Capital News On Line: A Canadian lost in his own country

By Katie DeRosa
Producer: Eric MacKenzie

Click here to read the original article on line at Capital News On Line.

OTTAWA | Nov. 2 , 2007 — Tears streamed down Guy Valliere's face as his daughter read from the document that brings the Canadian veteran one step closer to becoming a Canadian again.

This was how Michelle Valliere described her 81-year-old father’s reaction to the temporary residency he was granted after a year of being lost in his own country.

"Somebody, somewhere should realize that there's a lot of people like him and a lot of families like mine," she says.

Valliere is one of the so-called "Lost Canadians" who were stripped of their citizenship because of a little-known clause in the 1947 Citizenship Act.

Like Valliere, Canadians whose fathers were citizens of another country effectively lost their citizenship if they left Canada. Under this law, women and children were considered chattel of the father. The law also affected border babies, war brides and their children if they failed to register their citizenship before their 24th birthday.

The law was repealed under the 1977 Citizenship Act but it left possibly thousands of Canadians, including veterans and their children, unable to call this country their homeland.

Being rejected as a Canadian citizen was hard for Valliere and his family, says his 53-year-old daughter Michelle. But the emotional burden became a financial one on Oct. 15, when Valliere suffered a stroke that landed him in the hospital. Doctor after doctor told the two that Valliere was not covered under Canada's public health-care system because he was not a Canadian citizen.

Valliere was born in Quebec to an American father and a Quebecois mother. After a brief stint in the military in the 1940s, while he was still in his early 20s, he left Canada for the U.S. in search of a wife and a better job. With his health deteriorating, he returned last year to live with Michelle in Pointe-de-l’Ile, Quebec. But Michelle says her father, "a true Quebecois," was made to feel like a stranger in his own country.

Lost, but not alone

Don Chapman, another "Lost Canadian," has led a decade-long campaign to vindicate all those affected by the law. He met Valliere in Ottawa when Valliere told his story at the citizenship hearings held by the federal government earlier this year. When Chapman heard that Valliere was being denied medical benefits, he immediately started making phone calls and writing letters to the government, urging that something be done to avoid "the Conservative government bankrupt(ing) a Canadian war veteran."
Valliere and his mother

Valliere, seen here posing with his mother, is no longer a citizen of the country he once served.

"If Guy died tomorrow he would die a non-Canadian" in the country that he served, says Chapman.

Chapman and Francine Lalonde, the Bloc Quebecois MP in Valliere’s constituency, were able to negotiate a settlement with the government. It granted the 81-year-old a two-year temporary residency and agreed to cover his medical bills, backdated to the day he arrived in the emergency room.

Timothy Vail, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley, says he could not comment on Valliere’s status due to privacy laws.

He adds that each case is dealt with individually.

Lalonde says as soon as Michelle came to her about her father, she was determined to help.

"We saw how desperate he was," she says. "He is a sick man. For him, all his past is crumbling."

"We were almost traumatized that Immigration Canada didn’t want to do anything," she says. "I think that finally when we decided to go public it became too hot for Minister Finley."

"Our hope is that he will finally get his citizenship papers because that is what he is entitled to as a citizen," says Lalonde.

Legistlation would vindicate Lost Canadians

Temporary residency is bittersweet for Michelle, who admits she is disappointed that her father is now an immigrant in his own country.

"The paper that he received, he was like an immigrant," she says. "The real papers are coming."

"I want him to be happy. I want him to be taken care of properly," she says, her voice cracking.

Chapman admits this is the first victory in the bleak story of the "Lost Canadians," but he is convinced it’s not over.

It will be over when the government passes a proposed law that will restore citizenship to most of these lost citizens, he says.

Finley has said she will introduce her bill in parliament this fall, but Vail could not say when this might be.

Citizenship and Immigration says they know of just 450 people who have lost their citizenship.

But University of Victoria demographer Barry Edmonston, also a "Lost Canadian," puts the number a lot higher. Based on 2006 census data, he says there are 250,000 Canadians who fall under the criteria laid out in the 1947 law that could strip them of their citizenship. Many who were affected may still not know it, he says.

Opposition calls the situation a 'disgrace'

Andrew Telegdi, a Liberal MP and vice chair of the House citizenship and immigration standing committee, recently denounced the Conservative government’s throne speech because it failed to mention the severe flaw in the citizenship law.

Referring to Valliere’s ordeal, Telegdi calls it a “disgrace” that a 10th generation Quebecker has been turned into a first generation Canadian.

"What is clear is that issues of citizenship and immigration are not important to the Conservative government," he says.

"Here we are saying we should honour our veterans and on the other hand we’re denying the birth right of their kids."

Finley should have tabled the bill by now, says Telegdi, and he can’t help but worry that an election could topple the minority government, pushing the issue to the back burner.

A delay in the bill or an election would reignite a year-long nightmare for the Valliere family, Michelle says. Valliere wants to die a Canadian, just as he was born, she says.

“I think we won something very, very big...but I’m still hoping it’s not too late for my father.”

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