Chris Selley: Asking a baby to get help from Russia is another Ottawa disgrace

These kinds of stories are showing up more regularly, given the (small) number of cases and the publicity of the court case and efforts by the lawyer and advocates to generate public attention.

The advantage of the first generation cut-off remains its clarity and simplicity to administer in a consistent manner, in contrast to the previous provisions which were not. But part of the “package” when the change was made over 10 years ago were provisions for statelessness whose implementation would take into account the particular circumstances, implicitly in an understanding if not compassionate manner.

This would appear to be one of those situations where IRCC could have shown more common sense in reviewing the case.

Unfortunately, we can’t be surprised by the obtuseness regarding Russia given Global Affairs and their Minister’s Office regarding the Russia Day embassy reception:

Recent events have called ever more into question Canada’s basic competencies on the world stage, both on the ground and especially in the back office. We made a hash of evacuating our Afghan friends as the Taliban retook the country, then forced many who escaped to wait for months while we churned through their paperwork. The same delays are plaguing many Ukrainians who accepted Canada’s offers of help. Speaking of Ukraine: A senior foreign affairs official’s presence at the Russian embassy’s garden party continues to boggle the national mind. On the much more mundane end of the spectrum: With six months’ notice, IRCC failed to approve a visa for popular Formula One reporter Karun Chandhok in time for this weekend’s Montreal Grand Prix.

Is it sloth? Understaffing? Active malice? It’s difficult to tell. But the story of the Burgess family — father and husband Gregory, mother and wife Viktoriya, and baby Philip, who currently live in Hong Kong — combines all these threads into a perfectly absurd package.

I first spoke to Gregory around six months ago. He is a 46-year-old Edmontonian with deep, permanent roots (and citizenship) in Canada and nowhere else — his great-grandparents immigrated to Alberta from Ukraine in 1894 — but who just happened to have been born in Connecticut. Because his infant son Philip was the second consecutive generation born on foreign soil, our citizenship law does not automatically recognize Philip as Canadian. Gregory and Viktoriya, who is Russian, nevertheless wish to relocate eventually to Canada and think it reasonable they be allowed to do so.

The bureaucrats at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) are having none of it.

Six months ago, the situation was approaching emergency: Gregory’s and Viktoriya’s work visas were soon to expire. Things have stabilized since, Gregory told me this week over Zoom while wrangling a seven-month-old at 6 a.m. “Hong Kong has been very humane to us,” he said, including issuing Philip a Hong Kong identity card. That’s at least proof that a government recognizes his existence, but it offers no path to citizenship.

The Burgesses and their lawyers and advocates quite reasonably insist Philip is stateless as defined in the 1954 UN Convention: “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.” In keeping with Canada’s international obligations, the Citizenship Act compels minister Sean Fraser to unilaterally grant citizenship in some cases of statelessness, and invites him to in others.

But when Gregory filed an application for Philips’ citizenship on grounds of statelessness, he got an amazing answer: Basically, IRCC wants proof some other country won’t take the kid off their hands.

On June 3, “senior decision maker” E. Nguyen wrote to Burgess asking for “a resual (sic) letter and/or correpondence (sic) from the American authorities advising that Philip … does not have a claim to American citizenship.” (Refusal and correspondence are the mistyped words.)

The answer is a bit complicated, but nevertheless U.S. citizenship rules are clear and easily Googleable: The simple answer is no.

It gets better: E. Nguyen wants the same refusal letter — no word of a lie — from the Russian authorities.

These are the Russian authorities raining death on Ukraine, heavily sanctioned by Ottawa, whose garden parties we must on no account attend. Canada’s travel advisory for Russia flashes bright red: “If you are in Russia, you should leave.”

Oh, and senior decision-maker E. Nguyen requires these documents within 30 days. IRCC would struggle to order a pizza in 30 days.

Even if the Burgess family were content to live in a pariah state run by a warmongering madman, Russia wouldn’t be a realistic option: Russian citizenship rules, also easily Googleable, stipulate Gregory would need to formally agree to Philip gaining Russian citizenship through his mother — but Gregory would have no immediate claim to citizenship himself. What parent would consent to the potential splitting up of his family?

When I wrote about this in January, two people with intimate knowledge of the IRCC bureaucracy and the Citizenship Act objected to my characterization of the second-generation-born-aboard rule as a “dumb law, easily fixed.” I remain convinced: Instead of judging prospective infant citizens by their parents’ accidental birthplaces, we should judge them by their parents’ substantial connection to Canada, just as we do for would-be naturalized citizens.

Admittedly, though, that’s only a fix in law. If it takes two or three or four years for IRCC to determine such “substantial connections,” families like the Burgesses will still be left in the lurch. And many will be in much more perilous situations than the Burgesses are.

In the meantime, there is an easy fix: Sean Fraser, the minister, can grant citizenship to anyone he chooses, any time he likes, as often as he likes. Unfortunately, with more than 24 hours’ notice, IRCC could not manage to respond to my questions, which included “why won’t he?”

Gregory is admirably equanimous about all this. “I don’t want to overdramatize things,” he told me. “It’s not terrible. … We’re OK here and everything’s fine.” But that uncertainty hangs over their heads, and they’re baffled. “I don’t know what the agenda is,” Gregory said. “I don’t know what’s achieved by this.”

Me neither.

There aren’t tens of thousands of Canadians in similar situations as the Burgesses, but there aren’t just dozens either. Whatever resources are being expended fighting seven-month-old Philip Burgess for Canadian citizenship — and a good few other children in the same situation — would surely be put to better use helping our various and shameful citizenship-and-immigration backlogs.

Source: Chris Selley: Asking a baby to get help from Russia is another Ottawa disgrace

And from the Star:

A Canadian with Ukrainian roots has been told his baby boy may have to apply — and be rejected — for Russian citizenship before he can become a Canadian.

