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Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on March 19, 2020.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal government is changing the interpretation of the word “parent” in the Citizenship Act, making it easier for some people to pass their citizenship on to their children.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino explained Thursday that, in the past, children born abroad to Canadians were automatically granted citizenship if they met one of two conditions: If there was a genetic link between the parent and the child or if the parent gave birth to the child.

From now on, he said, the government will allow non-biological legal parents to pass on their Canadian citizenship.

“It was a situation faced by many, including the LGBTQ+ community and parents experiencing infertility issues,” Mr. Mendicino said at a virtual news conference.

He said families using a surrogate abroad were able to get citizenship for their children – but only after going through a cumbersome process that did not treat them equally.

“It was not only unjust, but also an unneeded additional source of stress and uncertainty for couples who should be focused on the excitement of starting their new family,” he said.

The policy change comes after the case of Canadian Laurence Caron and her partner, Elsje van der Ven, who is Dutch. They fought for their son Benjamin’s citizenship in court and won. They joined Mr. Mendicino for the announcement.

Ms. van der Ven gave birth to their son four years ago while they were living in the Netherlands. The couple applied for Benjamin’s Canadian citizenship and learned he would not get it automatically because Ms. Caron’s genetic material was not used for his conception.

“We are extremely happy and relieved that the court corrected this discriminating policy, not only for our family, but also for many same-sex and non-traditional families around the world who could not get Canadian citizenship for their children,” the couple said in a joint statement.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she is glad the government has rectified the situation. “As a parent, I can’t imagine the hurt of not being recognized as a parent because of who I love or how I identify. We should not have to rely on the courts to tell the government discriminatory laws have no place in Canada.”

Mr. Mendicino said the interpretation of the term “parent” was established years ago and fell out of step with the evolution of families in Canadian society.

“The impact of this was real on families and it caused families to step up like the Caron/van der Ven family.”

He said their advocacy and actions brought about the policy change.

“We are so grateful to them for the courage and the strength that they have shown in righting this wrong,” he said.

With a report from the Canadian Press

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