Since my (almost) everything you need to know about Canadian immigration law in 500 words post was so popular, I thought I'd follow it up with a companion citizenship law post.
Don't make the mistake of thinking just because the Citizenship Act is so much slimmer than the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, that citizenship law in Canada is somehow simpler than immigration law. If anything, citizenship is more complex and more is at stake because you may need to dig through a patchwork of shifting repealed or amended legislation dating back to 1947, and people may be very well established in Canada by the time they run into citizenship problems.
But there are a few core principles one can pull from the historic fog which can be a great aid in figuring out any citizenship conundrum. Here's my take on Canadian citizenship law in 500 words.
1. IF YOU WERE BORN IN CANADA YOU’VE GOT IT MADE
Canada confers citizenship merely by being born in Canada. Birthright citizenship is being eroded elsewhere, like in Ireland which changed its laws in 2005 to require a "genuine link to Ireland."
Birthright citizenship can't be revoked, so you're good for life so long as you don't explicitly renounce by sending in paperwork to the Government of Canada. Merely taking an oath of other citizenship to a country that doesn't recognize dual citizens will not void your Canadian citizenship.
2. DESCENDANTS OF CANADIANS MAY ALSO BE CANADIAN
Canada also recognizes citizenship for children of Canadians who are born outside Canada, though year of birth is as important as place of birth, as at various times foreign births needed to be registered with a Canadian consulate (which almost no one did), or children needed to claim citizenship by 28 years of age (which most didn't realize was required). Since 2009 (based on birth date) there is an absolute prohibition on second generation citizenship (children born outside Canada of children born outside Canada) acquiring citizenship by descent, with very limited exceptions.
Previously, second (or subsequent) generation citizenship was possible, but any ancestor claimed through must at least have been a "British Subject" in 1947 (the year the first Canadian Citizenship Act came into force). So don’t think that because your great-great-great-great grandmother was born in Winnipeg, and moved to Mississippi when she was two years old, that you’re a Canadian.
3. PERMANENT RESIDENTS MUST DEVELOP CITIZENSHIP STRATEGIES UPON RECEIVING PR
Because Canada is increasingly challenging PR card holder over their right to citizenship or even to maintain their PR, PRs need to develop a citizenship (and PR maintenance) plan as soon as they land that meticulously tracks their days in Canada through documentary proof, like passport stamps, airline ticket, and credit card receipts. To either gain citizenship or maintain a PR there are usually two core requirements:
a. a minimum period of residency in Canada (currently 3 years out of last 5 years for citizenship, and 2 out of 5 years for PR);
b. not becoming inadmissible (usually through criminality).
Citizenship will usually have a third core component:
c. minimum language and knowledge skills (subject to testing).
4. CITIZENSHIP CAN BE REVOKED FOR MISREPRESENTATION
Even after you obtain citizenship, the government is now going after an increasing number of people to revoke citizenship based on “misrepresentations” on citizenship applications. Coming clean before being flagged should be considered. With some luck, a voluntary disclosure might earn humanitarian and compassionate points sufficient to stay in Canada.
5. APPEAL ROUTES EXIST FOR CITIZENSHIP
A denial of citizenship is usually appealed to the Citizenship Commission. If you lose there or don't have an appeal route there (just because the government makes a decision against you, doesn’t mean you get an automatic right of appeal), seeking leave to bring a judicial review to the Federal Court may be your only option. Be aware JRs can have very short leave filing limitation periods.