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Lost Canadians nervous and hopeful as feds finally promise to solve citizenship quagmire

After years of reporting by the Vancouver Observer on injustices suffered by Lost Canadians, it looks like feds are poised to right the wrongs.

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Chapman, a former Lost Canadian himself, has been tirelessly pushing for the federal government to restore citizenship to the remaining Canadians excluded by the 2009 citizenship bill. Having been bombarded by emails and phone queries about citizenship from Lost Canadians, he strongly believes the government needs a citizenship ombudsman who can resolve problems and hold authorities to account. 

Lives disrupted by citizenship loss 

The Vancouver Observer reporters chronicled the stories of Lost Canadians across Canada whose lives had been deeply disrupted by federal oversight. In many people's cases, citizenship wasn't just a symbolic matter: pensions, jobs, and the right to live with family depended on it.

Ontario resident Sandy Burke, for example, was a child when she was taken from an American orphanage by her paternal grandmother and brought to live in Canada. Despite having lived in Canada for over 60 years, raising a family and paying taxes, federal officials claimed she was a non-citizen and ineligible for Old Age Security (OAS) unless she could find landed immigration 'papers' dating back to 1951 – papers she never had to begin with.

A photo of Lost Canadian Sandy Burke at age seven.

One of the most tragic stories is that of Velma Demerson, a Canadian woman who was stripped of citizenship in 1939 for marrying a Chinese man at age 18. She was jailed for ten months at Ontario's infamous Mercer Reformatory for Women, lost her son, and was officially stateless for six decades until the federal government finally restored her citizenship in 2004. 

Race plays a key role in the Chinese Canadians' demand for posthumous recognition of their war dead as Canadian citizens.

Although the federal government has insisted that all Canadians were "British subjects" and not "Canadian citizens", Chinese immigrants at the time were considered "aliens" and were only given British subject status if they were successful in business or otherwise notable people in Canada.

Despite not having even the right to vote, some Canadian-born Chinese soldiers went to war for their country and died on the front lines during the Second World War. If they were neither citizens of Canada nor of China, they died as stateless "aliens"--something that Chinese Canadian war veterans today feel must be corrected. 

Thousands more whose stories remain untold suffered under the flawed application of citizenship law that the federal government was aware of for years, yet never rectified. Because of the ongoing work by citizenship advocate Don Chapman and Jackie Scott's court case, things are now finally moving forward.

After so many years of being denied full rights, Lost Canadians are now hopeful that they can celebrate the privileges of statehood that they should have had all along. 

"If Mr. Alexander is true to his word, he’ll have my very heartfelt thank you," Scott said. "Finally, someone (in government) gets it."  

"I am excited and hopeful, but have learned through experience not to count on political promises," said Harnois. "I can't imagine a life without uncertainty

"But if it is true - and the lost Canadian quagmire is fixed - all years spent in limbo would be quickly and happily forgotten."

 

 
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