permanent Resident Visa. If he/she subsequently obtains Canadian Citizenship, then it will be a Class A Citizenship.

Fourth Generation
(your great-grandchild)

The child of this Class A citizen parent, if born inside Canada, (the Adoptive Parents' great-grandchild) will have Class A Citizenship.

Q6. Can I do anything to avoid this new law if I am going to adopt a child in the future?
Yes you can. Do not use the new direct citizenship route for children adopted overseas. Only use the old route of applying for a permanent resident visa for the child, and after the child is landed in Canada apply for Canadian citizenship. This child will have a Class A Canadian citizenship.

Adopting parents report that they are consistently advised by Canada Immigration officials to use the new direct citizenship route. Anyone considering which route to follow should read our previous Spotlight - Citizenship for Adopted Children: Canada's New Law for 2008. In addition, adopting parents should obviously think about whether they wish their children to have Class B Canadian citizenship, and what effect that might have on their grandchildren.

Q7. Does the new law contravene the Charter of Rights?
I don't know. The government has not invoked the "Notwithstanding Clause" under the Constitution of Canada, so the Charter does apply to this legislation. In the 1998 McKenna case, the Canadian Human Rights Code was used to say that it was discriminatory to adopted children not to be able to obtain citizenship overseas. It was this case that 10 years later finally led to the new citizenship law of 2007 permitting just that. On the other hand, adopting parents were not successful in invoking the Charter of Rights to overturn the inherent discrimination in the EI legislation in the 1997 Schafer case. It does seem likely that eventually someone will challenge this notion of Class B citizenship for adopted children under the Charter of Rights. A Charter challenge could also come based on discrimination against persons born abroad to Canadian citizen parents.

Q8. Are the new rules retroactive?
Section 3 (4) of the Citizenship Act states:

"Subsection (3) does not apply to a person who, on the coming into force of that subsection, is a citizen."

What does this clause mean? It means that if you are a citizen on the day the new law comes into force, then you will not lose your citizenship. Unfortunately, the Immigration Department is interpreting this to mean that a person will not lose their Canadian citizenship, but the new provisions will change the quality of your citizenship.

So, for the adoption world, the law will be retroactive and will have the following three results:

(a) Children who have been adopted and obtained their Canadian citizenship overseas since December 23, 2007 will have their Canadian citizenship downgraded from Class A to Class B on April 17, 2009. This will come as an unhappy surprise to Canadian adopting parents, who have pursued the direct citizenship route as a result of non-stop directions from Canada Immigration officials to adopting parents to take the new route; and

(b) Adopting Parents who were born to Canadian parents overseas and acquired Canadian citizenship as a result. Any adopting parents in this category will have their citizenship changed from Class A to Class B on April 17, 2009. As a result, when they adopt overseas, their children are not entitled to direct Canadian citizenship. Their only route will be to sponsor the child as a landed immigrant, obtain a permanent resident visa, and subsequently apply for Canadian citizenship.

(c) Adopting Parents who were adopted overseas themselves as a child, and then became Canadian citizens through the Permanent Resident Visa process. The new law will NOT affect these adopting parents as they have Class A citizenship. Their adopted children will be eligible for direct citizenship (albeit Class B). If these adopting parents use the Permanent Resident Visa process, however, their adopted child will have Class A Canadian citizenship.

A CIC official has verbally confirmed that these provisions are retroactive. We have requested that the government confirm to us, in writing, that the law is retroactive. We will update this section when we receive the government's written answer.

Q9. Does this new law only apply to adopted children?
No, in addition to adopted children, the new rules apply to children born outside of Canada, unless their parent(s) fit within a specific definition. In addition, Bill C-37 (the new law) also deals with many other citizenship issues unrelated to adoption.

Q10. If I am adopting parent who was born abroad to Canadian parents, can I adopt overseas?
A You can adopt, but if you are single you will not be able to use the direct citizenship route. Your child will have to be admitted to Canada with a PR Visa. The reason for this is that the new law applies to children of Canadians born to Canadians overseas, as well as to those adopted overseas. However, if you are married to a Class A Canadian citizen, then you will be able to use the direct citizenship route.

Q11. Is there any "patch" that the government could use to repair this law?
The application of the new law should be suspended until the adoption community has a real chance to have input, and perhaps a better solution is found. One suggestion being proposed would provide an exception to the new law if the adopted child lived in Canada for a certain unspecified period of time. In other words, the child would start with Class B Canadian citizenship, and if the child eventually qualified by living in Canada for a certain period of time, they would graduate to Class A Canadian citizenship. Whether this would be a satisfactory solution for Canadian adopting parents remains to be seen.
Note: These concerns are not limited to children adopted abroad, but also apply to children born abroad. The implications of this law are likely to be seen more immediately for born-abroad Class B citizens than adopted-abroad Class B citizens.

Q12. Why was the adoption community in Canada not consulted before this law was brought into force?
The adoption community in Canada was unaware of these new rules until articles appeared in the press in mid-January, 2009. How did this happen? - Bill C-37 received royal assent on April 17, 2008. It came into force on the first anniversary of that date, April 17, 2009. For over a year preceding the passing of the new law, the government consulted with various interest groups who could be affected by changes to the Citizenship Act. It does not appear to have been made clear, however, that a Class B citizenship would be created for children adopted overseas. On December 13, 2008, the regulations under this new Act were published in the Canada Gazette, and provided for a 30-day comment period. Unfortunately, this comment period extended over the Christmas and New Year's vacation and expired in early January. Buried in the comment attached to the Canada Gazette was the statement , "The aforementioned limitation will also apply to foreign-born persons adopted by a Canadian parent". It was only when these proposed regulations were published that one person noticed this and has been raising an alarm for the past few weeks.
Surely, if the Government of Canada was going to do something as dramatic as create Class B citizenship rules for adopted children in this country, it is incumbent on them to really bring this to the attention of adopting parents, the Adoptive Families Association, the Provincial Adoption Bureaus, Adoption Agencies across Canada, and the Adoption Council of Canada. It is incredibly dismissive of the adoption community to have been treated in this manner by the government.

Q13. What can I do to stop this new law?
Perhaps nothing. The new law (Bill C-37) has been passed, given Royal assent, and the regulations under it are in force. Some parents are currently considering filing a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. And, of course, someone with deep pockets could take a Charter of Rights challenge to try to have the law declared unconstitutional. On the other hand, perhaps adopting parents in Canada can speak out with one voice and object to what has happened. Adopting parents in Canada represent a potent political force. To date, this has been largely untapped. It is time that the Canadian adoption community make its influence felt. There is no reason why we cannot have an Adoption Caucus of MPs and Senators who listen to what's important to the adoption community in Canada. The natural focus of these efforts could be the Adoption Council of Canada, which can harness some of the tremendous energy and opinions of adopting parents in this country. Hopefully, this issue of Class B Canadian citizenship for some internationally adopted children will provide a focus for adopting parents to work together.

In the meantime, parents who wish to comment on what has happened should contact their Member of Parliament and the Adoption Council of Canada.

If you have comments about this article, or about your experience with applying for direct citizenship overseas, please contact us.

Douglas R. Chalke is executive director of Sunrise Adoption agency in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

©2009 Sunrise Family Services Society

Published at Family Helper,, on Oct. 23, 2009.
Previously published online at Sunrise Adoption as "The 2009 Citizenship Law and Adopted Children".


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