A new government bill tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday would allow Canadians to pass citizenship rights down to their children born outside the country — a move that would add an unknown number of new citizens.

In 2009, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's government changed the law so that Canadian parents who were born abroad could not pass down their citizenship, unless their child was born in Canada.

Those who've not had access to citizenship rights as a result of the amendments are known as "Lost Canadians."

The new bill looks to undo that change, which was struck down by a recent court challenge, and extend citizenship by descent beyond the first generation born outside of Canada.

The legislation would automatically confer citizenship rights to children born since 2009 who were affected by the Conservatives' changes.

It would also create a new test for children born after the legislation comes into force. 

Parents who were born outside of Canada will need to have spent at least three years in Canada before the birth or adoption of their child to pass on their Canadian citizenship.

The government has no idea how many people will be automatically granted citizenship if the legislation is passed.

"We're a country that supports human rights, equality, and respect for all people," Immigration Minister Marc Miller said in the foyer outside of the House of Commons after he tabled the bill.

"There's no doubt that Canadian citizenship is highly valued and recognized around the world. We want a citizenship to be fair, accessible, with clear and transparent rules."

Last year, the Ontario Superior Court found the current system unconstitutionally creates two classes of Canadians, and gave Ottawa until June 19 to fix the problem. 

"This is an example of Conservatives having taken away Canadians' rights and something they hold most dear to them, in their citizenship," Miller said. 

The implications of the change made in 2009 were hugely significant for families, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said. She helped to draft the new legislation alongside the Liberals.

"I've talked to family members who've been separated from their loved ones because of this unjust law that Conservatives brought in 15 years ago," she said. 

"I've talked to family members where their children are deemed stateless, lost in the system, because of this unjust, punitive, unconstitutional law that the Conservatives brought in."

The Conservatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The government may have to request an extension from the court while the bill makes its way through the House of Commons, Miller said, but he doesn't want to wait long to fix the issue because people are being prejudiced in the meantime.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024.