“My son is not going to Russia and not becoming a Russian citizen when they’re killing Ukrainians,” says Gregory Burgess.

The bizarre situation has come about for a baby who is technically considered “stateless” because neither he nor his father was born in Canada.

Burgess, 46, has always considered himself a Canadian. He grew up in Edmonton and his Ukrainian great-grandparents arrived in what is today’s Alberta back in 1894.

But Burgess was born in the United States, where his father was then working, before coming to Canada at age seven. He acquired citizenship through his Canadian mother.

That, coupled with the fact that his son was born during the pandemic in Hong Kong, where Burgess is currently working, has meant the baby is not guaranteed Canadian citizenship.

It’s the result of a controversial policy change brought in by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper back in 2009 that was meant to curtail the number of “Canadians of convenience.”

“Canada is my home,” says Burgess. “I don’t have another home. It’s where my family has been for more than a hundred years.”

The so-called “second generation” citizenship cut-off against Canadians born abroad was introduced by the Conservative government after Ottawa’s massive effort to evacuate 15,000 Lebanese Canadians from Beirut during a month-long war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.

The $85-million price tag of the evacuation effort sparked a debate over “Canadians of convenience” about individuals with Canadian citizenship who live permanently outside of Canada without “substantive ties” to Canada but were part of the government liability.

It’s now complicating things for Burgess.

The expat spent his formative years in Canada and graduated from the University of Alberta.

“My mother got us citizenship. And as soon as my Canadian citizenship was taken care of, one wouldn’t assume that somewhere down the road you become a lesser citizen because of it.”

Starting in 2004, he took up jobs in Asia. He met his now wife, Viktoriya Kharzhanovich, in 2017 when he was working in Shanghai. The following year, she applied unsuccessfully for a Canadian visa to accompany him to his cousin’s wedding.

In 2019, he started to explore the spousal sponsorship process to bring his common-law wife to Canada, just before the pandemic was beginning in China.

The couple moved to Hong Kong from China in June 2020 when he got a two-year employment contract in building information management there. Meanwhile, he and his wife, now 41, decided to start a family.

Due to the arduous paperwork required, they didn’t submit their spousal application until last November. It was during their preparation for the application when his lawyer noticed he wasn’t born in Canada and raised the issue about the two-generation citizenship cutoff for the yet-to-be born Philip.

Kharzhanovich, who had already been refused a visitor visa before, was more than seven months into her pregnancy and did not have an obstetrician and gynecologist or health insurance in Canada. She was also not scheduled for her COVID vaccination until after giving birth to Philip.

“After consulting physicians, researching flights, examining visa options, and studying quarantine rules, we determined that it was not safe or possible to fly to Canada for Viktoriya to give birth there,” says Burgess, who has since joined six other Canadian families in a Charter challenge against the citizenship cut-off rules.

Since neither Burgess nor his wife is a Hong Kong citizen or permanent resident, Philip doesn’t have permanent status in the former British colony, now part of the People’s Republic of China.

“It’s a lot of sleepless nights,” Burgess says. “It’s very important to me that I never lose my job (in Hong Kong) and nothing ever goes wrong because if it does, then that’s catastrophic. And so there’s that stress.

“It’s just constantly trying to get on the paperwork and it seems endless. I keep putting in paperwork or talking to the embassy or consulate. And I’ve been at it for nine months basically.”

At the advice of the Canadian consulate, Burgess applied for a two-year “limited validity passport” for Philip in November, which was ultimately refused by Passport Canada. Burgess’s own parents weren’t abroad serving in the Canadian military or for the federal or provincial governments at his birth in the U.S., hence his baby didn’t qualify.

Earlier this year, as a last resort, Burgess filed an application for a grant of citizenship under section 5 (4) of the Canadian Citizenship Act that gives Immigration Minister Sean Fraser the discretionary power to do so to “alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada.”

In a response to the family’s request this month, the immigration department gave the couple 30 days to provide proof of Philip having been refused a claim to American and/or Russian citizenship.

“Following a review of his application and supporting documentation, it appears that Philip Alexander Burgess may have a claim to American citizenship through yourself and to Russian citizenship through his mother, Viktoriya Kharzhanovich,” said the letter prepared by the immigration case management branch.

There was no mention or concern raised about Burgess’s and the family’s expiring status in Hong Kong, and the urgency to resolve the crisis.

“I feel like I’m being asked to show that I’m in duress. It’s continually asking, ‘show us it’s a bad situation.’ And I’m like it’s not bad yet, but it’s only because I’m staying ahead of the game,” says Burgess, who does not have an American passport or meet the “substantial connection” requirement to convey citizenship to Philip.

Although Philip is not at the end of his rope and may still acquire Canadian citizenship by naturalization if his father can successfully sponsor his mother and him to Canada, Burgess says he has yet to get an acknowledgment of receipt of his sponsorship application and the family is running out of status in Hong Kong.

Their lawyer, Sujit Choudhry, says Philip’s statelessness is only one of the factors for the consideration of the immigration minister, who should not overlook the “special and unusual hardship” the family is facing under the circumstances.

“The government’s insistence that Gregory seek Russian citizenship for Philip is Kafkaesque,” says Choudhry, who is also representing the other families in the ongoing Charter challenge against the citizenship act before the Superior Court of Ontario. “Canada has advised its citizens to not travel to Russia for geopolitical reasons.

“If Philip becomes a Russian citizen, Gregory will not be able to travel to Russia to take care of him. Canada’s Citizenship Act will produce a profoundly unjust family separation. This law is clearly unconstitutional.”

Source: ‘Kafkaesque’: Will the infant son of a Ukrainian Canadian need to turn to Russia for citizenship?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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