Minors, lunatics, idiots...and women
Though making perfect sense at the time, the inherent social mores over female bodies bled profusely into the 1947 Citizenship Act, discriminating against women well into the 21st Canadian century, limiting their ability to pass on citizenship, making men the supreme arbitrator of statehood.
The repercussions of gender based discrimination in Canada’s Citizenship Act was under the radar in most circles until the late 2000's, when the United States government declared that Canadians needed passports to enter America, ending more than a century of mutual trust. It was then that most Lost Canadians discovered not only were they not citizens, but that their mothers,’ in legislative terms, were lunatics.
Gender equality has often been a case of two steps forward, one step back said Veronica Strong-Boag, a historian and founding director of the UBC Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies.
Early citizenship policy was an improvement on previous legislation of colonial Britain, which classified women under a disability with “minors, lunatics and idiots.” Incremental, indeed: aspects of the 1947 Citizenship Act were inherently discriminatory, and revision would render the language laughable if the individual human cost were not so dear. In particular, the act differentiates between the sexes in the definition of a “responsible parent.”
Section 2 (n) states: “ ‘responsible parent’ means the father; except that, where the father is dead, … or where a child was born out of wedlock, ‘responsible parent’ means the mother.”
For certain classes of Lost Canadian, the sex of the 'responsible' parent was the determining factor in their claim to statehood. If you were born outside of Canada to married parents, you adopted the father's nationality, if unwed, the mother's.
Women having sex before marriage was not seen as an expression of independence—it was seen as female vulnerability and an overall failure of the state, Strong-Boag added. “It was also seen as a certain failure of patriarchal discipline and control over women’s sexuality, which belonged first to her father, and then when she was legitimately linked to her husband, of course, through her father’s approval.”
Though making perfect sense at the time, the inherent social mores over female bodies bled profusely into the 1947 Act, decimating against women well into the 21st Canadian century, limiting their ability to pass on citizenship, making men the supreme arbitrator of statehood.