Executive Summary – Canadian Citizenship: Practice and Policy

(Disponible en français : Résumé – La citoyenneté canadienne : pratiques et politiques)

Canadian citizenship can be obtained through birth on Canadian soil, by descent through birth or adoption outside of Canada to a Canadian citizen, or through naturalization (the process by which citizenship is obtained by a foreign national). Requirements related to citizenship are laid out in the Citizenship Act, as well as in the Citizenship Regulations and Citizenship Regulations, No. 2.

Responsibility for implementing the Citizenship Act lies with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, who is supported by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in managing the citizenship application process. The Citizenship Commission – an administrative body under IRCC that is made up of citizenship judges – also plays an important role, with duties including assessing citizenship applications to ensure they meet certain requirements under the Act and administering the Oath or Affirmation of Citizenship.

To become a Canadian citizen through naturalization, an individual must first obtain permanent residency in Canada and then apply for citizenship after meeting residency and other requirements. Applicants between 18 and 54 years of age must also complete a written test based on the official citizenship study guide (Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship) and attend an interview to test their abilities in English or French and to discuss their application. Successful applicants attend a citizenship ceremony and take the Oath or Affirmation of Citizenship, through which they swear or affirm their allegiance to the Queen of Canada.

Loss of citizenship can occur if it is revoked (for example, due to citizenship being acquired or retained through false representation) or it can be renounced voluntarily (for example, if an individual chooses to become a citizen of a country that does not allow dual citizenship).

Several issues are currently at the forefront of discourse on citizenship policy. For example, census data show that the rate of citizenship among eligible immigrants declined between 2006 and 2016. The citizenship rate varies for different groups, with contributing factors including income level, education level and country of origin.

Another key issue is that of “lost Canadians,” which refers to individuals who were born before the 1977 Citizenship Act came into force and who should have been Canadian citizens under that Act but were deprived of Canadian citizenship because of outdated or obsolete provisions in the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947. Many of the problems associated with “lost Canadians” have been addressed through amendments made to the Citizenship Act since 1977. Those whose cases are not covered by legislative amendments may be granted citizenship on a case-by-case basis at the minister’s discretion.

Finally, the concept of birth tourism refers to the practice by foreign nationals of coming to Canada to give birth for the sole purpose of securing Canadian citizenship for their child. While data suggest an increase in non-resident births in the past decade, it is difficult to determine how many non-resident births are cases of birth tourism. The federal government has recognized the need to better understand the extent of this practice and has commissioned further research on this topic.

Read the full text of the Background Paper: Canadian Citizenship: Practice and Policy

Authors: Madalina Chesoi and Eleni Kachulis, Library of Parliament