Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on Bill C-467, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (children born abroad), a private member's bill tabled by the member for Vancouver South.
The bill would amend the Citizenship Act to provide that a child born abroad to or adopted abroad by a citizen employed outside Canada, in or with the Canadian armed forces, the federal public administration or the public services of a provinces be considered like a child born in Canada.
I should say at the outset that New Democrats support the bill. We hope it passes this stage and we look forward to discussing it further at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
In recent years, Parliament has spent some time on trying to fix the provisions of the Citizenship Act. We have seen great concern about this law over the years. Problems with the 1947 Citizenship Act in particular led to many Canadians, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Canadians, losing their citizenship. These lost Canadians, as they are called, were and are folks who, any reasonable person would agree, are indeed fully Canadian but because of the peculiarities of the law were excluded from citizenship.
Bill C-37, debated and passed in the previous Parliament, went some way to correcting these problems. However, some problems still exist, as the subject matter of the bill before us today attests.
The Lost Canadians Organization, headed very ably by Don Chapman over very many years, has done incredible work on these issues. They describe the current situation this way:
While Bill C-37 solved the citizenship problems of hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose citizenship had been taken away from them by the arcane provisions of the 1947 Citizenship Act, it also created a new problem of statelessness in children who are born abroad after April 19, 2009, to Canadians who themselves were born abroad.
What this means is that Canadian citizens who were born abroad, called the first generation born abroad, cannot pass on their citizenship to their children if those children are also born abroad. Hence, the second generation born abroad rule, which came into effect in April 2009, has already started to create serious problems for Canadian citizens who do not realize that their children do not qualify for Canadian citizenship.
New Democrats, while supporting the bill before us, believe that it does not go far enough. It is clear that Canadians working in some capacity for the government, in the armed forces or the diplomatic core for example, should be able to ensure that Canadian citizenship is passed to their children, born while they are working overseas, in exactly the same way it would be if that child had been born here in Canada.
There should be no discrimination against children of Canadians who are serving our country overseas, but why the limitation imposed in this bill? Why does this bill not apply to the children of Canadians studying overseas or to those of Canadian journalists working in another country or to those Canadians who work in international aid and development.
What about the children of Canadians working for a Canadian company offshore? Surely these Canadians continue to make a significant contribution to our country by their overseas service. Why should their children and grandchildren be subject to different criteria for maintaining Canadian citizenship than children born here in Canada or than children born to folks serving the government or the armed forces.
This is especially true of children born to Canadians overseas who risk statelessness. This can arise due to the laws of some countries which do not confer citizenship status on children born in that country as we do here in Canada. We must always ensure that no one is at risk of being stateless and our laws must never contribute to someone being or becoming stateless, but we also risk creating statelessness by not allowing a child born to Canadians overseas the ability to pass on their citizenship to one of their children who was also born outside Canada. This must be fixed.
My colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina and the New Democratic citizenship and immigration critic, has identified this problem. That is why she has also tabled a private member's bill, Bill C-397, to resolve this problem. Her bill would end the second generation citizenship cutoff for all children born abroad to Canadian parents.
These changes are crucial in today's world, a world that, thanks to the ease of travel and globalization, is much smaller than it once was, and a world where it is increasingly common and even necessary to work in a foreign country.
Canada is strengthened by the experience gained and the work performed by Canadians overseas. We should be encouraging such activity, not putting in place barriers to it. Ensuring that the children born to Canadians working overseas have Canadian citizenship in exactly the same way that children born here would address one such barrier.
The member for Trinity—Spadina pointed out an interesting aspect of this situation when she spoke to the bill. She noted that in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, and perhaps other provinces, pregnant women have sometimes been sent to U.S. hospitals to give birth because of the lack of space in Canadian neo-natal care units. She wondered if these families knew that because their child was born outside Canada, that there would be a limitation on their child's ability to pass on Canadian citizenship to his or her child if that child were also born outside Canada. She wondered if people knew that their grandchild could potentially be stateless given this situation. Surely this is not an acceptable risk in these particular circumstances.
Some people would doubt the attachment to Canada of Canadians who live and work overseas. While there may be some who find Canadian citizenship convenient, we would be wrong to assume that is true of the vast majority of those who are affected by these circumstances.
We must also ensure that we do not enshrine different classes of citizenship in our laws. Canadians must not be punished because they chose to work overseas and their children and grandchildren must not be punished because they happen to be born outside Canada. There must not be two types of Canadian citizenship: one for those of us born here and one for those of us born elsewhere.
It may be necessary to consider ways to ensure attachment to Canada for individuals who spend considerable time away from home but that is a far different project than putting arbitrary limits on citizenship.
The NDP has made it clear that we will seek amendments to this bill at committee that would ensure it addresses the situation of all children born outside Canada to Canadian parents, not just those born to members of the Canadian armed forces or who are directly working for the Canadian or provincial governments.
To paraphrase what the member for Trinity—Spadina said in her speech, no child should be left stateless because his or her father or mother, or grandfather or grandmother, chose to become an aid or development worker and do good work outside Canada. No child should be left stateless because his or her parents or grandparents decided to work as journalists overseas. No Canadian mother working overseas should be forced to travel home to Canada, interrupting her family and career just to have her baby in Canada to preserve that child's full citizenship rights.
This bill is a start and it provides an opportunity, which is why I will support it. I hope other members will do the same.