History of citizenship legislation

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

The requirements for citizenship under each of these acts vary. It is important to understand the way in which each of these is interpreted, because the provisions of these acts determine a person’s entitlement to citizenship.

Naturalization Act (British subject) [May 22, 1868, to December 31, 1946]

Before January 1, 1947, a person born or naturalized in Canada was considered a British subject. The terms “Canadian citizen” and “Canadian citizenship” used in some statutes before that date did not create the legal status of Canadian citizen.

Canadian Citizenship Act [January 1, 1947]

Up to January 1, 1947, there was no legal status of Canadian citizens, only British subjects. This Act gave legal recognition to the terms “Canadian citizen” and “Canadian citizenship”. The Act established who was and who could become a Canadian citizen. There were many provisions for loss of citizenship, including retention provisions for the first and subsequent generations born outside Canada. The Act also contained provisions which provided special treatment for British subjects. In general, Canadian citizens who acquired citizenship of another country automatically lost Canadian citizenship (dual citizenship was not recognized).

Citizenship Act [February 15, 1977]

The Citizenship Act, effective February 15, 1977, replaced the 1947 Act with a more equitable statute. For example, British subjects no longer received special treatment and dual citizenship became recognized. There was only one provision for automatic loss of citizenship, limited to persons born in the second or subsequent generation outside Canada unless they took steps to retain their citizenship by their 28th birthday.

Bill C-14: An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption)

On December 23, 2007, Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption), came into force. The changes allow for the granting of citizenship to children born outside Canada and adopted by Canadian parents, without requiring that such children first become permanent residents.

Bill C-37: An Act to amend the Citizenship Act [April 17, 2009]

Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, came into force on April 17, 2009. It restored or gave Canadian citizenship automatically on that date to many who had never had it or who had lost it due to previous legislation, and limited Canadian citizenship by descent to the first generation born outside Canada. Bill C-37 also contained an exception to the first-generation limit for children born or adopted outside Canada to a serving Crown servant (i.e., the parent who was employed outside Canada in or with the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal public administration, or the public service of a province or territory, otherwise than as a locally engaged person, at the time of the child’s birth or adoption).

Bill C-24: Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act

Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, received royal assent on June 19, 2014, and represents the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act since 1977. The Act contains a range of legislative amendments to further improve the citizenship program. The changes in the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act came into force at various dates following royal assent. All of the changes came into force on June 11, 2015.

Of the many changes, Bill C-24 extended citizenship automatically on that date to more people who were born before the Canadian Citizenship Act took effect on January 1, 1947 (April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), who did not acquire Canadian citizenship on either of those dates, as well as to their children who were born outside Canada in the first generation. Bill C-24 also automatically extended citizenship on that date to British subjects neither born nor naturalized in Canada (or neither born nor naturalized in Newfoundland and Labrador) and were ordinarily resident in Canada on January 1, 1947 (on or before April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), and who did not acquire Canadian citizenship on January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, or before that date in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador).

Bill C-24 also extended the Crown servant exception to the first-generation limit to citizenship by descent to include the grandchildren of serving Crown servants. This means that citizenship was extended to a child of a Canadian parent who was born or adopted outside Canada to a serving Crown servant (i.e., the child’s grandparent who was employed outside Canada in or with the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal public administration, or the public service of a province or territory, otherwise than as a locally engaged person, at the time of birth or adoption of the child’s parent). This change came into force on June 19, 2014, retroactively to April 17, 2009, the date where the first-generation limit was first introduced.

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