Lost Canadians: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Committee silent on statelessness
Saying that his father stressed the importance of Canadian citizenship before passing away, Dykstra said he fully understands the issue, and wishes to help the Canadians who have “slipped through the cracks”.
“I say directly to the Lost Canadians, I understand this is not an easy time, and we will do everything to work with them so that the title of Lost Canadians is removed.”
Dykstra said that his Conservative party was the only one truly engaging in the Lost Canadians issue, and said that a new piece of legislation, Bill C-37 (An Act to Strengthen the Value of Canadian Citizenship) would restore citizenship to those unjustly stripped of their citizenship. Now that the Conservative government had a majority, Dykstra said, the Lost Canadians would be seeing the bill passed very soon.
A “garbage bill”
Chapman, however, said the new legislation was a “garbage bill” that did nothing for the majority of Lost Canadians.
The bill, he said, merely grants Canadian citizenship to a tiny group of second-generation Canadians born abroad: it did not resolve the issue for the most significant group of remaining Lost Canadians.
“It doesn’t include people who were born prior to 1947,” he said. “You know who’s starting to be denied pension? The elderly. ”
In his view, the lawmakers don’t understand that their new bill doesn’t fix the citizenship problem for elderly Canadians because they don’t adequately know their citizenship laws. He said indignantly that despite Dykstra’s expressions of goodwill, he has always refused to meet with Chapman to discuss the Lost Canadians question.
Canada denying rightful pensions to the elderly?
Tilson’s stance of neutrality bothers many supporters of the Lost Canadians.
Tilson’s stance (or lack thereof) on the Lost Canadians issue is a break from that of previous chairs of the Citizenship and Immigration Committee.
Chapman said Tilson's predecessors, Andrew Telegdi and Joe Fontana -- former chairpersons of the same Citizenship and Immigration Committee were "anything but neutral."
A search of Hansard Services shows that Chapman is spot on.
"I found it quite shocking and certainly as a member of Parliament let me start by apologizing because this (the Lost Canadians situation) clearly should not be happening," Fontana said.
Peg Bosdet, a long-time supporter for Lost Canadians in New Brunswick, said she was stunned to hear Tilson's respsonse.
"We've talked to several committees -- at least five or six, and this is the fist time ever, ever that I've heard something like this," said Bosdet. She suggested that committee members were lacking interest in Canadian citizenship, and were skirting the issue in order to avoid having to pay out old age pensions.
"All Lost Canadians are of a certain age," she said. "They're a finite number of people, they're getting a bit older, so why change it? The government is thinking if you did, you have more people who suck off the system."
Lost Canadians are victims of an "obscure, unfair law" that "no politician today would defend," Robert Addington, a retired public servant in Ontario, said in an email to the Vancouver Observer.
Thousands of Lost Canadians received citizenship in a 2009 amendment to the Citizenship Act, but hundreds of cases remain unresolved.
Going to the grave stateless
Seven members of the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Committee did not respond to emails from the Vancouver Observer inquiring what is being done to remedy the situation for the Lost Canadians, while phone calls were met with either confusion or suggestions to look elsewhere for answers.
"Uh..." long pause..."can I get back to you on that?" an assistant said, who answered the phone for Kostas Menegakis, one of the members of the Citizenship and Immigration Committee.
Dykstra wrote in an email that the Conservative government has not forgotten about the remaining Lost Canadians, and that they would be dealt with on a "case-by-case" basis.
Chapman fears that for many Lost Canadians in their eighties and nineties today, the process may be too late. "Why did four Lost Canadians recently go to their grave disenfranchised from Canada, despite promises by the current government that they would be granted citizenship?" he asked.
"Let's assume that the Lost Canadians are not forgotten. That means just one thing -- the government is ignoring them."
NDP member Don Davies, critic for the Citizenship and Immigration Committee, said that he did not think politicians were avoiding the Lost Canadians issue for economic reasons.
"I haven't heard anybody raise an economic reason to avoid the topic," said Davies. "I think it's just a combination of bureaucratic rigity and weird historical elements and policy perspectives that you grapple with." The Citizenship Committee was still very new, and that because it's a complicated issue, "people are probably a little reluctant to talk about it," he said.