The billion-dollar Lost Canadians citizenship battle heads for court

Fed up with being denied what they call their birthright, Lost Canadians are just days from filing lawsuits that will settle the matter for good. The question: Why is Ottawa fighting them?

Graphic by Mindy Chapman

A group of “Lost Canadians” who say their country has wrongfully denied them their citizenship is just days away from taking Ottawa to court over the issue – a fight the government predicted at one point could cost the country “tens of billions” of dollars in legislative fallout.

That estimate doesn’t include any damages the group might claim.

The court petition, the first of which is expected to be filed in Vancouver, will take the form of a request for a judicial review, and will charge the government with clinging to a set of arcane and complex rules that the group will argue have already been overturned in earlier court cases – and that Ottawa has simply refused to recognize.

Their arguments also centre on age and gender discrimination, both outlawed in Canada’s Charter of Rights.

In part, the group will argue that a woman must be as free to pass the right of citizenship to a child as a man is, and that the year in which one is born can’t be the basis of withholding citizenship.

It promises to be a grim legal battle.

Cost aside, in order to defend itself, Ottawa will be forced into a series of painful and offensive arguments, says Don Chapman, the group’s spokesman.

Among those arguments?

That one man registered as a status Indian under Canada’s Indian Act isn’t really a Canadian.

Or that people born before in Canada before 1947 aren’t really Canadian either – which, Chapman notes dryly, should come as a surprise to someone like Raymond Burr, the actor born in New Westminister, B.C., who rose to such international fame that in 2008, Canada Post featured him on one of the stamps in its “Canadians in Hollywood” series, and in 2009, he received a Canadian Legends Award and a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Details of the battle waged to date by the feisty, determined band of people known as the Lost Canadians was detailed by the Vancouver Observer in an award-winning series that can be found here.

Ironies abound

As the first of the cases is filed in court this month, irony will hang heavy in the air, says Chapman, a Lost Canadian who won his own battle to have his citizenship recognized and in the process became a spokesman for the rest.

As Remembrance Day poppies sprout on lapels across the country and Stephen Harper’s government pushes to boost the role of the military in Canada’s history and consciousness, the first Lost Canadian expected to file suit is retired naval officer Peter Bramah, Chapman says.

Bramah, a Calgary resident in failing health, came to Canada as the child of an English war bride and a Canadian father, Chapman says.

Bramah joined the Canadian navy as a young man, travelled the world serving in the Canadian military and retired as a chief petty officer.

But Bramah is not a Canadian citizen, he learned eight years ago.

Bramah’s problem centres on the fact that he was born out of wedlock to a Sussex woman who went on to have a second child, a daughter, with the Canadian soldier who later married her. Their dad, a sergeant in the Royal Canadian artillery, moved the children to Canada and adopted Bramah, Chapman says.

It isn’t a coincidence that his case will be the first pushed forward.

“It’s apropos for Remembrance Day,” Chapman says. “Here we have a real live Canadian veteran being told he’s not one of us. He voted, paid taxes and served his country.

“And so did his dad.”

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