Canada's bureaucracy still denies citizenship to children of soldiers
More than 170,000 people from around the world become citizens in Canada every year after entering the country as immigrants. Meanwhile, because of antiquated legislation, the government denies people born to Canadian parents and those who have lived here half their lives, full rights of citizenship. This is the first story in a ten-part series about an injustice that may outlive a number of its victims.
"Why can't they see I'm Canadian?"
Jackie Scott opened up her father's war record and showed it to a reporter.
Scott, 65, spends six months each year in an R.V. park next to the American border in Surrey, BC. A slight, competent woman with graying red hair and a deeply lined face, Scott has the courteous demeanor of a Canadian.
On her living room table two cups of coffee, a plate of muffins and napkins stood waiting. She sat down by the window and held in her hands a collection of documents: a well-kept photograph of her father as a soldier, her mother's naturalization certificate, letters from the Canadian government, copies of Canada's immigration and citizenship acts and pictures of her Canadian born daughter and grandchildren.
An imposing 20-foot grey wall looking as if it were picked from a West Bank settlement in Israel and placed on 176th street encircles the West and South sides of the park. The symbolism of this situation is hard to ignore. Jackie, daughter of a Canadian soldier and a British-born mother naturalized as a Canadian citizen in 1955, learned she was a ‘visitor’ in Canada in 2005, when after applying for a citizenship card in order to get a passport, she received a letter from the government saying she was not Canadian.
After 9/11, a certain group of Canadians got a rude awakening. When Canadians suddenly needed passports to travel between here and the U.S., Citizenship and Immigration Canada turned their applications for passports and proof of citizenship cards down. It wasn't because they were security threats. Far from it. Most had been contributing members of Canadian society for a large portion of their lives. The majority were the children of love alliances formed during World War II between British women and Canadian soldiers fighting the spread of fascism. And due to an antiquated law regarding the marital status of the applicants' parents at the time of the applicants' birth, people who had fully functioned as Canadian and whose parents had risked everything for their country were denied.
Jason Kenney, Canada's immigration minister, has estimated that possibly hundreds of thousands of people were affected. As this became apparent, the government moved quickly to change the laws, but did not change them all.
“I had the letter in my hand, and was shaking,” Scott said, recalling her first denial. “I felt so embarrassed, because as I read down, the reason for the denial was because I was born out of wedlock…they’re saying I’m a bastard.”
Scott shares a common struggle with countless Canadians of her generation – they were born when ‘legitimacy’ mattered. She is quick to accept that today’s society has a different attitude towards children born out of wedlock, but back then she said, it was a big deal, and as she now is all too aware, could result in a loss of statehood.
“My parents didn’t want me to know the circumstances of my birth. You didn’t share that with anyone,” she said.
It wasn’t until Scott was 17 that she learned the circumstances that brought her into this world. She always new that she was born while her father was stationed in England during the war in 1945, but not of her parent’s unmarried status.
“I often wonder how angry my father would feel that they are denying me when he served his country during the war,” Scott said.
Bastard out of Canada
Never once did she doubt or even consider that as a child of a war veteran father and a naturalized Canadian citizen mother, that she would have to inquire about the laws of her governing identity or doubt her nationality. She was wrong. Scott fights back the tears today when she thinks of the term that the government has continually thrown in her face for the past five years.
Being a ‘bastard’ in the 1940’s and 50’s didn't close the door on citizenship, but it did require some paperwork if those who were foreign born wanted the benefits that came with being ‘legitimate.’ Few were aware of such bureaucratic obscurities, however. Scott's parents were of the few who did know. In 1955 her father ‘legitimized’ her in writing according to the 1921 Ontario Legitimization Act (a law established to deal with war brides of World War I). With the stamp of a notary, he declared that she was his child and that her mother was his wife. Scott held up a copy of the document delivered by the then Registrar of Canadian Citizenship. Her father’s signature was on it, an ace in the hole surely, or so she had thought.
Scott has made the argument to Canadian immigration that her legitimization in Ontario under a provincial law ought to have settled the matter since provinces at the time had control over citizenship. The case was good enough for Ontario in 1955, good enough to get her a Social Insurance Number card, and good enough to pass citizenship to her daughter and grand-daughter, but still not good enough for Canada to give her a passport in 2010.
“They don’t even know their own laws,” she said, insisting that the 1955 Registrar letter recognizes her.
In addition to the two arguments she has submitted, Scott was living in Canada on her 24th birthday. It used to be that if you weren't living in Canada on at that age, you weren't qualified to be a citizen – yet another obscure citizenship law. But that would only matter if she had a claim in the first place, which immigration said she does not.
While insisting they are not aware of their own laws, Scott has become all too familiar with Citizen and Immigration Canada’s excellent handle on the clarity of refusal. The government has not minced words. Her voice dropped as she read an excerpt from the bare prose of the colourless paper in her hand.
“I regret to inform you that a positive recommendation will not be made as you have not demonstrated that a discretionary grant of citizenship pursuant to subsection 5(4) is warranted.”
This special 5(4) grant was created to apply to the so-called ‘five percent’ like Scott that Canada’s most recent citizenship legislation from 2009 knowingly left behind.
Her second letter of denial added the additional note that “no compelling grounds have been identified to warrant a reward for exceptional services to Canada.”
“I often wonder how my father would feel, how angry he would feel that they are denying me when he served his country during the war,” Scott said.
She's spent half of her life here. Voted. Worked. Paid taxes to Canada. She has Canadian children and grandchildren. Her father was a war veteran, and her mother, after being naturalized by subsequent marriage, lived outher days as a Canadian.
The case has bewildered Scott's neighbours at the RV Park. If Scott's not a Canadian, who is?
Tomorrow: Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, refuses to answer questions The Vancouver Observer submits about continued flaws in Canada's citizenship laws, while Jackie Scott and others wait in limbo for citizenship.
This story is the first in a series sponsored by The Chapman Foundation