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Born-abroad Canadians' citizenship threatened due to obscure rules

A few years ago, Johan Fast, a Manitoba-based trucker, heard through word of mouth to his mother that if he wanted to retain his citizenship, he would have to send in a long list of documents to the Canadian government before his 28th birthday. He'd never received any official letter or phone call from the Canadian government, but he heard that according to an obscure part of the Citizenship Act, any one born outside Canada to a Canadian parent on or after February 15, 1977, was required to send in a litany of documents, including:

  • An original birth certificate listing the names of the child’s parents 
  • 3 photos which conform to the published photograph specifications.
  • Proof that one of the parents was a Canadian citizen at the time of the child’s birth. 
  • Parent’s original marriage certificate and a certified translation if not in English or French.
  • Both parents’ passports.
  • Fee of CAD $75.00. 

Born in Mexico in 1980, Fast had come to Canada when he was eight years old. His grandfather was born in Manitoba and brought his family to Mexico before deciding later to bring his family back. Even though he'd always considered himself a Canadian, realized he may need to submit large amounts of paperwork to retain his citizenship. 

Fast gathered every document, included the fee, and sent everything in a few months after his 28th birthday in 2008.

Fast then waited. And waited. Over four years trickled by, and they had still heard nothing back. It seemed as though the application was forgotten. Then came the time to renew Fast’s Canadian passport, and he needed to have proof of his citizenship. Fast was compelled to call CIC to find out what had happened to his application.

He finally heard back in March that his application was still sitting with a judge, and that he would have to re-send all his documents once more. Fast and his wife, Linda, were furious 

“They (CIC officials) say they’re processing it. I called there today, and I actually asked them to send back my information that I’d sent them, because I believe they’ve lost it,” Linda Fast said grimly.

“Honestly, that’s my belief. He has a client ID number. It even says online that they received his application in January 2009. They started processing it March 2009,” she said. In her view, four years is an unreasonably long time to sit on one application.

Where did all the documents go?

Had her husband not called them, she believes they would have never gotten back to him.

Fast has a family-owned moving company in Winkler, Manitoba, which requires him to travel frequently across the border to the US. If he can’t receive his citizenship card and renew his passport by fall, his business will be in serious jeopardy.

“We have our own trucks, but we have a total of eight trucks on the road, with owner-operators. We move from the US to Canada, so it doesn’t just affect us personally, but also as a business.”

Some might point to the fact that Fast technically sent in his documents and fee shortly after his 28th birthday. But Fast says there are others who did everything by the book ahead of schedule and still experienced the same delay. 

“I know of a guy who sent all his paperwork in before he was 28, and he went to renew his passport, and he needed his citizenship card back. And…they went bankrupt because of it,” she said, saying he suffered the same treatment.

Some government websites assure it should only take around 7 to 10 months to process the paperwork. Just how big is the backlog that a citizenship processing since March 2009 would still not be finished?

“I know of lots of people in Manitoba (who were born abroad), and they were born in 1978…they’ve never done anything, so they’re going to be in the same situation,” Fast said. 

Stateless Canadians born abroad after 1977 

Even though the Citizenship Act was significantly amended in 2009, for some reason, this "28th birthday" deadline remained in tact. Fast strongly believes the Canadian government has done a poor job of notifying people born outside Canada to a Canadian parent after 1977 about their situation. 

“Most people don’t even know about it. The only way my mother in law found out was word of mouth.”

Even though he was born in Mexico, Fast does not have Mexican citizenship. If the government does not get back with his documents, he will be rendered stateless. 

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