Harper government criticized for lack of understanding of citizenship laws

Photograph of Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney and Lost Canadian Jackie Scott by David P. Ball

Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney and the Harper government are giving conflicting information about Canadian citizenship, NDP Veterans Affairs critic Peter Stoffer and Lost Canadians advocate Don Chapman say.

Kenney stated recently that Canadian citizenship was non-existent prior to 1947, and that all soldiers at the time were "British subjects". At the same time, however, the government continues to use the term "Canadian soldiers" in its press communications relating to military history. 

“The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing,” said Chapman, an outspoken advocate for the Lost Canadians -- a group of Canadians who have been denied citizenship due to legal loopholes, despite having a Canadian parent and spending much of their life in Canada. While the marjority of Lost Canadians were granted citizenship in 2009 through Bill C-37, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act, older individuals born before 1947 remain excluded to this day.

Stoffer pointed out that such Canadians need to be recognized for their contributions to the country.

"Without them (Canadian soldiers who served prior to 1947), you wouldn't have the country that you have today," he said.  

Take the case of Jackie Scott, a 67-year-old daughter of a Canadian war veteran father and a British war bride mother who came to Canada at age two. Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney her told her in June that her father and his fellow soldiers may have been "heroes", but they were "obviously not" citizens at the time. 

Kenney's explanation was puzzling for Scott, who says her father was given materials stating that he was a "citizen" fighting for his country during the war. 

The question of whether citizenship existed prior to 1947 is a vital one for people like Scott. Authorities rejected her citizenship application this year  -- for the fourth time -- based on the premise that her father was a “British subject” when she was born. It also said that she was ineligible because her parents were unmarried at the time, even though they wed shortly after.

The Harper government – while claiming that all Canadians were legally British subjects prior to 1947 – seems to often omit this fact in its communications. As part of its $30 million PR blitz about the war of 1812, the government clearly makes reference to “Canadian militiamen” who helped repel American invadors over 100 years before the Citizenship Act came into effect. Foreign Minister John Baird paid his respects to “Canadian soldiers” in the Battle of Hong Kong on Tuesday, with no mention of their British subject status.  

"How can you talk about the war of 1812 and those 'brave Canadians', how can you talk about the battle of Hong Kong, about the Canadians who died in Dieppe or Vimy Ridge?...Were they not Canadians?" Stoffer asked.

He questions the government's use of the term "Canadian" and believes that people like Scott who have grown up in Canada and have a Canadian parent should be recognized as a citizen. 

"If I were the Citizenship and Immigration Minister, every single one of those [Lost Canadians] would be declared Canadian citizens," he said. 

Citizenship and Immigration Canada maintained its line that despite the references to citizenship by both government and the Supreme Court, no one was "legally" a citizen at the time. 

"While Canadian citizenship didn’t exist prior to 1947, it is common usage to refer to people who were living there then as citizens, even though in law they would have been considered British subjects," Citizenship and Immigration Canada media advisor Nancy Caron commented. 

Chapman, however, feels that the argument is flawed because Canada's "British subject" status didn't end in 1947.

“The Citizenship Minister doesn't know or understand Canada's citizenship laws, because British subject status didn't go away until 1977 or 1978,” he said.

"If it really is one or the other, it means no one was a Canadian citizen until 1977 (or 1978)...If, however, Canadian citizenship and British subject can co-exist, then why are the people born from 1947 through 1977 Canadian citizens today while the pre-1947 folks are being told they're not?"

The Citizenship Minister's spokesperson, Alexis Pavlich, issued the following statement on the issue:

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