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Professor Lois Harder
Department of Political Science, University of Alberta

This paper examines the extraordinary case of Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Vavilov to explore the instability of birthright citizenship as a basis for political belonging. Vavilov – currently under consideration by the Supreme Court of Canada – involves a contestation over the citizenship of a young man, born in Canada, to parents who have subsequently been exposed as Russian spies. If this sounds like the set up for the US television drama The Americans, that’s because it is. While Canada, like other jus soli countries, does not grant citizenship to the children of foreign diplomats born on Canadian soil, the facts of this case have confused the foreign diplomat designation. But more than that, the case offers the opportunity to consider the stability of birthright citizenship when political exigencies afford the opportunity for the state to undermine it. Security concerns create particular vulnerabilities in this context, as they heighten the state’s interest in denying political membership to seemingly ‘unworthy’ people. Such cases also afford the opportunity for the state, the courts and various intervenors to articulate conceptions of the nation and substantive expectations of citizenship that do not, in fact, correspond to the requirements of birth-based citizenship acquisition. Situated within a broader project envisioning alternatives to birthright citizenship, the security context poses some significant challenges for a capacious commitment to inclusion. Given the consequences of statelessness, these are challenges with which we must reckon.

Lois Harder is a Professor of Political Science and Principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Lois’ research and teaching focuses on citizenship law, social policy and the regulation of intimate life. Lois is currently working on a book project examining Canada’s citizenship laws, the Lost Canadians, and the complexities of birthright citizenship. Her most recent publication, co-authored with Margot Challborn, is entitled “Sex and the Genuine Marriage: Consummation and Conjugality in Canadian Citizenship.” The article will appear in Citizenship Studies and can be found here: doi.org/10.1080/13621025.2019.1620686.

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