Skip to main content

Andrea Fessler found out her third daughter didn’t qualify for Canadian citizenship – even though her two older daughters did – when she arrived at the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong to register.

She’s one of many Canadians who were born abroad and whose children do not qualify for citizenship unless they are born in Canada because of a 2009 change to the law.

There is hope for a reversal of that change as members of Parliament debate amendments to the Citizenship Act. But an ongoing Conservative filibuster is threatening that hope.

Fessler was born in Israel while her father was completing a two-year post-doctoral degree in the country. Her family returned to Canada when she was two, where she grew up in Vancouver before moving to Ottawa to work as a page in the House of Commons.

All three of her girls were born abroad, but because of the legal change in 2009, Fessler’s youngest daughter, Daria, is the only one without legal ties to Canada.

“Had I known about the change of the law in 2009, it’s very possible that I would have gone to Canada to give birth, but I had absolutely no idea,” she said in an interview from her home in Hong Kong.

The NDP proposed a change that would make people like Daria eligible for citizenship if their Canadian parent can prove they spent at least three years in Canada.

The new rule, which is supported by the Liberals, was tacked onto a private member’s bill at the House of Commons immigration committee.

The committee has until June 14 to finish reviewing the amended bill, or else it will be sent back to the House of Commons without the new changes.

“I have been informing the girls of the legislative process, and how there is a hope and how hopeful I am that at some point Daria will be able to have a Canadian passport,” Fessler said.

Daria, who is now 12, dreams of going to university in Vancouver, where her family takes an annual vacation. But as it stands now, she would need to apply for an international student visa to return.

“She’s very hopeful” that that could change, Fessler said.

The private member’s bill was initially put forward by Conservative Sen. Yonah Martin to address a particular quirk in citizenship law.

The NDP and Liberals seized on the opportunity to pass amendments to the bill that would have much more wide-ranging implications for the citizenship of children born outside of the country.

That irked Conservative members of the committee, who feel the Citizenship Act is being rewritten without the appropriate study or due diligence.

“These are substantive amendments, which materially affect the Citizenship Act. So they deserve scrutiny, and we are scrutinizing them,” said Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who serves on the committee.

Ottawa grandmother Carol Sutherland-Brown said the NDP’s amendment gave her hope that her grandchildren will one day qualify for Canadian citizenship.

But that hope has dwindled with every meeting of the committee she’s watched since.

“I felt elated when the amendment went through for the connection test, and then it’s just dashed,” Sutherland-Brown said.

Sutherland-Brown met her husband in Canada before she moved to Saudi Arabia to work at a hospital with him when she was 26 years old. She was still living there when she had her daughter Marisa.

The family moved back to Canada when Marisa was two years old, and she lived there until she moved to Paris after her post-secondary graduation. There, she met her husband, and the two moved to the United Kingdom after that to start a family.

The family realized Marisa’s son Findlay wouldn’t qualify for Canadian citizenship after she started filling out the paperwork.

“He would have been sixth-generation Canadian, and that’s all robbed now,” Sutherland-Brown said.

During the filibuster, Conservative members have also put forward other potential amendments far outside the scope of the original bill, including mandating in-person citizenship ceremonies, which have taken up hours of debate before being shot down by Liberal and NDP members.

The committee has extended meetings and scheduled extra time to debate the bill, but NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said it may not be enough to beat the filibuster.

“If this continues to carry on the way in which it has, (then) there is that real possibility that the bill would be reported back to the House without us completing the work,” Kwan said.

“I’m still somewhat hopeful – I don’t know why – that this will still manage to make it to the House with the necessary amendments. I’m holding on to that shred of hope.”

If the amendments make it through committee, the expanded bill would still need to clear the House of Commons and the Senate before families like Fessler’s and Sutherland-Brown’s would be able to make their case to pass on their citizenship.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe