McKercher: How the Liberals are keeping my granddaughter from being a Canadian
From the moment she arrived last month, Noelle Rose became one of the joys of my life. And a source of sadness.
Her mother – my daughter Madeline – comes from a long line of Scottish immigrants who settled in the Ottawa Valley in the 1840s. We are proudly Canadian, and have been since before Canada was, well, Canada.
But due to a 2009 change to the Citizenship Act, lovely Noelle, the seventh generation of our Canadian family, is not a Canadian. And her mother, it turns out, is a second-class Canadian, unable to pass her citizenship on to her daughter.
The reason: they were both born in the wrong country. And that, apparently, trumps all.
Here’s how that happened. In 1977, I went to Washington as a correspondent for The Canadian Press news service. I met and married my husband, Vincent Mosco, there. Our daughters, Rosemary and Madeline, are U.S. citizens by birth, but I registered them as Canadians too. I hoped we might all move north. Even if we did not, I wanted them to have the same citizenship I had. The photo on Madeline’s citizenship card is of a bald-headed baby who looks vaguely confused by the whole business.
We moved to Canada when Madeline was a year old. My husband came as a landed immigrant; he’s a citizen now. Madeline went to neighbourhood schools, earned a bilingualism certificate in high school, graduated from Carleton, travelled on a Canadian passport, voted and paid taxes.
She was – she is – as Canadian as any Canadian can be.
After graduation she decided to explore her American roots and moved to her father’s hometown, New York, where she met her wonderful husband, Derek. They now live in Florida. At some point she’d like to move her family to Canada. Even if she doesn’t, she wants her daughter to be a Canadian citizen.
Until 2009, foreign-born Canadians like Madeline had the right to pass on their citizenship to their children. The Conservative government eliminated that right.
It seems the government was concerned about foreigners coming to Canada, staying long enough to become citizens, then going home and passing their citizenship on to children and grandchildren, who would have no ties to Canada other than their citizenship papers. Citizenship should be limited, former Citizenship and Immigration minister Jason Kenney told the CBC, to “those people who have some kind of enduring presence or commitment to Canada.”
It came up with the “one generation” rule: Canadians born abroad cannot pass their citizenship on to their children unless those children are born in Canada.
I had hoped that when the Liberal government introduced changes to the Citizenship Act this year it would eliminate that rule. I was thrilled when I heard the new immigration minister, John McCallum, say, “We believe very strongly that there should be only one class of Canadians, that all Canadians are equal, that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian from coast to coast to coast.”
But while the Liberal legislation gets rid of some of the Conservatives’ harshest amendments – including one passed in 2014 that expanded the government’s ability to revoke citizenship from dual Canadian citizens – it leaves the “one generation” rule untouched.
And that breaks my heart.
If foreign-born Canadians really are a problem – and that’s a very big if – the “one generation” rule is the crudest way to solve it. Of all things you can control in your life, your birthplace isn’t one of them. Madeline did not choose to be born in the U.S.; I made that choice for her. But that doesn’t make her less of a Canadian.
If the government wants foreign-born Canadians to demonstrate “some kind of enduring presence or commitment to Canada,” there must be other ways to do so. Madeline’s “commitment to Canada” goes without question. Nevertheless, while her Canadian-born friends who’ve had children abroad can register them as Canadians, she cannot. If a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, why does her citizenship have less value than theirs?
It is deeply discriminatory and utterly unfair.
I’m told the government is looking at other citizenship issues, including this one, and more legislation may be on its way. May be. But maybe not.
Here’s an idea to get things going. If you are in the same position as my family – and lots of you are already, or will be when your kids start having kids – call your member of Parliament. Write the prime minister. Write Minister McCallum. If you believe the “one generation” rule is wrong, complain. If you think it’s unconstitutional, take the government to court.
Above all, don’t take your citizenship rights for granted. When a seventh-generation Canadian like my granddaughter Noelle loses hers, your rights are more fragile than you think.
Catherine McKercher is professor emeritus at the Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication.