In 2017 I’ve seen a huge uptake in potential client enquiries, especially from Americans, about confirming their proof of Canadian citizenship.
Canada has one of the world’s more liberal citizenship regimes, where you can be eligible for Canadian citizenship and acquire proof of that citizenship primarily by way of: (1) location of birth in Canada; (2) at least one parent being a Canadian citizen; or (3) by a naturalization application process after being accepted as a permanent resident.
THE SIMPLICITY OF CANADIAN BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP - JUS SOLI (RIGHT OF SOIL)
Lawyers love Latin, and citizenship law is no exception. Jus Soli is the technical legal term for citizenship acquired through birth. Only about 30 countries in the world - almost all of which are in North and South America - unconditionally grant citizenship to anyone born within their territories.
Lex Soli is the term used for the body of law governing if and how Jus Soli applies. Canada does have a narrow exception to Jus Soli in that if neither parent is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and either was employed at the time of birth by a foreign government or international organization in Canada, then you’re not entitled to Canadian citizenship even if you’re born in Canada. This is more than a theoretical exception, as Canadian-born Deepan Budlakoti found out when he was effectively rendered stateless through this process.
A certified copy of your birth certificate from a Canadian province or territory is the main document you’ll need to submit with your application to claim Canadian Birthright Citizenship.
THE COMPLEXITY OF CANADIAN CITIZENSHIP BY DESCENT - JUS SANGUINIS (RIGHT OF BLOOD)
Citizenship by Descent - also known as Jus Sanguinis for Latin lovers - gets more complicated than Birthright Citizenship. There are several exceptions to Jus Sanguinis in Canada, and not just who you were born to but also your date of birth can be very important.
Generally the Citizenship Act grants Canadian citizenship to those born outside Canada to at least one Canadian parent, but the Act was recently changed to limit that citizenship by descent to one generation, meaning the children of children who so acquired citizenship by decent won’t also become Canadians automatically. Thus you’re a Canadian if one parent was a Canadian, but not if only a grandparent was a Canadian.
However, and this is a BIG however, the "first generation rule" only came into force on 17 April 2009 and is not retroactive. So if you were born prior to 17 April 2009 when the new rule came into effect, you’re in luck and can still claim Canadian citizenship regardless of how many generations back your Canadian direct ascendants were born in Canada (subject unfortunately again to some significant exceptions). This is especially important for Americans, who may be descended from Canadians who moved to the United States for economic reasons a number of generations ago.
But your ancestor must have been a British Subject as of 1 January 1947, the date on which the Canadian Citizenship Act came into force (with a slightly later date if your ancestor is from Newfoundland). This means that practically there was a limit on the number of generations citizenship could be passed down.
For proof of citizenship by descent, in addition to a copy of your birth certificate from the country in which you were born listing the names of your Canadian parent(s), you’ll also need proof of at least one of them being Canadian such as their own birth certificates or their citizenship certificates. If you’re hoping to prove a higher generation of descent, you’ll need birth certificates and proof of citizenship up the chain of descent.
You’ll also need certified translations of any documents in languages other than French or English.
Unlike Birthright Citizenship, Citizenship by Descent can get very complicated. I often recommend a consultation with an immigration lawyer for those hoping to claim Citizenship by Descent in order to avoid frustration and disappointment over (mis)assumptions and the proof required.
WHY YOU NEED TO APPLY AS SOON & AS COMPLETELY AS POSSIBLE FOR PROOF OF CANADIAN CITIZENSHIP
Current Government of Canada processing times for proof of citizenship range from five months to a year, depending on the complexity of your application. Even the slightest error in the documents you submit can result in your application being returned and you having to completely restart the process. Thus you should apply as soon and as completely as possible. You’ll find all the required government application forms online, including an estimate calculator for current processing delay times.
Obtaining proof of citizenship is something I tell my clients they can do for themselves. But if success on the first try and in as rapid a means as possible is important to you, consider using an immigration lawyer. Our fees (and the fees of most other lawyers who handle citizenship) aren’t especially high as compared to other kinds of more complicated immigration processes.
Another option most lawyers will offer is a consultation on eligibility for citizenship, when you are thinking that you may or may not want to undertake the application yourself, but wish to definitely confirm before doing so whether or not you’ll qualify. Canadian citizenship through birth or descent isn’t discretionary - either you’ll qualify, or you won’t.
Gordon S. Campbell has served as legal counsel to the Department of Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada as well as the Canada Border Service Agency, and litigated public law cases as high as the Supreme Court of Canada. He now helps individuals and businesses with their citizenship and immigration needs.