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Court-imposed deadline to pass new citizenship law approaching next week

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller speaks before Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 12, 2024. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press) Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller speaks before Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 12, 2024. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)
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The federal government has just a week left to make key changes to the Citizenship Act in response to a court ruling last year.

The Ontario Superior Court has not yet agreed to extend the looming deadline, the Immigration Department said Wednesday, and NDP attempts to rush legislation through the House of Commons have failed. 

If the Liberals' bill doesn't pass before next week's deadline, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the minister himself has to decide individual citizenship cases. 

"If it doesn't come through we're sort of in no man's land. Basically, it's my discretion deciding who's Canadian or not. Obviously, that shouldn't be up to the discretion of a minister," Miller said Wednesday. 

Last year, the court found that Canadians born abroad received a lower class of citizenship than those born in Canada, and it gave the government until June 19 to correct the problem.

Miller introduced a bill on May 23 that would allow Canadians who were born abroad to pass their citizenship down to their children, and asked the court for a deadline extension the following day.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan made two attempts to push the bill through the legislative process more quickly by asking for the unanimous consent of MPs, but Conservatives voted no both times.

"We have no time to waste and we have to get the law passed," Kwan said at a press conference Tuesday.

In 2009, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's government changed the law so that Canadian parents who were 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."

Kwan said the House of Commons immigration committee already studied the issue of Lost Canadians when it considered a Senate public bill brought forward by Conservative Sen. Yonah Martin last year.

"We spent over 30 hours at committee debating Bill S-245," said Kwan. 

That bill was heavily amended by Kwan and Liberal members of the committee to grant citizenship to a broader group of people, but the Conservatives felt the changes were too drastic and have not brought it back to the House for third reading. 

The new government bill closely mirrors the amended Senate bill, and extends citizenship by descent beyond the first generation born outside of Canada.

The legislation would automatically confer citizenship rights on 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.

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

The bill is still only at the first stage of the legislative process and MPs are expected to rise from the House of Commons at the end of next week for the summer break.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 12, 2024

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