Celebrating Canadian Citizenship
Opinion by Dave Glover
I’ll never forget the look in my dad’s face when I told him he was the first Canadian citizen in his family.
He protested saying his family had been living in Canada for as long as he could remember and that his grandparents and great grandparents were also Canadian.
But he was wrong. He didn’t know that on July 1, 1947 Prime Minister Mackenzie King along with twenty-five new Canadians were Canada’s first official citizens. Before 1947, all persons born in Canada, known historically as, British North America, were British Subjects.
With the passing of the Citizenship Act in that year, anyone born in Canada after that date was automatically Canadian. Born in September of that year, my father was the first Canadian in his family.
I realize that people born before that date consider themselves Canadians and they’re no-less Canadian than those born after that date, but it’s an interesting fact.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of official Canadian citizenship.
This is where I get into the changes in various Canadian citizenship acts, so hang on to your hats. Or just skip to the bottom. The various acts important to the issue of citizenship are a bit dry.
Let’s begin with The Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947. This first step created the category of Canadian citizenship and allowed residents of Canada to obtain citizenship regardless of their country of origin. Up to January 1, 1947, there was no legal status of Canadian citizens, only British subjects. This one change gave legal recognition to the terms “Canadian citizen” and “Canadian citizenship” and also established who was and who could become a Canadian citizen. There were many provisions for loss of citizenship, including retention provisions for the first and subsequent generations born outside Canada. The Act also contained provisions which provided special treatment for British subjects. In general, Canadian citizens who acquired citizenship of another country automatically lost Canadian citizenship (dual citizenship was not recognized).
The act came into effect on January 1st of that year and was instrumental in helping to shape our Canadian Identity. Over the years there have been many changes to the act.
The Citizenship Act, of February 15, 1977, replaced the 1947 Act with a more equitable statute. British subjects no longer received special treatment and dual citizenship became recognized. There was only one provision for automatic loss of citizenship, limited to persons born in the second or subsequent generation outside Canada unless they took steps to retain their citizenship by their 28th birthday.
December 23, 2007 saw the passage of Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption), The changes allow for the granting of citizenship to children born outside Canada and adopted by Canadian parents, without requiring that such children first become permanent residents a welcome change.
That wouldn’t be the last time the act was amended. On April 17th of 2009 Bill C-37, an Act to amend the Citizenship Act, came into force. It restored or gave Canadian citizenship automatically on that date to many who had never had it or who had lost it due to previous legislation, and limited Canadian citizenship by descent to the first generation born outside Canada. Bill C-37 also contained an exception to the first-generation limit for children born or adopted outside Canada to a serving Crown servant (i.e., the parent who was employed outside Canada in or with the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal public administration, or the public service of a province or territory, otherwise than as a locally engaged person, at the time of the child’s birth or adoption).
When Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, received royal assent on June 19, 2014, it represented the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act since 1977. It contains a range of legislative amendments to further improve the citizenship. The changes in the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act came into force at various dates following royal assent. All of the changes came into force on June 11, 2015. Bill C-24 extended citizenship automatically on that date to more people who were born before the Canadian Citizenship Act took effect on January 1, 1947 did not acquire Canadian citizenship that date, as well as to their children who were born outside Canada in the first generation. The new law also automatically extended citizenship on that date to British subjects neither born nor naturalized in Canada and were ordinarily resident in Canada on January 1, 1947 (on or before April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), and who did not acquire Canadian citizenship on January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, or before that date in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador). It also extended the Crown servant exception to the first-generation limit to citizenship by descent to include the grandchildren of serving Crown servants. This means that citizenship was extended to a child of a Canadian parent who was born or adopted outside Canada to a serving Crown servant. This change came into force on June 19, 2014, retroactively to April 17, 2009, the date where the first-generation limit was first introduced. All of these changes and amendments have only strengthened our national identity and what it means to be and become a Canadian.
I have probably lost a few readers in the details of these changes in the citizenship requirements, but the reason for such detail is to illustrate how the road to where we are has been fraught with many challenges.
I am and have always been a huge supporter of being a Canadian because I believe the sense of belonging is important if we’re going to ask people to buy into and invest in Canada. Being a citizen means a person has skin the game.
We’re a very young country, but we have a long history. From the 1600’s to confederation in 1867, we grew as a nation until we asked for our independence. We didn’t wage a war, we simply asked.
Polite as always. So Canadian.
As we head into summer, with Canada day mere weeks away, it’s important that we remember how we got to where we are. How important Citizenship is to our Nation, and also how it is important to the people who live here in peace and freedom. There is security that comes with knowing you belong and have a place to call home.
This Canada Day we’ll have 75 years under our belts as bona fide citizens of Canada. Let’s not only celebrate our Nation’s Founding in 1867, but the fact of our citizenship.
Celebrate with two birthday cakes this year. One for Canada’s birthday and one for your citizenship. Because looking outside of our borders at what is going on in the rest of the world, it’s a fact that being Canadian seems more important than ever right now.
Dave Glover is one of Northumberland’s well known cultural and political commentators. Thousands of listeners, both locally and around the world, know Dave’s because of his more than eight years on air delivering his “Drive Time” radio broadcast and over 15 years hosting political programs on a local community cable channel.
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