Lost Canadians angered by ongoing age discrimination and gender injustice
Ian Munroe couldn't figure it out. Why wasn't he a Canadian?
"Lost Canadian," is a title referring to potentially tens of thousands of Canadians who, by a continuing set of obscure Canadian citizenship laws, find out they are not Canadian. Being born out of wedlock, not being in Canada on your 24th birthday, being born outside of the country to a Canadian citizen who themselves were born out of the country, were once some of these laws. Many have been since changed, but not all. And Ian Munroe was soon to discover that he was a Lost Canadian. He was one of the Lost Canadians who face a unique gender injustice and age discrimination at the hands of the government they believed was their own.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, about 170,000 new people become proud Canadian citizens every year. They came from all over the world and are eligible to apply after residing in Canada for three years, learning English or French, and passing a citizenship test.
How could it be that a man like Munroe could live in Canada for over 60 years, serve for 18 years in the Canadian Navy, even have Métis blood and still not be considered a Canadian citizen?
"I'd more or less given up, because I was told I never had a chance in hell," Munroe said with a laugh over the phone from his home in Chester, Nova Scotia. For 25 years, Munroe had made futile efforts penning letters to the editor, phoning up Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs to help address the situation that he was wrongfully being denied citizenship.
Munroe's story is emblematic of his generation: his father was in the Canadian Navy during the Second World War, and married a Scottish woman he met while overseas. Munroe arrived with his mother in Halifax as an infant in 1946, and lived as most Canadians do: working, paying taxes, and even serving in the Canadian Navy. Yet he was one of the thousands of Lost Canadians-- legitimate Canadians who have been stripped of or denied citizenship due to arcane and discriminatory laws. Munroe's story illustrates the injustice of policies that exclude even the most deserving Canadians of citizenship. It's a situation the Harper administration has long known about, yet has been reluctant to address.
Condemned to statelessness?
After years of wrangling, Munroe had almost given up his dream for Canadian citizenship and passport. It wasn't so inconvenient at first: by his own admission, Munroe wasn't a fan of air travel and preferred to be traveling by sea on his "beautiful little 29-foot sailboat".
But the importance of having citizenship hit home when he found out five years ago that one of his best friends in the U.S. was dying of cancer.
"I had no interest in getting a passport, but when my friend got sick...I couldn't even cross the border to see him." After 9/11, border controls were tightened, and Canadians who were previously only required to show a driver's license or birth certificate to cross the border were now expected to show a have a passport.
"I couldn't even go to his funeral," Munroe recalled, his voice tinged with regret.
His wife then urged him to fight once more for his citizenship. It wasn't just for the passport, but Munroe was 62 at the time and would soon be in need of his pension. If the government refused to issue him a Canadian passport, what were the odds of him receiving his old age pension?
In November, 2010, Munroe met with Melynda Jarratt, owner of Maven New Media in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where she arranged for him to gather his papers and meet her local MP and apply for citizenship.
"I'm extremely fortunate in that my mother never threw anything out," Munroe said.
"Everything was kept – I had even my father's birth certificate. I have photos from the 1840s from my (Canadian) father's family and even have a letter written by one of my great great grandfathers in Canada in 1834."
All of Munroe's documents demonstrated his family's undeniable Canadian heritage: his father's side of the family had been in Canada for over 100 years. Jarratt convinced Munroe to send copies of his papers and a letter explaining his situation.
"I wrote to (Citizenship and Immigration Minister) Jason Kenney, I wrote to my MP, I wrote to the Prime Minister," Munroe recalled.
"Not one of them answered me. Not one."
Singling out unmarried mothers and war bride children
In March 2011, after months of silence from the government, Munroe's phone suddenly rang. A CIC representative named Stella Holiday called him was on the other line, asking him what he felt to be an inappropriate question.
"She asked me outright: were my mother and father married when I was born? I said, I sent it to you! You've got it (the marriage certificate) right in front of you!"
Whether Holiday realized it or not, asking Munroe that question was off-limits: basing his citizenship on his mother's marital status was grounds for gender discrimination, according to the Canadian Human Rights Act. It was also in blatant violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to question the legitimacy of his application based on his mother's marital status (fortunately for Munroe, his parents were married at the time of his birth).
