Glenn Fenech spent his early years in Toronto, playing winter sports and watching the planes fly by at Pearson airport. But Fenech, now an airline pilot, can't call himself Canadian. At the age of eighteen, he had to renounce his Canadian citizenship in order to gain the right to work in Malta, where he had moved as a child with his parents. If he had been born just eight months later, he would have never had to give his citizenship up. He would have qualified for dual citizenship, under a partnership agreement between Canada and Malta.
"My freedom was taken away from me. Deep down inside it kills me that this happened," Fenech said.
Fenech was born in Toronto in 1969 to Maltese parents. "I remember the snow, going to parks and celebrating Christmas," Fenech said.
In 1975, when Fenech was six, his parents decided to move to Malta, where they had been born and still had family. By this point, his father had been living in Canada for twenty-five years and was a landed immigrant. "He wanted to go back and see how it would work out," Fenech explained.
Fenech didn't want to leave, but as a child he had little choice. His eldest brother, who was fifteen when they left, spent two years in Malta before returning to Canada. He retained his Canadian citizenship.
Six years after moving back to Malta, Fenech's father passed away at age 47. Not wanting to abandon his mother, he decided to stay in Malta to get a job and take care of her. "It was a hard decision to make, but I couldn't leave her. She had had to take care of everything on her own since I was twelve." Fenech also worried about starting over in Canada. The education system is completely different and I would have had to go on welfare to support myself, he said.
Fenech decided to train as a pilot but soon discovered that Maltese laws prohibited him from working unless he formally renounced his Canadian citizenship. He tried to delay the process for as long as he could, but in the end, Fenech had to give up his citizenship.
"I was very upset and angry. I wasn't given a choice. Sure, I could have left Malta, but how would I have started my life over?"
Some eight months after Fenech renounced his citizenship, Canada and Malta enacted a dual citizenship agreement.
For the past twenty three years, he has been appealing to the Canadian government to grant him citizenship. In 1994, while training for his pilot's license in the United States, he tried to get a Canadian passport. "They told me that if you are born in Canada, you are Canadian." But Fenech never received his passport.
Now, there is a new urgency in his fight to regain his Canadian citizenship. Fenech has applied for a job with Air Canada, but one of the requirements is that he must be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident. He currently works for Air Malta, but they have been facing financial difficulties because of the recession.
Fenech, his wife, and their two children, are visiting his brother in Toronto over Christmas. "Every time I come here, Canada feels like home. It’s like I’ve been living here for my entire life," he said. He hopes that the Department of Immigration will change its mind before he leaves Toronto in early January. In Malta, there is a Canadian consulate, but no embassy, making it more difficult for Fenech to have his case heard.
Fenech has received support from "Lost Canadian" activist Don Chapman, an advocate for those who have discovered that they are not Canadian, due to an obscure set of citizenship laws. The two men have known each other since 2004.
"Glenn was a Canadian child, he's self-sufficient, under duress he took our Maltese citizenship, and now Canada is telling him he's not welcome. It's incredible,"
After 59 years of waiting, Sandy Burke, another Lost Canadian that Chapman has assisted, received her citizenship on December 21st.