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Immigration Minister Marc Miller looks on as Don Chapman speaks in the Foyer of the House of Commons, in Ottawa, on May 23. Chapman is a 'lost Canadian' who has campaigned for decades for the change to the law.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Immigration Minister Marc Miller introduced a bill on Thursday allowing Canadians born abroad to pass on citizenship to their children born outside Canada.

Bill C-71 would reverse a change by Stephen Harper’s government in 2009 which stripped children of a Canadian parent born outside Canada of their automatic right to citizenship. The government bill would extend citizenship by descent beyond the first generation of Canadians, and restore it to people who lost their Canadian citizenship – known as “lost Canadians.”

Don Chapman, a “lost Canadian” who has campaigned for decades for the change to the law, said the bill was a “historic” move that would help reverse past injustices. He said it would lead to a number of Hollywood movie stars, including Academy Award winner Gene Hackman, who had a Canadian mother, becoming eligible for a Canadian passport.

Mr. Chapman, a retired airline pilot, was born in Canada but lost his citizenship after he moved as a child with his father to the United States, only regaining it as an adult.

The introduction of the bill follows a ruling by Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice last year that it is unconstitutional to deny Canadians born abroad the right to pass on their citizenship to their foreign-born offspring. The federal government had until June 19 to act to change the law.

At a press conference in Parliament after the bill was introduced, the Immigration Minister said the current rules could have unacceptable effects on Canadian families, including where they choose to live, work and study, or where they have children and raise a family.

“There’s no doubt that Canadian citizenship is highly valued and recognized around the world. Not everyone is entitled to it. But for those who are, it needs to be fair,” he said.

Bill C-71, which is supported by the NDP and Green Party, would allow a parent born outside Canada, who can show they have spent at least 1,095 days in Canada before their child was born, to pass on their Canadian citizenship to their child born outside the country.

The new rules would also allow citizenship to be passed on to adopted children born abroad if the Canadian parent has spent at least three years in Canada before their child was adopted, according to briefing materials provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The bill also would confer citizenship on people born outside Canada before the bill comes into force if their parent was a citizen, even if that parent has not spent 1,095 days here, and may have lived abroad their entire lives.

The bill would reverse a 2009 change to the law designed to crack down on what Conservatives at the time called “Canadians of convenience.” It was brought in after an outcry over Canada spending more than $80-million to evacuate 15,000 Canadian citizens from Lebanon in 2006 during the Israel-Hezbollah war.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the rule had created “second class citizens.” She blamed the Conservatives for slowing down by filibustering a private member’s bill going through Parliament that would have achieved the same aim of restoring rights to lost Canadians.

The rule change has led to Canadians working abroad being denied the right to pass on their citizenship. It has also meant that some “border babies” – born a few kilometres away in the United States – and Indigenous children born in communities straddling the border do not qualify for Canadian passports, despite living here.

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Mr. Miller shakes hands with Kathryn Burton as her husband Chad Jackson looks on in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa. Ms. Burton, who lives in Boston, said her sons’ citizen applications were initially rejected.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Kathryn Burton, a First Nations Canadian who was born in the United States and grew up in Cape Breton, welcomed the introduction of the bill. She was unable to pass on her Canadian citizenship to her two sons Graydon and Miles under the current rules as they, like her, were born abroad.

Ms. Burton, who lives in Boston, said her sons’ citizen applications were initially rejected by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, but they have now been granted the right to a Canadian passport.

“You will see them at the next citizenship event waving and saying that they are proud and rightful citizens – and not lost. Trust me: I find them every morning doing something that they shouldn’t be doing like wrestling!” she said at a press conference in Parliament.

Mr. Chapman said it was not clear how many new citizens the bill would create. He said many lost Canadians are already living in Canada.

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