09/23/2012 10:30 EDT | Updated 09/24/2018 09:25 EDT

Father feels Canada abandoned his son; seeks British citizenship

TORONTO - Paul Compton is at his wits' end.

The Ontario native has spent nearly three years trying to obtain Canadian citizenship for his younger son with little success and now feels abandoned by his country.

After multiple appeals to politicians and much wrangling with public servants, the 42-year-old is now applying for British citizenship in an attempt to establish a sense of security for his child. But he feels like he's giving up a part of his Canadian identity in the process.

"I don't know what else to do at this point, I've hit a wall," he told The Canadian Press.

Compton is among an unknown number of Canadians caught in a web of regulatory changes made to the Citizenship Act in 2009.

His problems stem from the fact that he was born in Scotland — while his Canadian parents were in university — and his second son was also born abroad, four months after the government imposed a first-generation limit on citizenship by descent for those born outside the country.

That meant Compton's first son, who was born abroad before the regulations changed, is a Canadian, but his younger child, three-year-old Mateo, is not.

"What my government has done is basically said 'your son's not Canadian, he's not important to us," Compton said from Lima, Peru, where he teaches at an international school.

The new rules were part of legislation which solved the problems of thousands whose citizenship had been taken away by outdated legal provisions.

At the same time, while imposing the first-generation citizenship limit for those born abroad, the government said they were protecting the value of Canadian statehood by ensuring citizenship couldn't be passed on from generation to generation of those living outside Canada.

Compton, who lived in Canada from infancy until his early 30s and plans to return in the future, feels he's far from fitting into that category.

"It's like Canadians born abroad and Canadians working abroad have done something wrong," he said. "It doesn't mean that I'm any less Canadian…I grew up in Canada, I paid tax in Canada, I'm still paying my student loan in Canada."

The family only found out about the rule change when they tried to obtain a Canadian passport for Mateo and were turned down.

While he has since been able to obtain a Peruvian passport due to his mother's citizenship, the difference in statehood between Compton's two children has created a host of headaches for the family.

His older son Stephano can travel to Canada with ease but Mateo needs to apply for a visitor visa to get into the country.

Even more perplexing, says Compton, is the feeling of insecurity that comes with knowing one of his sons isn't Canadian. While he enjoys working and living in Peru, he worries about what might happen in case of an emergency.

"Your life is never completely secure," he said. "I don't understand why (the government) doesn't see this as an issue."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has acknowledged the problems the new rules have created for some and has offered a remedy, albeit one that requires time and circumstances which may not work for everyone.

"CIC recognizes that in some limited cases, the changes to the law may have a significant impact on Canadian families with strong ties to Canada who are residing temporarily overseas," said spokeswoman Nancy Caron.

The solution, she said, is for a family to sponsor their child for permanent residency when returning to live in Canada. Once that application is approved, the family can seek citizenship for the child immediately, without having to fulfil typical residency requirements.

In cases where the rules result in a child being stateless or seriously limit the family's ability to travel, a family may request humanitarian and compassionate consideration when applying to sponsor their children, Caron said.

In exceptional cases, discretionary grants of citizenship are possible, but those are reserved for instances of "unusual hardship" or to reward services "of an exceptional value to Canada,” Caron said.

But those remedies do little to alleviate the present-day worries of a Canadian family whose child cannot be considered a Canuck, said Leslie Moran, whose granddaughter is in the same situation as Compton's son.

The toddler — who was born in Belgium and currently lives with her parents in Venice, Calif. — has been able to obtain a U.S. passport thanks to her American father, but her parents want to eventually raise her in Canada and are frustrated the government hasn't done more to help.

"We found that we had absolutely no allies," said 64-year-old Moran, whose family can trace its Canadian roots all the way back to 1665. "We were just mystified as to what to do."

For the family, applying for permanent residency in the future appears to be the only option.

Moran doesn't disagree with some limit to citizenship by descent abroad, but she'd like to see an amendment to the law which would allow those with strong ties to Canada to avoid penalty.

Proving those Canadian connections – instead of stripping away citizenship by default – is exactly what immigration expert Audrey Macklin suggests as a fix.

"Being born abroad to a Canadian citizen is no prediction of where you're going to be raised or where your connections are," said the University of Toronto law professor, who believes those affected by the rule change will only increase as more Canucks seek international education and employment in a globalized society.

To Macklin, the Comptons and the Morans are "roadkill" caught in a larger campaign by the Conservative government to make citizenship harder to obtain and easier to lose. What troubles her is the nebulous target of the changed rules.

"There's no real kind of achievement here in safeguarding Canadian citizenship unless you imagine that there are thousands of people who are acquiring citizenship by this way, who have never lived in Canada," she said.

"Who are these undeserving citizens?...This is all based on a hypothetical problem."