After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!
Vimy Ridge Anniversary: soldiers who died for Canada were not Canadian, according to Harper government
Ninety-five years ago this week, 3,598 British soldiers, all dressed in Canadian military uniforms, died at the battle of Vimy Ridge.
Or at least that’s what happened, according to the Canadian government.
In January, Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) officials sent a letter denying citizenship to Jackie Scott -- daughter of a Canadian war veteran soldier and a British war bride -- arguing that her Toronto-born father was not in fact a Canadian, despite having fought for his country. Instead, the letter stated, Scott's father was a "British subject" because Canadian citizenship didn’t exist prior to 1947.
By this argument, none of the 112,000 Canadian soldiers who fought and died while serving in Canadian uniforms during the World War I and World War II were Canadian at all -- including those 3,598 Vimy Ridge casualties. Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement today saying that the government "is proud to pay tribute to those who fought in this historical battle", seemingly in contradiction with the repeated denial of Canadian citizenship to children of war veterans.
How can this be? This nonsense claim stems from some very old, discriminatory legislation which continues to be used by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to deny legitimate Canadians their citizenship.
Discriminatory Canadian citizenship legislation
As most Canadians know, Canada became a separate country under the British North American Act in 1867. One year later, the first unique form of “Canadian” identity was adopted.
Word for word, it stated, “married women, minors, lunatics, and idiots” be classified under the same national status as their partner, guardian or caregiver. A product of its time, the law meant married women were property, or chattel of their husbands. Children were chattel of their fathers if born in wedlock, and chattel of their mothers if born out-of wedlock. That’s the core of the Vimy problem: the government still defines citizenship based on those archaic chattel laws.
While some discriminatory aspects of the antiquated Citizenship Act were corrected in 2009, the bureaucrats and politicians decided to retroactively undo the discrimination going back only to January 1, 1947.
That means that many of those defined as “chattel” -- people who still live in Canada -- are being actively denied Canadian citizenship, and all the rights that go with it.
This is a serious violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Prior to 1947, Canadian women who married non-British status men lost their Canadian status upon marriage; children were considered “property” of their fathers if born in wedlock, and property of their mothers if born out-of wedlock. While the "married women" issue was recently resolved, the wedlock issue continues to this date. Worse, Harper’s government is actually enforcing the pre-’47 legislation.
As mentioned before, Scott was born in the U.K. to a Canadian soldier father and British war bride mother. Like tens of thousands of others like her, she arrived in Canada as an infant and grew up in Canada. She went to school, voted, got married, worked, paid taxes, had children here, and now, suddenly the government says she isn’t Canadian. Why? Because she was born out-of wedlock, prior to 1947. Their logic drags in the same discriminatory laws from the past -- that she is a "bastard" child, and therefore sole property of her British war bride mother. Neither the fact that her parents later got married, nor that her father had her legitimized by the Ontario Legitimacy Act, seemed to matter.
Conversely, there’s the example of Canadian World War II veteran Guy Valliere. He was denied citizenship because he was born in wedlock in 1926 to a Canadian mother and American father. A few years back when this elderly Canadian WWII vet suffered a debilitating stroke, the government denied his benefits, saying he wasn’t Canadian. Their rationale? He was property of his American father -- his Canadian mother’s status meant nothing, nor did his entire life in Canada.
How ironic that if either Scott or Valliere had been born after 1946, or if their parents had a different marital status, they'd both be proud Canadians today.
The Canadian government’s only reasons for denying citizenship had to do with discrimination based on age, gender, and family status—all supposedly protected by the Charter of rights.
Back to the Vimy Ridge soldiers: when the government returned Jackie Scott's citizenship application, it claimed that her father was never a Canadian, but a British subject. This argument has serious implications for every soldier who fought for Canada in World War I and World War II.
For a fair, compassionate, and human rights-respecting country, denying citizenship and discriminating against people based on their age or gender is not acceptable. Harper’s government is doing just that, and the victims include our very own heroic soldiers, like those who gave their lives for Canada at Vimy Ridge.
Canadians can and must do better. It’s time to reclaim all our people— regardless to the circumstances of their birth—and we must embrace every one of our fallen hero soldiers. Anything less, quite seriously, violates our cherished Canadian values of acceptance.
Lest we forget, and lest we ignore.