Skip to main content

Canada will never forget the Bolshoy Ice Dome. It entered our national history when the women's and men's Olympic hockey teams won gold in Sochi.

As such, it has something in common with other foreign places indelibly associated with Canada. From the park in Dieppe that commemorates fallen Canadian soldiers to the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow, where we also scored another legendary hockey victory in the 1972 Summit Series, these places testify that Canada's national story – its being, if you will – extends beyond its national borders.

Canadian expatriates know this all too well. Among the 2.8-million people thought to make up this group are many who maintain intense attachment to Canada. Chance and fate may have sent them abroad, but in their own way, they illustrate identity's ability to transcend geography.

Story continues below advertisement

Unfortunately, Canadian citizenship law does not adequately recognize this fact about identity as it pertains to Canadian expatriates' children. Canada is currently revising its citizenship laws – any reforms that result should make it easier for expatriate families who strongly identify as Canadians to see their national identity live on in their descendants.

Under current law, when Canadians move abroad and have children, those children are entitled to Canadian citizenship. But their citizenship differs from that of Canadians born inside Canada in a crucial way. Children born to Canadian expatriates are limited in their ability to transmit citizenship to their own children. When the children of expatriates go on to have foreign-born children themselves, and the other parent is not Canadian, the resulting children are not Canadian. In other words, once someone becomes an expat, they can automatically pass their citizenship on to one generation, but no more.

Before 2009, expatriates could pass their citizenship on to unlimited generations. The government was right to end that arrangement. It does not make sense to offer Canadian citizenship down through the ages to people who might never develop any connection to Canada. But the current law goes too far the other way, failing to recognize the unique circumstances of children born to engaged emigrant citizens.

This came home to me during the Olympics, when, like many expatriates, I was obsessed with hockey. My three-year-old daughter watched with me and could not stop asking questions. The fact that she developed an interest in the sport and absorbed my intense desire for Canada to win captures something about her identity. She was born in Australia and now lives in San Diego, but is developing her own connection to Canada. Beyond her new interest in hockey, my wife and I read her Canadian bedtime stories and we cannot wait to bring her to Canada for the first time this summer. But under current citizenship law, no matter how intense her attachment to Canada becomes, she won't automatically be able to pass citizenship on to her children.

This should change. If children of expats return to Canada for several years, they should reacquire the ability to automatically pass citizenship on to their children, regardless of where those kids are born. So, for instance, if my daughter goes to Canada to attend university, her subsequent children will automatically be Canadian – just like other Canadians' kids – even if they are born abroad.

This model of citizenship grants greater weight to a person's attachment to Canada than the sheer luck of where they were born. It's how Americans deal with transmission of citizenship to the descendants of expatriates, and it works for them.

Critically, this arrangement also avoids the problems with Canada's pre-2009 law. If my daughter never develops enough interest in Canada to actually live there for an extended period, then citizenship stops with her. But if she does feel Canada's pull and makes part of her life there, this aspect of her identity becomes something she can pass on, regardless of where her children are born. Whereas the old law was too inclusive and the current law is too exclusive, this is the Goldilocks solution: The balance is just right.

Story continues below advertisement

By making such a change, Canada would give Canadian patriots another reason to cheer – wherever they live.

Andy Lamey teaches philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and is the author of Frontier Justice: The Global Refugee Crisis and What To Do About It.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to