Last month, Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney even stated that the government does not discriminate based on age, gender or marital status -- and yet here was a government authority, asking if Munroe's mother had given birth to him out of wedlock.
"She's not allowed to ask me what colour I am, what religion I am -- she's not allowed to ask me anything like that," he said.
Jarratt heard Munroe's story and urged him to file a complaint with the Canada Human Rights Commission, and his story soon began making the rounds in the press. From then on, authorities were not so slow to respond.
"One evening, I get a call from Stella (Holiday) and she tells me they're going to expedite my citizenship and I'd have it by the end of the week." Munroe didn't believe her, but did end up receiving his citizenship in the mail, after 25 years of trying. That brought his case to an end, but a question still haunted him.
"I called Stella and I asked her: What would have happened if my parents weren't married? She said, well, you'd be waiting another three or four years. And that made me really upset," he said.
"It means if you get someone who's turning 65, and finds out only then that they're not a citizen, they have to wait? That's three or four years of pension down the tubes."
Three or four years, sadly, is likely a conservative estimate. Jackie Scott, the daughter of a Canadian war veteran who was born out of wedlock, was rejected repeatedly over eight years until she finally took her case to court last month.
Red-flagged children from England and Scotland
"There is a cohort of these children who were born in 1946 and 1947 who are now applying for Old Age Security Pension (OAS)," Jarratt explained in an email. "They get caught in the trap because they have to say where they were born. As soon as they fill in the word England or Scotland , they get red flagged.
"The government...can deny other benefits until you prove when you arrived and if you qualify. If you were born out of wedlock before 1947 to a Canadian war bride and World War II veteran who married after your birth, you are out of luck.
"They will only grant citizenship from today forward, not retroactively, which means these people who have voted, had passports in the past, paid taxes, worked, served in the military like Senator Romeo Dallaire did before he found out he wasn’t a citizen, can have their citizenship taken away from them because they never actually had it in the first place."
Prejudice against older Canadians?
Leonard Johnson, 65, is feeling the effects of restrictive government policy today. Like many others in his situation, Johnson believed his whole life that he was a Canadian by virtue of being the son of a Scottish war bride and Canadian war veteran father. Last month, CIC sent him a letter saying that his pension was being put under review until he could provide "certified" proof of Canadian citizenship and a copy of his passport.
"I'm really upset," he said, his voice trembling as he spoke over the phone from Winnipeg. "The government was happy to take my money when I was making $130,000 a year as a truck driver. They never asked any questions then. Why didn't they tell me this before I turned 65?"
Like many Lost Canadians of his generation, Johnson is hardly a "Canadian of convenience," or people who take advantage of their citizenship only when it suits them. He has spent virtually his whole life in Canada, and ended up taking a British passport when it became clear that Canadian authorities weren't going to grant him his travel documents.
Johnson turned 65 last November, and had been receiving his pension for two months when he received the letter.
"I'm going through severe stress right now," he said. "Are they going to take away my pension?"
The application forms won't be easy for Johnson to complete. He went blind in one eye in 2006 and only has 20 per cent vision in his other eye. He has enlisted a friend to help him gather the documents, but each piece of information costs money to obtain. He has to pay $75 to apply for "Proof of Citizenship" and another $75 to obtain his father's birth certificate in Ontario, in addition to a fee to obtain his parents' marriage certificate in England. The financial costs weigh down on him heavily, since he has been surviving on just $866 a month on CPP since losing his eyesight.
"What makes me mad is that the government already has all this information about me, but they're making me go pay for it at the archives," Johnson said in frustration.
"I still work, too, part-time, unloading trucks, with what little I can see out of my one eye, and I'm still paying taxes for all this nonsense."
Having lived and worked in Canada his whole life, Johnson expressed a sense of betrayal by the government in their apparent willingness to accept new immigrants even as they shut out lifelong Canadian war bride children like himself.
"I think this government doesn't do enough to take care of its older people," he said bitterly. "They keep saying they need more immigrants coming here, but a lot of those guys haven't really done anything for Canada. And we've been here all our lives."