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Citizenship Act - Sixty-fourth Anniversary

Honourable senators, I was born and raised in Montreal, thousands of kilometres away from Great Britain. But according to my original birth certificate, I am a British subject.

Like me and others in this chamber, millions of men and women are officially British even though they were born and raised in cities, towns or farms in our country. There was a time when no Canadian legislation recognized Canadian citizenship.

Now, for young Canadians who proudly wave their flag and proclaim that they are Canadian all over the world, the grey area that once surrounded our citizenship must seem rather odd.

This month, we celebrate the 64th anniversary of a huge step our country took to fill this legal void. In May 1946, the House of Commons and the Senate passed the Canadian Citizenship Act. That was the first time in the history of our country that legislation clearly defined the conditions of Canadian citizenship.

Paul Martin Sr., who was Secretary of State of Canada at the time, was the architect and force behind this legislation. The idea came to him after he visited the Canadian war cemetery in Dieppe. He was struck by the accomplishments of hundreds of young Canadians on this beach on another continent.

Although profound, Martin's experience was not wholly unique. Throughout the just-concluded war, education programs and awareness campaigns nurtured in Canadians, both newly arrived and native-born, a growing awareness of their shared identity and collective responsibility in building a stronger, freer, fairer, more unified country.

The Canadian Citizenship Act would further infuse in all Canadians the transformational power of a shared identity. According to Martin, citizenship means more than the right to vote, to hold and transfer property and to move freely under the protection of the state. He said that, "Citizenship is the right to full partnership in the fortunes and future of the nation."

Writer Andrew Cohen echoes this truth. He rightly identifies the Citizenship Act as perhaps our country's most potent instrument in nation building — a key "part of a process of national self-definition that would. . ." over time, ". . . lead to a native-born Governor General, a new national flag, a reworded national anthem and a renewed constitution."

The Canadian Citizenship Act exerted this power because, in Martin's view, it was "pressed forward by the best sort of nationalist feeling," a feeling that inspired Canadians to create a citizenship not based on blood and tribe but on rights and obligations; a citizenship that embraces and includes rather than rejects and excludes; a citizenship that has endured and deepened in our country for the past 64 years.