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Canadian military couple fights for adopted child's right to citizenship

Photos of Sarah Currie and Smith. Photo courtesy of Sarah Currie

Not Canadian enough?

Sarah Currie and her husband Mike are an Ottawa-based couple looking forward to bringing a child in their lives: 23-month-old Smith, a boy currently living in a Haitian orphanage.

But what should be a joyful moment is clouded by the fact that the federal government has rejected the couple's application to pass down citizenship to their son, due to an obscure legal technicality that puts foreign-born Canadians at a disadvantage. 

Sarah and Mike are thoroughly Canadian. Both are descended from multiple generations of Canadians. They live in Canada and pay their taxes. Their parents on both sides served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and Mike has done three tours in Afghanistan (his last name can’t be used because he’s still on active duty).

But here's the problem: Mike and Sarah were both born in Germany while their parents were working with the military. According to changes made to Bill C-37 in 2009, born-abroad Canadians can't transfer their citizenship to their children if those children weren’t born in Canada.

In what Currie has called a “slap in the face”, authorities called to deny the couple's application. Had they simply been born in Canada, or had they been naturalized immigrants, they would not have had this problem.

When reached for comment, Citizenship and Immigration responded on Tuesday with a quote from former citizenship minister Jason Kenney: 

"We think citizenship is so important...we want to limit it to those people who have some kind of enduring presence or commitment to Canada."

There was no mention of whether children of Canadian Armed Forces workers were deemed as having a sufficient connection to Canada. 

Lost Canadians: the new generation

Currie could still apply to bring Smith into Canada as a permanent resident. But it's not the same, she argues.

“There’s quite a difference between coming to Canada as a citizen and coming to Canada as a permanent resident,” Currie explained. “As a permanent resident he’ll come here on a Haitian passport. So when we leave Haiti, we have to fly directly to Canada. We cannot even have a layover in the United States, he’d require a visa to enter the United States, even for 30 minutes.”

The couple's situation highlights a persisting problem with Canadian citizenship law that has created “Lost Canadians”, a group of legitimate Canadians who either lost or never attained citizenship due to outdated laws which discriminate based on gender and marital status. While 95 per cent of Lost Canadian citizenship claims were resolved by Bill C-37, an Act to Amendment the Citizenship Act, the amendment also stripped some Canadians, like Sarah and Mike, of their basic citizenship rights.

Bill C-37 guarantees citizenship to children of Armed Forces personnel and diplomats born abroad. But second generation children born abroad are not guaranteed Canadian citizenship and could be rendered stateless, a violation of the Geneva Convention.

Not "Canadians of convenience"

The main reason why the Canadian government amended citizenship law to exclude second generation children born abroad was to address what was dubbed in the media as “Canadians of convenience”: in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, the government spent $94 million evacuating Canadian "citizens" from Lebanon, some of whom were generations removed from Canada or dual citizens who spent most of their time abroad. The government placed the cut-off date at first generation born abroad, but to Currie, this unfairly punishes legitimate Canadians serving their country who happened to be born beyond the borders.

“If they want to fix the problem of dual citizenship, they should fix dual citizenship,” she said.

“Some people are born outside Canada because they have no other choice and those people – soldiers, children born to diplomats – all of these people are sent overseas to serve and to represent Canada and their children should then be treated as though they were born on Canadian soil.”

Back in Canada's capital, their anxiety is mounting as Smith’s adoption date rapidly approaches. They have already wasted 10 months applying for and being denied citizenship for Smith despite having consulted representatives from the CIC’s own call centre and an immigration lawyer who told them they wouldn’t have a problem securing citizenship for Smith. The process is said to usually take 10 weeks.

The couple have received support from MP Jim Karygiannis , who has sent an application directly to the Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and has helped them build an online petition to support their son's citizenship.

Sarah and Mike are still waiting to hear whether young Smith will start his life in Canada as a full Canadian or as a Lost Canadian.

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