Vancouver Sun: Ireland saves Canadian's daughter from being stateless

Vancouver Sun
Rachel Chandler's status highlights a policy that could see thousands of stateless children born abroad to Canadians

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun

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Rachel Chandler is 16 months old and the only person in her immediate family with an Irish passport.

Except for Ireland's generosity, Rachel would be stateless even though her father, Patrick, has lived all but five of his 23 years in Canada and has no citizenship other than Canadian.

Rachel Chandler

Rachel was born less than two months after the Canadian government amended the Citizenship Act and stripped Canadians like Patrick of their right to pass on citizenship to their children. Rachel may well be the first of what could turn out to be thousands of stateless children born abroad to Canadians.

It's happened because the Canadian government in April 2009 amended its Citizenship Act. Ironically, the intention was to restore citizenship to a generation of so-called Lost Canadians, whose citizenship was stripped by the 1974 changes.

But Rachel is fortunate. Her paternal grandfather was born in Ireland, which allows people to claim citizenship if they have a grandparent from there.

Rachel's father Patrick was born in Libya to an Irish-born father and American-born mother (whose family roots include two generations of Canadians). Rachel's grandparents were there teaching English.

When Rachel was two, the Chandlers moved from Libya to Mississauga, Ont. where Patrick has lived 18 of his 23 years. For the last three years, he's been working in Beijing as an educational consultant where he met Fiona, Rachel's Chinese-born mother.

Rachel was also not automatically eligible for Chinese citizenship.

Unlike Canada, China doesn't automatically give citizenship to babies born there.

Secondly, the Chandlers weren't married at the time of Rachel's birth and China doesn't recognize so-called illegitimate children as citizens.

Canadian officials told the Chandlers that the only options were for Patrick to: return to Canada, either leaving behind both Rachel and Fiona, while he applied to sponsor them as immigrants under the family reunification program; or, apply on Rachel's behalf for a temporary travel document which would have allowed her to bring his daughter to Canada for three years until she would be eligible to apply for citizenship.

The problem with the second option is that it is both discretionary and that it might have meant leaving Fiona behind.

But one official had another suggestion: Try Ireland.

Ireland took Rachel in when Canada wouldn't. Without Ireland, Rachel -like millions of stateless people worldwide -would have been literally trapped, unable to leave permanently or even for vacation.

What makes this so galling to Patrick and others like him is that naturalized Canadians (i. e. immigrants) and their children can pass on citizenship to the next generation.

That's not the only unfairness. Children born overseas to Canadian government employees working there aren't deemed to be Canadian born either.

So foreign-born children of diplomats' kids born abroad are now stateless. So are some grandchildren of Armed Forces personnel who were serving overseas when their kids were born.

Vancouver MP Ujjal Dosanjh's private member's bill is on track to fix those oversights. But the bill doesn't deal with others like Chandler. Not only was Dosanjh not fully aware of the problems faced by other Canadians when he first proposed it, Dosanjh says he's deliberately kept the scope narrow because it may be the only way for the bill to make it through the House of Commons and into law.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Expat Association is lobbying on behalf of its members like Chandler. So is the Canadian Council of Refugees, which warned of the implications of rendering children of Canadians stateless long before the 2009 amendments were made.

And so is Don Chapman, whose earlier efforts were aimed at restoring citizenship to the previous generations of Lost Canadians.

Like the refugee council, Chapman warned long before the amendments were enacted that it would result in more Lost Canadians.

Nobody in government listened.

Nobody wants Canadian citizenship to become meaningless because it's so easily obtained that generations can have it without even bothering to step foot into the country.

But the government should have listened to what Chapman proposed.

Immigrants need to spend only three years here before being eligible for citizenship. So Chapman argues that the Canadians born abroad who can prove that they've spent three years in the country should also have the full rights of citizenship, including the privilege of being able to pass it on to their children.

It's a simple solution. And unlike the current legislation, it seems fair even if Canada were to require that those three years be spent here before a person's 30th birthday.

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