Tens of thousands of children could benefit from a proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act to allow Canadian residents under the age of 18 to apply on their own for Canadian citizenship, say advocates.
Ontario Senator Victor Oh proposed legislation on Thursday that asks Canada to follow the lead of Norway and make it possible for minors to apply for citizenship separately from their parents.
The proposal would apply to a cross-section of youths in Canada — including asylum seekers, children estranged from their parents, young people with criminal convictions, and minors who don’t want to follow their parents back to nations such as India and China that don’t allow dual passports.
Canadian law currently requires permanent residents who want to apply for citizenship to be at least 18 years of age or to be included in a parent or guardian’s immigration application.
That “places some highly vulnerable minors at risk of removal once they become adults,” says a brief prepared by the senators.
A change in the citizenship law could have significant consequences for thousands of young people in Ontario and B.C., where three out of 10 residents are foreign-born.
In addition, the senators’ amendment is a response to the growing number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Canada, which rose by more than 50 per cent to 3,400 in 2016.
Senator Ho’s motion, which has been supported by B.C. Senator Mobina Jaffer, echoes similar recommendations made last year to an Ottawa citizenship committee by Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan and Winnipeg Conservative MP Michelle Rempel.
“This would be the biggest push forward for children’s rights in Canada in decades,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who helped the senators draft the proposal.
Currently, the only way that a Canadian resident under 18 can apply for citizenship on their own is on “compassionate” grounds. But that avenue is rarely used.
In contrast, Norway allows citizenship applications from youth who have been in the country for five of the previous seven years. Denmark is open to youths becoming immigrants on their own if they have gone to school in the country for four years.
The background paper accompanying the complex legislative proposal said it would make it possible for the following kinds of young people to become Canadian citizens through their own application process:
• “Unaccompanied minors,” that is young people who arrive in Canada unaccompanied by an adult. The brief argues many are at risk of exploitation and abuse by traffickers.
• Children who have gone into “protective custody” because of physical or sexual abuse by their parents or guardians.
• Children who are orphans, or who have run away from their parents or guardians.
• Children of parents who are permanent residents but who do not meet language requirements to become citizens.
• Children who as young adults become convicted of a criminal offence.
Kurland said the revised application process would also be open to minors whose parents have applied for immigration status but who have worked outside of Canada for so long that the parents fail to meet requirements for citizenship.
In addition, the immigration lawyer said new legislation would allow a youth in Canada to follow a different route from their Canadian-resident parents — who might decide against becoming citizens of Canada because they don’t want to give up the passport of their homeland.
Unlike Canada, China and India, which are two of the largest sources of immigrants to Canada, do not allow dual citizenship.
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