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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?

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Marion Vermeersch, Bramah’s sister, has also been denied citizenship. She has pressed their case loudly, but unsuccessfully.

One of her arguments was made to a parliamentary committee that met several years ago to consider changes to citizenship laws.

After her appearance, Vermeersch was invited to apply for an individual ministerial grant of citizenship, but the serving minister moved on to a new portfolio, and she received no response.

Now a resident of Simcoe, Ont., Vermeersch says she and her young brother arrived in Canada aboard the Queen Mary in 1946 – and were assured by then-prime minister Mackenzie King that they were now Canadian citizens.

She still has a pamphlet and card that her mother was given, explaining where she would vote and that the family would be citizens, she notes.

Vermeersch has not set foot outside Canada since the day she arrived. She was issued a social insurance number, worked for 50 years before retiring, served on a jury and paid her taxes.

The siblings only discovered they were not considered Canadians in 2003 when Bramah applied for a passport. They were given the option of applying for landed resident status instead.

Vermeersch says she got her “permanent” status card in 2005, but the five-year card expired last year and when she attempted to renew it, she was told her paperwork from 1946 is unacceptable.

The pair remain caught in a technical limbo that they intend to remedy through their lawsuit, Chapman says.

That’s because they were born in Britain, out of wedlock and before 1947. Their Canadian dad was refused permission to marry before the end of the war, and married only after he was wounded and returned to Britain.

Rules regarding out-of-wedlock births applied to them initially, Chapman says.

Subsequent legislation aimed at legitimizing the children of war brides should have resolved their situation.

Only it didn’t, according to the government.

Joe Taylor, one of the “war bride” children who were bypassed, filed for a judicial review. And he won, in some measure. A federal court ruled that Taylor was indeed a Canadian citizen. The government then appealed to federal appeals court, where they declared that Taylor had been a citizen, but that he had lost his citizenship on his twenty-fourth birthday because he hadn't been living in Canada.  Taylor then got a 5.4 citizenship grant, a "grant of citizenship", which restored his citizenship.  Today, the age twenty-four requirement is no longer  applicable.

The cost, as then-citizenship minister Monte Solberg told the House of Commons, could run into “tens of billions of dollars,” if the government was forced to correct the law retroactively, given the implication for “hundreds of statutes” and “dozens of departments”.

For Bramah and Vermeersch, the idea of attaching a cost to their citizenship doesn’t wash.

Taylor was later given citizenship via a ministerial grant. Bramah and Vermeersch weren’t.

They will be arguing that the issue of the status of children of war brides has been settled in court already, and that something has gone very wrong since then.

A long lineup

Bramah’s case is just the first in what will be a long line of lawsuits, Chapman says.

The circumstances at issue vary -- everyone from those born out of wedlock to women who married non-Canadians prior to 1947.

But many of the practical reasons behind them are common: fears about medical care, pensions and identities that they say rest on being Canadian.

In 2009, after years of lobbying, Chapman and his group pushed Bill C-37 into place, retroactively granting citizenship to those who lost their status after Jan. 1, 1947. But for those whose cases predated that, their status remains unresolved. 

Somewhere just behind Bramah in the legal lineup is Jackie Scott, a Vancouver woman also born in England, in 1945, to a Canadian serviceman and his British war bride.

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