LOST CANADIANS: The political timeline
1867: Canada is born, a child of the British North America Act.
1868: Canadians gain their first identity as British subjects but Canadian "nationals” under the Canadian Nationals Act. In language common across the British empire, women are lumped in with “minors, lunatics and idiots" – in essence, as chattel of their husbands. Children are classed as chattel of their fathers if born to married parents and as chattel of their mothers if born out of wedlock.
1868 through 1947: Canadian women who marry non-Canadian men (non-British subjects), lose their Canadian status on marriage. In the 1990s, for those women affected who are still alive, Citizenship and Immigration Canada decides to recognize them as citizens -- but not so for their children, even if they were born and raised in Canada.
1929: A decision by the Privy Council of England in the "Famous Five" or "Person's" case rules that Canadian women are to be considered to be "people" under the law and entitled to rights. But it isn't for another 89 years that most Canadian women gain equal rights under citizenship law with regards to their children.
1947: Canada creates its own official identity after (as the story goes) senior cabinet minister Paul Martin takes a post-Second World War walk through the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery in France and realizes that the 707 Canadian soldiers buried there are British subjects and not Canadian citizens – and that “citizenship” did not exist in Canada. He writes the first Canadian Citizenship Act, which comes into force Jan. 1, 1947. While married women now have their own identity as citizens, they still have fewer rights than men in regard to passing citizenship on to their children. "Minors, lunatics and idiots" are still classified as "disabled" for citizenship purposes. For those born to married parents, the father is considered the "responsible parent”; for those born out of wedlock, it’s the mother. Out-of-wedlock children continue to have the word "BASTARD" stamped on their birth certificates.
1977: Canada passes its second Citizenship Act, but fails to make the new rules retroactive. Those already disenfranchised remain outcasts; those born or already Canadian on or after Feb. 15, 1977 now enjoy a different set of rights than those people who fell under the 1947 Act.
1982: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is adopted. Sec. 15(1) states: "Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability." Women win equal rights – unaware they don’t extend and won’t be applied in citizenship law to Canadian women and their children born pre-1977 outside of Canada.
1997: In the Supreme Court case "Benner vs. Canada", the justices rule unanimously that the Citizenship Act is unconstitutional in that it blatantly discriminates against women. Under the 1947 Act, Canadian women who married non-Canadian men and had a child outside of Canada did not have the right to pass citizenship onto their children. But men who married non-Canadian women and fathered a child outside of Canada did have that right. In the Benner ruling, Canadian women who had children outside of Canada were given the same right to pass citizenship onto their children.
2004: After much debate on the citizenship issue, a top ministry bureaucrat appears before a federal senate committee to announce that the government will no longer abide by the Benner decision.
2007: On Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, Canada's Minister of Citizenship announces that by fall 2008, she will introduce a Bill to correct past citizenship injustices.
2008: Bill C-37 is introduced into the House of Commons. It passes unanimously in both the House and Senate, receives Royal Assent on April 17, 2008. It will come into effect in one year.
2009: Bill C-37 is implemented on April 17, 2009, 27 years to the day after the Charter became law. For the first time in Canadian history, women are equal in law -- but only going forward. Bill C-37 is not made completely retroactive. While C-37 recognizes somewhere between 750,000 and to one million more people as citizens, it leaves out the second-generation, born-out-of-Canada decendants of Canadian women – although second-generation, born-out-of-Canada decedants of men still have a right to citizenship. The Supreme Court decision regarding equality of rights for women continues to be ignored. And children born pre-1947 inside or out of Canada to Canadian mothers and non-British subject fathers are still denied citizenship.
2010: On March 8, International Women's Rights Day, questions are raised in the House of Commons about ongoing discrimination against women. Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney avoids any direct answer.
Nov. 2011: A lineup of people still being denied what they claim is their rightful Canadian citizenship prepares to take the government to court, arguing a range of discriminations based on age and gender.