PHOTO: Patrick Chandler is Canadian, but he can't pass his citizenship on to his children
Patrick Chandler is Canadian, but he can’t pass his citizenship on to his children.
While working in China in 2008, Chandler fell in love with a Chinese woman named Fiona. The pair got married and had two kids. Then, in 2017, Chandler landed a job in British Columbia. The young family planned to move to Canada together, until they learned their children didn’t qualify for Canadian citizenship.
Chandler was born in Libya to Canadian parents. Although he’s Canadian and has spent most of his life in Ontario, his kids don’t qualify for citizenship. It’s due to a citizenship law enacted by the federal Conservatives in 2009, which prevents Canadians born abroad from passing citizenship to their children, if they too were born outside of Canada.
“The rules – the way they are set up – creates two tiers of citizens,” said Chandler. “A tier that can pass on citizenship and a tier that cannot pass on citizenship.”
The intent of the 2009 law was to prevent citizenship from being continually passed down in families with no legitimate connection to Canada. For Chandler, who grew up, studied, and works full-time in Canada, the law makes him feel like a second-class Canadian.
“(The law) devalues citizenship because it shows Canadian citizenship does not mean equality,” said Chandler. “Unless we get that fixed, it’s going to hang over Canada’s head, and I don’t want that. And at the same time, I don’t want other people to have to go through this.”
Now, he and several other Canadian families have launched a Charter challenge, and are calling on the current federal Liberal government to change the rules.
“The law is discriminatory,” said Sujit Choudhry, a Toronto-based constitutional lawyer representing the families in the Charter challenge.
According to Choudhry’s research, there are 173,000 Canadian citizens living in Canada who were born abroad to other Canadian citizens. He said those people should have the right to start families abroad and give their children Canadian citizenship just as Canadians born in the country can. Choudhry said the current citizenship law is far too broad, causing families to fall through the cracks of bureaucracy.
“There are many other ways for the government to reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship and address the problem of indefinite generations of Canadians passing on citizenship abroad, without using such a blunt instrument,” said Choudhry.
When Chandler moved back to Canada in 2017, his wife and kids stayed behind in China. They were reunited in B.C. more than a year later, after the sponsorship process was approved and his children arrived in Canada as immigrants. In that year, all Chandler could do was keep in touch through video calls.
“It was absolutely difficult. As a parent, you want to be there for your kids. You want to be there to guide them, to educate them, to play with them,” Chandler said.
Just over three years since his kids arrived in Canada, one of them has been granted citizenship. Still, Chandler says, government red tape should never have got in the way of his role as a father. He hopes the Charter challenge will be successful, so no other Canadian families abroad find themselves in the same predicament.