The Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect on 1 January 1947 under the government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. The act established Canadian citizenship as a distinct category and allowed residents of Canada to obtain citizenship regardless of their country of origin. Prior to 1947, individuals born in Canada and naturalized immigrants were classified as British subjects rather than Canadian citizens.
The Canadian Citizenship Act was a significant expression of Canada’s emerging sense of national identity. Many Canadians believed Canada’s participation in the Second World War had strengthened its position as a sovereign nation and there was a growing desire to establish symbols of its independent nationhood. The government also hoped the creation of Canadian citizenship would alleviate racial and ethnic tensions in Canada and foster a sense of unity amongst its increasingly diverse population.
The Canadian Citizenship Act established the criteria for obtaining citizenship and outlined the circumstances under which citizenship could be lost or revoked. Canadian citizenship was automatically conferred upon natural-born Canadians, which included those born outside of Canada if their father was born in Canada or was a British subject with Canadian domicile. A mother’s status was only considered if the child was born out of wedlock. Individuals that were not natural-born Canadians but were British subjects with Canadian domicile or naturalized subjects prior to the enactment of the legislation would also receive citizenship.
Immigrants could apply for citizenship after residing in Canada for five years providing they were of good character and possessed adequate knowledge of French or English. The language requirement could be disregarded if an immigrant had resided in Canada continuously for 20 years or more. Immigrants that had served in the First or Second World Wars were eligible for citizenship after only one year. The new legislation also granted married women greater authority over their nationality status. They would no longer lose their citizenship upon marrying a non-Canadian citizen, nor would they lose their status if their husband ceased to be a Canadian citizen, unless they had obtained citizenship as a result of their marriage.
Citizenship could be lost if an individual acquired the citizenship of another country, served in the armed forces of an enemy country during wartime or chose to renounce their Canadian citizenship. The governor-in-council (i.e. federal cabinet) also reserved the right to revoke citizenship from anyone other than natural-born Canadians if they were disloyal to the British Crown, engaged with an enemy country during war, resided outside of Canada for more than six years or had a fraudulent certificate of naturalization.
In Canada’s first citizenship ceremony on 3 January 1947, 26 individuals were presented with certificates of Canadian citizenship. Among the recipients was Prime Minister Mackenzie King who received certificate 0001.
Library and Archives Canada. Statutes of Canada. An Act Respecting Citizenship, Nationality, Naturalization and Status of Aliens, 1946. Ottawa: SC 10 George VI, Chapter 15
- Valerie Knowles, Forging our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900-1977 (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2000), 65.
- Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 314.
- Knowles, 64.
- Adam Chapnick, “The Gray Lecture and Canadian Citizenship in History,” American Review of Canadian Studies 37, no. 4 (December 2007):444.
- Knowles, 65.
- Knowles, 66.