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The Lost Canadians. Photo: National Post
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It was a remarkable exchange, caught on tape. Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, was confronted in June by a 67-year-old woman to whom his department had denied citizenship, thanks to circumstances surrounding her birth. Circumstances that were not extraordinary.
Jackie Scott was born out of wedlock in England, to a Canadian soldier and his British lover, just before the Second World War had ended. She is a war bride child. Canada has thousands of them.
She moved with her parents to this country in 1948. Her father and mother were married in Toronto later that year and they remained together until her father died in 1995.
Ms. Scott only learned she lacked Canadian citizenship a few years ago. She’s been trying to rectify things ever since, with no luck, and with little help from Mr. Kenney and his department. Her case is now in federal court.
She seized the opportunity to put herself directly in front of the minister when he appeared at an event close to her home in South Surrey, B.C.. The confrontation was recorded by the Vancouver Observer, an online news source.
Why, Ms. Scott asked, was the government still denying citizenship to certain children born to Canadian veterans of the Second World War?
Those soldiers weren’t citizens themselves, Mr. Kenney replied. Prior to 1947, there were no Canadian citizens at all. Canadians who served, fought and died in the two world wars were British subjects, he noted.
“They’re heroes, the Canadians [who served overseas],” Mr. Kenney said in his exchange with Ms. Scott. But “they were not legally Canadian citizens. They didn’t have citizenship. They were [British] subjects … They would have regarded themselves as subjects. Everyone was.”
This may come as news to most Canadians. Mr. Kenney may be technically correct when he says there was no such thing in law as a Canadian citizen prior to 1947. On the other hand, there were a hodgepodge of ambiguous definitions about statehood written into conflicting pieces of federal legislation; that is until the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947 was passed. It removed any doubt that Canadians could be considered citizens of their own country.
Unfortunately, the act created other difficulties. War babies born abroad such as Ms. Scott were overlooked. So were children born in wedlock to Canadian women and foreign nationals, such as Americans.
There are an estimated 37,000 people such as Ms. Scott — women and men born to a Canadian parent who worked, paid taxes, voted, raised families of their own inside the country, but lack citizenship.
They are the remaining Lost Canadians, people stuck in stateless limbo thanks to legal oversights that Mr. Kenney himself has described as bizarre.
Until recently, they numbered close to one million. In 2009, federal politicians passed Bill C-37, the legislation that solved citizenship conundrums for 95% of the Lost Canadians.
But the laws remain a confusing obstacle for the remaining 5%. Many of Canada’s own lawmakers can’t decipher the amended act, let alone recognize its flaws, says Don Chapman, a Vancouver-area resident. Born in Canada and raised in the United States, Mr. Chapman lost his citizenship as a child, when his father became an American. He launched his long battle for Lost Canadians after discovering his own peculiar state of limbo.
Mr. Chapman spent the last 10 years pushing politicians to solve the citizenship riddle. Bill C-37 was a major victory, he says. Thousands of Canadian-born “kids” like him were finally granted citizenship. But things “were left undone,” he says. “There are thousands of people still not recognized, and that’s just wrong … It’s not just war babies, either. It’s possible for immigrants who were naturalized in Canada to have more rights in citizenship law than some Canadian-born Canadians.”
Mr. Chapman takes issue with the notion, promulgated by Minister Kenney, that Canadian citizenship didn’t even exist before 1947. There were myriad references to “citizens of Canada,” written into legal decisions and in statements made by politicians, long before the original Citizenship Act was passed, he notes.
This week, for example, Mr. Chapman and others working on behalf of Lost Canadians uncovered a 1938 Supreme Court of Canada decision that describes a case involving a “Canadian citizen,” specifically a woman of Chinese ethnicity born in B.C. The Supreme Court affirmed the woman’s “citizenship.”
Such cases are “astonishing discoveries,” according to Mr. Chapman. “The Supreme Court did not merely ‘talk’ about Canadian citizens and citizenship, but decided the cases based on these terms.”
Jackie Scott may rely on some of those references. She has filed applications for judicial review in federal court, asking that her own case be resuscitated. She claims she was “forced” to take out U.S. citizenship — her husband is American — after she was denied a Canadian citizenship certificate in 2005.
In 2008, she says, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) officials formally invited her to seek a “special grant of citizenship,” a discretionary tool offered to certain individuals; it requires federal Cabinet approval. Ms. Scott says her application was subsequently turned down.
She was encouraged by CIC officials to apply for the special grant again in 2010, she says. Her application was denied a second time. “It does seem ludicrous, doesn’t it?” says Ms. Scott. “I was invited both times by the department to apply for the special grant.”
If there are good reasons for Ms. Scott to be denied citizenship, the government isn’t willing to discuss them. “Such grants are made on a case-by-case basis by the Governor in Council,” a CIC spokeswoman told the National Post. “CIC receives on average approximately 10 requests for a discretionary grant of citizenship per month and the vast majority of these cases are approved. The overall approval rate for discretionary grants of citizenship (which includes cases of ‘lost Canadians’) is approximately 92%.”
Why not simply fix inherent problems with the amended Citizenship Act? Minister Kenney has acknowledged its shortcomings, and has explained that more legislation is coming “very shortly” to correct the situation. “We’re looking for a legislative solution to that particular problem and hope to come forward with that later this year,” he said in April.
His department could not say when an announcement might be coming.