Thursday, June 17, 2010

Canada's Citizenship Flaw... Oops, I mean LAW

Disclaimer alert: I am not an adoption lawyer. I am not working for (or against) Immigration Canada. I am not an international adoptive parent, although I have the great pleasure of working with and offering support to many wonderful families built through international adoption.

This is my humble summary of a much-discussed amendment to Canada's Immigration laws, and what that means for adoptive parents, their children, and even GRANDchildren, should the current laws remain in effect.

(Disclaimer over, thank you.)

For inter-country families, one piece of the incredibly complex adoption puzzle is determining how your child will arrive on Canadian soil. Your choices seem simple: as a Canadian citizen, or as a permanent resident. 

There wasn't always a choice. Prior to December 2007, Canadians who adopted from overseas (or across the border) used to bring their children home exclusively as permanent residents. Now, if they meet certain criteria and the adoption is completed in the home country, many families have the option of applying for direct Canadian citizenship for their adopted children.

At first glance, this seems ideal.

However, an amendment (which came into effect in April 2009) to Canada's new citizenship law , stipulated that the direct citizenship route would be open to children adopted internationally ONLY if

a) at least one of their adoptive parents were born in Canada
b) at least one parent became Canadian through the naturalization process. (Meaning, they were permanent residents of Canada who then became citizens.)

The goal of the amendment was to prevent the 'handing down' of Canadian citizenship to multiple generations of Canadians who may not have lived much (if any) of their lives on Canadian soil. But the law doesn't make sense for children who are born abroad to Canadians, or adopted abroad by Canadians who then raise these children here in Canada. 

You might be asking "what impact does this have for me and my adopted child?" A huge one!

From Immigration Canada's website (emphasis added by yours truly):

Children adopted outside Canada who take the direct route to citizenship will be treated just like any child born outside Canada to a Canadian parent. This means that if that adopted person has, or adopts, a child outside Canada, their child will not be Canadian at birth or eligible for a citizenship grant using the direct route, unless the other parent was born or naturalized in Canada.

Children adopted outside Canada who come to the country as permanent residents and obtain citizenship through a regular grant are subject to the same rules as anyone born or naturalized in Canada. This means that any children they have outside Canada would automatically acquire Canadian citizenship, and their children adopted outside Canada would be eligible for a grant of citizenship through the direct route, without having to first become permanent residents.

Wait... let's run through this again.

Cindy is Canadian, born in Canada. She adopts her daughter Lily from China and chooses the direct citizenship route. Lily is a Canadian citizen. She lived in Canada from age 2 until 25, when she moves abroad. While overseas, Lily gives birth or adopts a child... let's call him Jack. Little Jack is not granted Canadian citizenship directly, unless his father happens to be Canadian by birth or naturalization. Unfortunately, Jack's father is not Canadian.

So Cindy is Canadian. Her daughter Lily is Canadian. But baby Jack is not Canadian, unless he becomes one through the permanent residency route.

So... what does that mean if Jack is born in a country where citizenship is not awarded simply because the child is born within that country's borders?

Little Jack could be stateless. Seem unlikely? Think again.... it's already happened. Although there is no adoption thread in her story, Rachel Chandler was born in Beijing to a Canadian father and a Chinese mother. She was denied Canadian citizenship, and her parents could pay a fine for having their daughter out of wedlock in order for Rachel to be granted Chinese citizenship, but why should they?

Sadly, Immigration Canada advised the Chandlers to look elsewhere for citizenship, or apply for a permanent residency permit for their daughter. (In this case, Immigration Canada suggested Ireland, as Rachel's paternal grandfather was born there.) See this article from the Vancouver Sun on Rachel's case. 

While this may be old news to some families, it may be brand new to many, especially if you are just thinking about adoption or don't get paid to pay attention to citizenship laws and how that relates to adoption for Canadian families.

What do you think.... does the law create a two-tiered citizenship policy for our nation? How am I to explain the discrepancy to our adopted children, when it doesn't make sense to me as an adult?  

Monday, June 14, 2010

Part Two: Would you Adopt Me? Anyone?

First off, thanks Mom, for being one of only two people who offered to adopt me. Only one problem: I'm not so sure they would let you... given that you're already my legal parent. And to answer your question, Mom, no, I wasn't plotting your demise!! Nor was I fantasizing about you & dad's untimely disappearance, or imagining an unexpected end to your parental rights.

Thanks, Mom, for being one of two people out there who volunteered to hop in Michael J Fox's DeLoreon and return to 1993 to adopt me. (Seriously, who would turn down the opportunity to visit the 90's again? Oh... wait... perhaps that's why I had so little interest.)

I did have one other offer - from a friend in Ontario who said she would take me, but not all of my siblings because she didn't have enough bedrooms. Which is great, except that BC legislation discourages inter-provincial placements except for relatives or those with pre-existing relationships. And I think she might have been in grade two in 1993... so that wouldn't have worked anyways.

The reason I profiled myself was quite simple: I wanted to illustrate a point, one that many adoptive parents are asked to consider on the first day of their Adoption Education Program. There's a flyer out there called "Special Needs Touch Us All" and it's accurately titled: it helps us understand that every one of us, even the perfect ones, have flaws and quirks and a challenge or two.

I think I'd probably adopt myself, but I'd need a lot of support and counselling, and honestly, the sibling factor might have scared me away. I grew up with more siblings than toes on my feet, but I'm not sure I'm cut out to lead a mega-family. At least... not yet.

Last I checked, the largest sibling group that's waiting for a family in BC has 5 children in it. And yes, there are families out there who have adopted large sibling groups. I know of one family who doubled their number of kids in one fell swoop; bringing home 4 little ones to complement the 4 biological children they had already.

I'm not asking you all to adopt me. (I tried that the other day, and it failed miserably.) I'm also not asking you to descend en masse upon your nearest MCFD office and demand paperwork to apply for that sibling group of five. (It would be nice... but, nope, not asking you.... unless you feel the calling!)

All I'm asking is that you think about special placement needs as a chapter in a child's life book, and not as the title to their story. That's not to say I'm minimizing or ignoring legitimate diagnoses or circumstances. It just means, look at the needs, learn about them, and then look at the GOOD stuff our kids have to offer. And weigh the risks and benefits... and follow your head AND your heart.

Remember, you have special placement needs, too... and you're loved and loveable. You already mean the world to someone. If you let them, these kids might mean the world to you, and you to them.