If Canadians give birth abroad or adopt from another country, they can pass along their citizenship to their children. But new federal regulations that take effect in April will prevent those foreign-born children of Canadians from bestowing that same citizenship on their own children should they, too, decide to adopt or give birth in another country.
"I am just getting flooded with e-mails and phone calls. It's crazy," said Sandra Forbes, executive director of Children's Bridge, a group of international adoption consultants based in Ottawa. "It produces what appears to be a two-tier citizenship status. Some people are saying clearly that this is discrimination."
The changes, which most adoptive parents learned about from news reports earlier this month, are actually part of an effort by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to fix anomalies in the system.
Among other things, the government was trying to prevent foreign-born nationals from coming to Canada, obtaining citizenship, then returning to their country of origin and passing along citizenship to generations of family members that have never set foot in this country.
"It is to protect the value of Canadian citizenship," said Douglas Kellam, a spokesman for the Immigration Department.
But the amendments to the Citizenship Act that were passed into law last spring, and subsequent regulations that were released late last year, did not take into account the ramifications for internationally adopted children and children born to Canadians overseas.
And they have proved so complicated that even the department has been unable to articulate exactly how they will work. Immigration officials admit that the explanation on their own website may mislead parents of children born or adopted overseas that their children will automatically fall under the new rules.
In fact, children born outside Canada who apply to become citizens after their Canadian parents sponsor them to come to this country as permanent residents are entitled to the same rights as children who are born here.
The new rules affect only those children whose Canadian parents, on the basis of their own citizenship, choose to have them declared citizens of Canada while they are still abroad. That is an option that has always been available to Canadians who give birth outside Canada and that was granted to adoptive parents in December, 2007, after years of intense lobbying.
Gerry Boychuk, a professor at the University of Waterloo, is the father of a two-year-old daughter adopted outside Canada, and is on the waiting list for a second international adoption. He is frustrated by the unclear website and by the new rules in general.
"I don't understand the insistence on creating tiers of citizenship and differentiating citizenship for this group of people," Dr. Boychuk said.
Ms. Forbes of Children's Bridge said parents who have adopted abroad are now confused about whether to have their children declared citizens while still in the foreign country, or to go through the naturalization process.
They are also concerned, she said, that their grandchildren could be left stateless if they are born in a country that does not automatically grant citizenship to everyone born on its soil.
Mr. Kellam said Canada cannot leave people stateless because it is a signatory to an international agreement saying it doesn't have rules that create such a situation.
And, he pointed out, if a Canadian born abroad has children in another country with a Canadian-born spouse, their children can obtain citizenship through the spouse.