Citizenship

The Citizenship Act, which is the current nationality legislation in force in Canada, came into effect on 15 February 1977. It defines "citizen" as "a Canadian citizen" and provides that both native-born and naturalized citizens are equally entitled to all the rights, powers and privileges and subject to all the obligations, duties and liabilities of a citizen, which are governed by numerous provincial and federal laws and the Constitution Act. In all provinces and in the federal jurisdiction, citizens of the age of majority are guaranteed political rights including the right to vote and run for office.

Before 1947
Canada's Naturalization Acts conferred British subject status on immigrants being naturalized in Canada and on native-born alike. The Canadian Citizenship Act, the first nationality statute in Canada to define its people as Canadians, came into force on 1 January 1947. Among other things, the Act gave married women full authority over their nationality status. From 1947 onwards women have neither gained nor lost Canadian nationality status through marriage. Under nationality legislation in effect prior to 1947, a married woman's nationality status in Canada had, for the most part, been linked to that of her husband.

The Citizenship Act of 1976
The Citizenship Act of 1976 recognized the equality of women in citizenship matters and as well removed the remaining differences between groups of people seeking to become citizens. All persons born in Canada are, with minor exceptions (eg, children of diplomats), Canadian citizens at birth.

Children born abroad on or after 15 February 1977 are automatically citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth. However, children born abroad in the second and succeeding generations of children so born from that date are required before the age of 28 to apply to retain citizenship, to register as a citizen and either live in Canada for one year prior to making the application or have established a substantial connection with Canada. Children under the age of majority, one or both of whose parents have become citizens, are also eligible for citizenship, provided an application for citizenship is made on their behalf and they have been admitted to Canada for permanent residence by the immigration authorities. Adult persons who have been admitted to Canada for permanent residence may qualify for citizenship after 3 or more years of residence in Canada and the fulfilment of certain other conditions. The minister responsible for citizenship at present, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, has the discretion to waive some requirements for citizenship and the governor-in-council has the discretionary power to direct the grant of citizenship to any person to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada. This latter power is rarely used but in a world community aware of human needs it could prove significant.

The 1976 Immigration Act (s4)
Under the 1976 Immigration Act (s4) Canadian citizens have the absolute right to enter and live in Canada. This right also pertains to natives under the Indian Act whether or not they are citizens. Permanent residents and Convention Refugees who are allowed certain rights in Canada are also subject to certain restrictions. Only Canadian citizens are eligible to obtain Canadian passports, although permanent residents may be granted a travel document. Many Canadian professional associations, eg, law societies and medical associations, require practitioners of their profession to be citizens.

At present, an application for the grant, retention, renunciation or resumption of citizenship (except for the grant of citizenship made on behalf of a minor) is initially considered by a citizenship judge. Both the minister and the person concerned have the right to appeal the judge's decision to the federal court, trial division. The governor-in-council may refuse an application for the grant, resumption, or renunciation of citizenship but the grounds for this are narrow. Both the grant of citizenship and the renunciation of citizenship can be revoked by the governor-in-council if obtained by fraud, misrepresentation or concealment of material circumstances. A person who was admitted to Canada for permanent residence under false pretenses is deemed to have obtained Canadian citizenship by false pretenses as well. The revocation is made by the governor-in-council following a report made by the minister which can only be made after the person has been notified of his or her right to have the case referred to the federal court, trial division.

The issue of revocation has acquired notoriety in recent years because of the controversy which surrounds the granting of citizenship to alleged Nazi war criminals. There could be doubt about the constitutionality of revocation, because the possibility creates a distinction between naturalized and native-born citizens which might run afoul of s15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Citizens residing in Canada may not renounce their citizenship unless permitted to do so by the minister. Those who have ceased to be citizens may resume citizenship after being admitted to Canada for permanent residence and residing in Canada for at least one year following such admission and immediately preceding the date of application. Canadian citizens may hold any number of citizenships at the same time, providing the other country or countries concerned also recognize the concept of dual or plural nationality. Citizens of other Commonwealth countries and Ireland are recognized as Commonwealth citizens in Canada, a status which is viewed as symbolic.

A new Citizenship Act is before Parliament (1996). The legislation will attempt to streamline the citizenship process. Proposals in the new legislation include: the elimination of the position of Citizenship judge, the amendment of the oath of Citizenship and the inclusion of a more detailed definition of residency. The ceremonies granting citizenship will take place in community venues and will be presided over by prominent Canadians (eg, recipients of the Order of Canada). The present system of interviews with Citizenship Judges will be replaced with written tests.

Noncitizens
Noncitizens in Canada do not enjoy political rights but generally have all legal rights and are subject to the law in the same way as citizens. Permanent residents are entitled to work in Canada, while visitors usually are not.

See alsoImmigration.