April 17, 2009
Thanks to a new law, Canada will bestow citizenship Friday on what its government believes could be hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting foreigners, most of them Americans.
The April 17 amendment to Canada's Citizenship Act automatically restores Canadian nationality to many people forced to renounce it when they became citizens of another country. It also grants citizenship to their children.
In the video 'Waking Up Canadian,' a man goes to sleep in a drab room and wakes up to find out that he's become a citizen of Canada. Surrounded by flags, maple-leaf-shaped cookies and a canister of maple syrup, he's welcomed by a hockey player, two plush moose and a uniformed Mountie.
The Canadian government doesn't know the precise number or location of individuals affected by the legislation. But it believes most are U.S. citizens, a spokeswoman for Canada's immigration office said. U.S. Department of Homeland Security records show 240,000 Canadians were naturalized in the U.S. from 1948 to 1977; the new law fixes problems that occurred during those years.
To reach that amorphous group of beneficiaries, the Canadian government has turned to YouTube. It's running an ad there titled "Waking up Canadian," in which a man awakens on April 17 to a room festooned with red-and-white Canadian flags. He's met by a welcoming committee consisting of two stuffed plush moose, a hockey player, and a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Eligible individuals automatically become Canadian citizens. But they don't get proof of that citizenship unless they apply for it, meaning other countries -- including those that allow people to be citizens of only one nation -- won't be alerted, according to the immigration office spokeswoman. Those people also may renounce their citizenship rights, she said.
The citizenship bonanza is the byproduct of a decadeslong struggle by a motley group of people who claim they were unfairly denied or lost their Canadian nationality. Canadian families who crossed the border in 1947 to 1977 to have their babies in a U.S. hospital found those children weren't recognized as Canadians unless the families registered them with the government. Some foreign brides of Canadian World War II servicemen lost their citizenship if they stayed out of the country for a decade or more.
Then there are the Canadian Mennonites who moved to Mexico in the 1920s to the 1960s. When their children and grandchildren returned to Canada, many found their nationality unclear.
Some such cases languished in litigation for years. Others surfaced in 2007, when new U.S. rules requiring passports for travel between Canada and the U.S. uncovered significant numbers of people who thought they were Canadian, but weren't. The old rules were "quite intricate," said Bill Janzen, an immigration lobbyist in Ottawa for the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada.
The new law offers citizenship to many individuals now in limbo. It also stops the previous practice of granting citizenship in perpetuity to children of Canadians born abroad, limiting eligibility to children of parents born in Canada.