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World Australian senator steps down because of dual Canadian citizenship

Australian Greens party Senator Larissa Waters during a media conference to announce her resignation in Brisbane, Australia, July 18, 2017.

STRINGER/REUTERS

For many people, holding Canadian citizenship is a highly-prized privilege. To Larissa Waters, it was cause for grief.

An Australian senator who was born in Winnipeg, Ms. Waters had to resign Tuesday after discovering that she is a dual citizen of the two countries.

That's because the Australian constitution says that dual nationals, along with criminals, bankrupt people and traitors, are barred from running for parliament.

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"It is with great shock and sadness that I have discovered that I hold dual citizenship of Australia and Canada," Ms. Waters said in a statement.

A co-leader of the Australian Greens, she had been an advocate for environmental issues and gender equality. She made headlines around the world when she became the first woman to breastfeed her baby while passing a motion in parliamentary chamber.

Members of the upper house of the Australian Federal Parliament are elected.

On Friday, Ms. Waters' fellow party co-leader, senator Scott Ludlam, had to step down after he learned that he still had dual citizenship with New Zealand.

Ms. Waters said she immediately sought legal advice about her citizenship status. She said she was "devastated" to learn she had been a dual citizen since birth.

She was born in February 1977 while her parents were studying in Canada. They returned to Australia when she was 11-month old.

Ms. Waters said she and her parents wrongly assumed that to be a dual national she had to actively seek Canadian citizenship.

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Instead, one has to apply to renounce Canadian citizenship.

This meant Ms. Waters had run afoul of Section 44 of the Australian constitution, which states that citizens of "a foreign power," along with convicted criminals facing a jail sentence of a year or longer, people with undischarged bankruptcy and those "attainted of treason" are among people who cannot run for parliament.

The section is part of the constitution's original 1901 text. The Australian Electoral Commission has described the subsection disqualifying those with foreign citizenship as being "expressed in archaic language."

Nevertheless, Ms. Waters had no choice.

"I take full responsibility for this grave mistake and oversight. I am deeply sorry for the impact that it will have," she said. "It is with a heavy heart that I am forced to resign."

While sometimes a source of controversy, holding two passports is not a hurdle to be a member of Parliament in Canada or even federal party leader.

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Both former New-Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair and former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion are dual citizens of France and Canada.

Michaëlle Jean, however, decided to renounce the French citizenship she acquired through marriage when she became governor-general in 2005.

In Somalia, dual citizenships is not uncommon among politicians because many returned from the diaspora community.

Two recent prime ministers, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed and Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, have Canadian citizenship. The current prime minister, Hassan Ali Khayre, is a dual Norwegian-Somalian national.

Other prominent people have renounced their Canadian citizenship to pursue their ambitions.

Former media baron Conrad Black did it in order to claim a British peerage title and be able to sit in the House of Lords.

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Texas Senator Ted Cruz, born in Calgary to an American mother and a Cuban father, also took that route.

While some legal experts said he would have been able to run for president while a dual national, Mr. Cruz formally gave up his Canadian citizenship in 2014. It didn't stop Donald Trump from taunting Mr. Cruz during last year's presidential campaign, mocking him as "an anchor baby in Canada."

As for Ms. Waters' future, she said she would consult with her party.

There was speculation she could run again after renouncing her Canadian citizenship.

She would have had to fill a form, state the reason for her decision and pay a $100 fee to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

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