This Article is part of the Lost Canadians special report See the full report

Discriminatory laws against unwed mothers leave Lost Canadian Ken Smith out in the cold

As the world celebrate progress on International Women's Day, Lost Canadians born out of wedlock still face gender discrimination due to outdated citizenship laws.

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Like many Lost Canadians, Smith was initially encouraged by news of a bill that passed in 2009—Bill C-37—which helped restore citizenship to people affected by loopholes in the Citizenship Act. Unfortunately, there were still many whose circumstances did not apply to the new legislation.

Smith was one of those excluded.

“We celebrated Bill C-37. I was pleased, and then it seemed to slide back to where we were before,” said Smith.

“Understanding that there’s about five per cent of the Lost Canadians who haven’t been dealt with, they’re saying that they’ll deal with them on a case-by-case basis. But the question is, how are they making judgment on a case-by-case basis? What rules are applying? They need to make it clear,” said Johnston.

While there have been some successes, other Lost Canadians who have applied on this “case-by-case” basis have still been denied. There has, however, been some recent progress in more aggressive appeals to the federal government.

Smith says he's paying close attention to a landmark court case taken up by Lost Canadian advocate Don Chapman, regarding the citizenship of Jackie Scott. Like Smith, Scott was also born out of wedlock and now faces a similar challenge in trying to prove her nationality. Just last month, Chapman applied for a federal review of Scott’s case, on the basis of age and gender discrimination.

“I think that the outcome of that case will affect Ken’s situation,” said Johnston.

Next steps

As they await the results of Scott's case, Johnston says she and her husband will continue to push for his own citizenship. But they don't want it to be adversarial.

“I like to advocate in a positive way,” said Johnston.

“And the way of doing that is that we need to find a person who is in a position to make change,” she said, pulling up a list of MPs on her computer.

Johnston says their next step will be reaching out to these politicians, particularly those on the Standing Committee for Citizenship and Immigration. The Vice Chair of this committee, Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies, is one of the top names on their to-do list.

Davies has previously commented on Lost Canadians, noting the difficulties in approaching an issue that bureaucrats are “a little reluctant to talk about”.

"I think it's just a combination of bureaucratic rigidity and weird historical elements and policy perspectives that you grapple with,” he said in July 2011.

Having dealt with this “bureaucratic rigidity” for most of his life, Smith says it’s tough sometimes not to simply give up.

“It has the very distinct effect of knocking the wind out of your sails, as they say,” said Smith.

“I’ll push it and push it, and then I get to the point that I’m so fed up with it because it’s so one-sided and it’s so discriminatory. It’s so un-Canadian.”

But despite past disappointments, Johnston is determined to take all necessary steps to secure her husband’s rightful citizenship. She looks forward to the day when they’ll be able to cross the border with ease, when Smith will finally get the acknowledgement he deserves.

“I want Ken to be a Canadian citizen, he wants to be a Canadian citizen—and he is a Canadian citizen. It’s a question of proving it. And that’s what is so frustrating,” said Johnston.

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