Stateless Persons in Canada
According to Statistics Canada's 2016 Census, 3,790 persons identified themselves as stateless when asked to select their country of citizenship. Of these, 390 indicated that they did not have permanent residence status in Canada at the time. Official figures from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada claim that there are 316,882 stateless permanent residents in Canada since 1981.
These figures present several challenges for understanding statelessness in this country. The Statistics Canada figure of 3,790 is self-reported and cannot be validated, and the 316,882 IRCC figure does not explain whether these permanent resident stateless persons have acquired citizenship since 1981, or whether they still reside in Canada.
For more information on data on stateless persons collected from Statistics Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board, and Canada Border Services Agency see CCS' 2017 report Data Collection on Stateless Persons in Canada.
Statelessness affects specific groups of people in Canada, with individuals falling into broad categories according to status. In Canada, statelessness can occur in two ways: one is in the context of migration which includes those who are stateless when they arrive in Canada, and those who become stateless after they arrive in Canada. The second context is those who are stateless in situ, who consider themselves to be Canadian, but who are not recognized as citizens by Canada.
Those who arrive in Canada as non-refugee stateless persons
Statelessness is not a path to legal status. In other words, a stateless person who is not a refugee cannot be admitted to Canada, because s/he is stateless.
Those who arrive in Canada as stateless refugees
Refugees resettled to or recognized in Canada may be stateless. Because they have refugee status and are entitled to permanent residence, their situation is much better than other stateless persons. It is in their interest to become Canadian citizens as soon as they can, in order to cease being stateless. Stateless persons who are not refugees are not very likely to be resettled because many countries only resettle refugees: Canada’s Country of Asylum Class offers a possibility for some (through the Private Sponsorship program) (CCR, Statelessness).
Stateless refugees who return to their countries of origin
Recent changes to Canadian citizenship law mean that it is easier for people in Canada who have refugee (protected person) status to lose their right to remain in Canada, and as a result may face deportation. A stateless refugee who was granted refugee status in Canada may lose both their refugee status and their permanent residence status if the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) decides that s/he accepted the protection of their home country. The IRB can decide that refugee status should be removed (known as “cessation” of refugee status). Accepting the protection of one's home country could mean travelling to one's home country several years after settlement in Canada (CCR, Cessation - Basic Information).
For more information see CCR, 2014, Cessation: stripping refugees of their status in Canada
Those who believe they have Canadian nationality, but in fact, do not
This category comprises a diverse group of people including those whose Canadian births have not been registered and 'Lost Canadians'.
Canada grants citizenship based on both jus soli and first generation jus sanguinis bases. In general, all children born in Canada, as well as those born abroad to Canadian-born parents, are Canadian citizens. An exception arises with respect to children born in Canada to diplomatic officials and staff of foreign countries, including the United Nations or similar international agencies, who have diplomatic status. All other children born in Canada are entitled to Canadian citizenship, regardless of their parents’ legal status or nationality. Possessing Canadian citizenship is dependent on whether the birth of the child is registered with Canadian authorities. If a birth is not registered the child is not technically a Canadian citizen, and will only acquire Canadian citizenship when birth in Canada can be proven. Many people are born and grow up in Canada thinking they are Canadian citizens only to learn later in life that they are not.
This has occurred frequently with 'Lost Canadians', people who think of themselves as Canadians, but either ceased to be citizens, or never were Canadian citizens in the first place. This has occurred as a result of gaps in citizenship law or arcane legal provisions. In many cases, 'Lost Canadians' were unaware they were without Canadian citizenship, and potentially stateless, until they attempted to obtain government identification like a passport or birth certificate, or register for government services, such as Canadian Pension. For more information on 'Lost Canadians' click here.
Impact of Statelessness
The realities that stateless persons face in Canada are unlike those faced by any other group of people. Stateless people in Canada experience similar conditions as stateless people all over the world: they are often unable to access services, enroll in higher education, and are forced to live and work in sub-standard conditions. The realities for stateless persons include:
- ineligible to leave Canada and ineligible to enter any other country
- If stateless persons are able to leave Canada, under exceptional circumstances, they have no right of return
- ineligible to bring their children and spouses to Canada
- cannot access subsidized health care or student loans
- have difficulties in obtaining legal employment
- are often forced to live in sub-standard housing
- subject to lengthy detention
- living in long-term limbo
These realities suggest that stateless persons do not enjoy protection in Canada under section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which stipulates “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” (15(1)).