Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May filed a petition today on behalf of the Lost Canadians, a citizenship advocacy group, challenging the federal government’s version of the history of Canadian citizenship. The government must respond to the petition within 60 days.
Lost Canadians are a group of legitimate Canadians who have been denied citizenship due to obscure provisions of previous laws, which discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity and marital status.
Last month, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada suggested the legal concept of Canadian citizenship has existed only since January 1, 1947 -- the date that Canada's Citizenship Act came into effect.
"History does not support that assertion," Citizenship advocate Don Chapman said in a news release. "The government’s position seems to be that Canadian citizenship was created ex nihilo on Jan. 1, 1947. In fact, the term ‘Canadian citizen’ has been part of the statute law since 1910, not 1947."
Based on the federal government's interpretation of citizenship, numerous people -- including war veterans' children -- are not legally Canadian citizens. Former citizenship minister Jason Kenney and current citizenship minister Chris Alexander have both asserted that Canadians were all British subjects prior to 1947. Surrey resident Jackie Scott -- who was born in 1945 to a Canadian veteran and British war bride -- was repeatedly denied citizenship despite having lived for decades in Canada, on the premise that her Ontario-born father was not a citizen in the year she was born. She is presently suing the federal government to obtain her citizenship documents.
"So what they're basically saying is that people like Sir John A. Macdonald and (Nobel prize winner) Sir Frederick Banting were basically a couple of British subjects, and not Canadian citizens," he said. Chapman said it would mean that every Canadian soldier who died before 1947 for the country was not officially a citizen, which he says is historically inaccurate.
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper is looking like he may go down in history as a Prime Minister who did not know what a Canadian citizen is."
Chapman said that archival documents show that the term ‘Canadian citizen’ was used by the federal government numerous times prior to 1947. A document given to soldiers by the Department of National Defence in 1943, for example, told them that they would be fighting the war as citizens of Canada.
"This debate is essentially a three-way collision between history, politics and law," Chapman said.
"The case of Jackie Scott, now before the federal court, turns in part on this question: Was the Canadian Citizenship Act 1946 a complete break with the past, or did it build on what came before? And if Canadian soldiers of the Second World War (including Ms. Scott’s father) were told that they were fighting as Canadian citizens, why is the government now telling us they were not?"