Decades-long wait for citizenship coming to end for some Lost Canadians
"I cried when I was reading the (new citizenship) bill. I want to jump for joy, but I'm afraid to allow myself that until I can hold my citizenship card in my hand," said Jackie Scott, the daughter of a Canadian war veteran who has been waiting for nearly seven decades to receive the citizenship she was supposed to have all along.
While the new Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24) has come under fire for making citizenship more restrictive, has promised to restore citizenship to Lost Canadians who were born before 1947, as well as their first generation born children abroad.
Unbeknownst to many Canadians, Canadian citizenship legislation has long excluded legitimate Canadians due to blatant discrimination against women, the elderly and children born out of wedlock. Some of these Canadians include children of war veterans, like Scott, or are war veterans themselves who fought for Canada only to be told in their old age that the government never considered them to be citizens.
Take Scott's case, for example. Although she grew up in Ontario, Scott was born in the UK in 1945 to a British mother and Canadian soldier father. She only discovered she was a non-citizen in her late fifties, when authorities rejected her passport application on the basis that she as born abroad, out of wedlock -- a "bastard" child, so to speak. Even though her parents had been married for as long as she can remember, sexist laws of the time ruled that if a child is born out of wedlock, it is the sole responsibility of the mother, and obtain the father's citizenship. Furthermore, discriminatory laws back then refused to allow Canadian mothers to pass on citizenship to their born-abroad children, if the children were born from non-Canadian fathers in wedlock.
All this will change as a result of the new legislation. Now, regardless of whether the children were born in or out of wedlock, as long as the child's parent was a Canadian or a British subject ordinarily residing in Canada, they will receive citizenship. Finally, the changes mean that the last embers of discrimination in Canadian citizenship laws will have been nearly stamped out.
"Can you believe it? It took until 2014 to get this done," citizenship advocate Don Chapman said, shaking his head. "It should have been done a long time ago."
However, some categories of Lost Canadians remain excluded. Heather Harnois, an Ontario-based mother of a long Ojibwa bloodline who has been shut out of obtaining both Indian Status as well as citizenship due to a “second generation cut-off” rule that prevented Indian women from passing on status to their children. As a result, Harnois can't get a social insurance number, health care or child tax benefits, even for one of her Canadian-born children. The new bill didn't help her or other individuals such as second generation born abroad Canadians obtain their much needed citizenship status.
And while Scott is receiving her citizenship, she has said that her case is still moving forward, because one major issue the federal government hasn't budged on is its stance that Canadian soldiers were British soldiers and not Canadian citizens prior to 1947.
In 2012, then-immigration minister Jason Kenney told Scott in person that her father and other soldiers may have been heroes, but were not citizens during the war. This strikes Chapman as baffling, given the ample references to citizenship well before that date in both Parliament and Supreme court case documents.
"The concept of being 'Canadian' has existed for centuries, but Canadian citizenship as we now know it was only enshrined legally in 1947," CIC representative Sonia Lesage said, in response to a question of whether Canadian soldiers were considered citizens prior to 1947. The repeated stance of CIC has been that all soldiers (including those who died in battle) were "British subjects" until that date.
"It is unforgivable that the government still refuses to acknowledge the Canadian citizenship of our war dead. Our soldiers fought willingly to defend their country. They are denying the soldiers, those that gave their lives for their country, the ultimate recognition -- their citizenship," Scott said. "If you ask any of them who did survived the war (and I have asked), they say they fought as Canadian citizens. They are angry when they learn that the government does not accept that. My father voluntarily fought for Canada; my blood boils when the bureaucrats say he wasn't a Canadian citizen when I was born."
The federal government's refusal to recognize the war dead as Canadian citizens strikes Chapman as contradictory, given its support for a newmilitary monument to honour the Canadian war dead buried abroad. He wonders how Canada's government could honour them without recognizing their citizenship.
"Harper needs to come out and say they were Canadian citizens, because they were," Chapman said. "Even the recruiting posters back then told the soldiers they were Canadian citizens. Citizenship and Immigration said they weren't Canadian citizens 'as we now know it', but they had citizenship as they knew it back then. It's mostly symbolic, and it doesn't cost the government anything, so what public good is being served by denying this?"
Chapman said that the citizenship status of Canada's war dead strikes an especially sensitive nerve for Chinese Canadian and other minority soldiers who were never considered "British subjects" prior to 1947. If they aren't recognized as citizens, it means that such soldiers died abroad as "resident aliens" of Canada, which some Chinese Canadians have said is insulting to their sacrifice for their country.