Finally, officially a Canadian

January 24, 2008

VANCOUVER — A special ceremony today that officially made Joe Taylor a Canadian attested as much to the capriciousness of Canadian citizenship as it did to its inclusiveness.

Front, left to right: Don Chapman, Meille Faille (Bloc Quebecois) Andrew Telegdi (Liberal), Joe Taylor and Frank Wong of the Chinese Canadian Veterans Association, pose for a photograph following Joe Taylor's citizenship ceremony in Vancouver, January 24, 2008.

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The son of a Second World War soldier and a war bride, Taylor had his citizenship stripped from him by the 1947 Citizenship Act. He was labelled a bastard in the process.

Taylor's parents weren't married when he was born -- his father's commanding officer had refused Joe Sr. permission to marry -- and at age 24, Taylor didn't reaffirm his citizenship. The Canadian government used both reasons to deny his Canadian-ness until today, when Taylor was granted citizenship on the basis of a special ministerial permit.

Don Chapman, Melynda Jarratt and Joe Taylor, Vancouver, BC, January 24, 2008.

Flanking Taylor as he took the citizenship oath were Chinese-Canadian veterans including Frank Wong. Wong, Taylor's father and 14,000 Canadian troops landed on Juno Beach on D-Day in 1945. Both Taylor's father and Wong had been born here, but Wong wasn't a citizen because of his race.

The act that gave Wong his citizenship, stripped Joe Taylor of his birthright. The veterans were there to bear witness to both being wrong.

Poet and author Roy Miki was another of Taylor's guests. Two decades ago, he led the redress movement for Japanese-Canadians interned during the Second World War.

Hereditary Chief Adam Dick, whose father had also been denied citizenship, blessed Taylor and gave him a Kwagiulth name -- Max Ke Noxw Dzi or big killer whale -- before the ceremony. The Kwagiulth believe the best hunters and providers are reincarnated as whales. The chief believes Taylor's battle to regain his citizenship has provided a way for others.

In his bid to reclaim his birthright, Taylor won a sweeping victory in the Federal Court. Judge Luc Martineau ruled sections of the act were unconstitutional, denied the right to due process and were contrary to the principles of fundamental justice.

Canada won on appeal in November, at which point the government offered Taylor a special deal -- a ministerial permit. Taylor took it rather than fighting a costly and protracted appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ed Komarnicki, parliamentary secretary to Citizenship Minister Diane Finley, told Taylor today: "Please understand that it was not a personal matter. As a government, we have always had sympathy for your case and your genuine desire to be a Canadian."

But Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi denounced the government for its "continuous deprivation of citizenship rights" to an estimated 400,000 Canadians whose citizenship has been stripped by the 1947 act of Parliament.

"How can the government say that it is granting him [Taylor] citizenship because what happened was wrong and then continue its discriminatory practices against others like him?" he asked.

What Telegdi and others -- including Don Chapman, who has organized the so-called Lost Canadians into a formidable lobby group -- want is quick passage of Bill C-37, which was introduced in December. It would plug the gaping holes in the act. But they'd like a few amendments, including one that would make all of the war brides' children automatically Canadian rather than supplicants for ministerial permits.

Chapman, who is not yet Canadian, has become expert in citizenship law after more than 35 years of trying to regain his. One flaw he sees in Bill C-37 is that it could create another generation of Lost Canadians because children of Canadians born outside Canada who turned 28 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 won't appear to have the opportunity to assert their citizenship rights.

Another is that some children of Canadians could be rendered stateless. If a first-generation Canadian, who was born outside Canada, were to have a child in a country like Japan that doesn't automatically confer citizenship, the child would be stateless.

Finally, Chapman believes the bill allows "naturalized Canadians" -- immigrants -- more citizenship rights than than native-born Canadians.

Here's how that would work: A person becomes a Canadian citizen at age 10. At age 30, he or she goes to the United States and has a child. The child would be entitled to Canadian citizenship. A Canadian citizen, born in the United States to Canadian-born parents, comes to Canada at age 10. At 30, he or she moves outside Canada and has a child, who is not eligible for citizenship.

Even though in each example, the parent spent 20 years in Canada, the bill says citizenship ends with the second generation born outside Canada.

Yet even if Bill C-37 is amended and passed, Chapman, Telegdi and others want a completely new act because the revised act will still not comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That's because it will retain Section 7, which allows the government to revoke the citizenship of six million, naturalized Canadians in closed door sessions without the public having any knowledge or recourse. It's Hitler-esque.

Most Canadians take their citizenship for granted.

We need Taylor and all of these others to remind us how precious it is; so precious that first nations, Chinese- and Japanese-Canadian soldiers fought for the country even before it would even deign to call them citizens.

As Taylor said simply: "It means everything to me."