Two year old Casey Neal and her cousin, 15 month old Darcey Miller are cute little toddlers who are just learning how to talk. They have no idea that their parents’ applications for Canadian citizenship have opened up a can of worms about gender discrimination at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) that is going to embarrass the Harper government during International Women’s Day week.
Both Casey and Darcey were born in the United States. Like hundreds of thousands of foreign-born persons who became citizens since 1977, both children (and their parents too) should be able to claim citizenship through their Canadian-born grandmother and grandfather.
Called the “second-generation born abroad” rule, it’s helped people from all over the world, including Asia, Africa and the Middle East, obtain citizenship since 1977 because of a solid Canadian connection.
Last year, when the House of Commons and Senate unanimously passed Bill C-37 (an Act to Amend the Citizenship Act also known as the Lost Canadian Bill), CIC decided to close the “second generation born abroad” rule. As of April 17, 2009, such applications will no longer be accepted. The rule change grew out of the war against Lebanon in 2006 which focused attention on the citizenship of tens of thousands of Lebanese-born persons who were stranded in the country during the Israeli assault. As Canadian citizens, they had a right to return to Canada at taxpayer’s expense, yet many had never spent very little time in this country. That and other concerns about the value of Canadian citizenship led the government to overturn the “second generation born abroad” rule which comes into effect on April 17.
That’s why there is a growing sense of urgency to Casey and Darcey’s applications for Canadian citizenship. If they aren’t accepted before April 17 – which happens to be the 27th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – they will have lost their only chance to become citizens.
1946 Citizenship Act Not Charter Compliant
That the citizenship of two cute little babies expires on Charter Day is just one of the many ironies that make this story so interesting.
All things being equal, both Casey and Darcey should qualify for citizenship. But according to the CIC, they are not equal - and neither are their parents. That’s because CIC t is applying the 1947 Citizenship Act to their applications. Why? Because their Canadian connection was born before the 1977 Citizenship Act, an Act which threw out the more overtly discriminatory tenets of its predecessor, the 1947 Act.
Judged by today’s standards, the 1947 Citizenship Act is a nasty piece of legislation that classifies women and children as chattel of men and stereotypes them as being on par with “lunatics and idiots”. Marital status, race, sex, and age discrimination run rife throughout the document, reflecting the political and social climate of the day. Since it preceded the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by nearly 40 years, the 1947 Act is not Charter compliant and nobody - no feminist, no lawyer, no politician or anyone who remotely considers themselves progressive - can defend it from today’s standards.
But that doesn’t stop CIC from trying: According to the Department, Casey and her father Ken Neal are not entitled to citizenship because under the 1947 Act their Canadian connection is through Ken’s mother Ruth – a woman. Meantime cousin Darcey, and his mother Lilyan, have been granted Canadian citizenship because their connection is through Lilyan’s father Norman - a man.
It’s unbelievable but true: in 2009, CIC discriminates against applicants by applying 65 year old discriminatory legislation that is not Charter compliant.
The Lost Canadians
Little Casey’s grandmother is Ruth (Chapman) Pina and Darcey’s grandfather is Norm Chapman. They are from the well-known philanthropic Chapman family from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Ruth and Norm’s baby brother is 61 year old Don Chapman, the leader of the Lost Canadians. Ruth, Norman and Don were all born in British Columbia and in 1954 they were brought by their parents to the United States. Their father, a Canadian World War Two veteran, developed arthritis in his hands and it was suggested that he move to a drier climate where he could continue to practice as an orthodontist.
At the time, Dr. and Mrs. Chapman went to great lengths to ensure that their children would not lose their Canadian citizenship - but they were misinformed, a familiar complaint which crops up in many Lost Canadian stories. Like his brothers and sisters, Don Chapman grew up believing that he could return to Canada. When he was 18, he tried to come back and was told that he had lost his citizenship. From that refusal in 1966 the movement known as “The Lost Canadians” was born.
As Don found out, according to the 1947 Citizenship Act, wives and children were the property of the “responsible parent” in this case, the man, so when their father took out US citizenship, the children had no choice but to do the same. In so doing, they unwittingly lost their Canadian citizenship, Canada not recognizing dual citizenship until the 1977 Act.
The Lost Canadians are, for the most part, Canadian born men and women who, through a quirk of the 1947 Act, were stripped of their citizenship. Many lived in Canada their entire lives, went to school and university, worked, and paid taxes. Some served in the Canadian Armed Forces. Many have had passports! They only found out about the loss provisions of the 1947 Act until they applied for new passports or for Canada Pension Plan in the years following 9/11. One lady, the daughter of a British War Bride and a Canadian veteran, found out she was not a citizen when she applied for a new driver’s license in 2006.
Estimated to number more than 250,000, the Lost Canadians include people like the Chapmans, whose parents took out citizenship in the United States and elsewhere; War Brides and their children who were born overseas during the Second World War; military brats born on Canadian Forces Bases in Europe; Border Babies – children born across the border in the United States when there was no local hospital in Canada; and Mennonites who married in Paraguay and Mexico.
Under Don Chapman’s leadership, the Lost Canadians have made some huge strides in the past year alone. On April 17, 2009, Bill C-37 will come into force and most cases of lost citizenship will be resolved.
But as Don’s great-nieces, Casey and Darcey, clearly show, the Lost Canadians still have a long way to go before they achieve true equality. So long as CIC continues to judge one’s right to citizenship through the lens of 1947 Act, an Act that would not pass the test of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there will continue to be more Casey’s and Darceys, especially after April 17.
Don knows of at least seven other grown men and women, including two Canadian World War Two veterans and the daughter of a British War Bride, whose citizenship must be granted before April 17 or they will forever lose their chance. The Mennonites alone have more than 60 cases.
As Don says, “It would be so simple for Minister Jason Kenney to issue discretionary grants of citizenship in these relatively few cases, but he refuses to do so, clinging to the defense of the discriminatory 1947 Act.”
Meantime, as Don notes, “The Minister hands out discretionary grants to all kinds of people, including, a two year old Nigerian girl and her mother, whose pitiful case drew the sympathy of the media in Calgary in February.”
Chapman says that when the applicant is a cute and cuddly two year old, the Minister doesn’t want to take the political heat for a negative decision. “But when the applicant is an aging World War Two veteran or a war bride daughter, the Minister shows how little he really cares about people’s lives and how quickly they can be swept under the rug.”
With all the special favours and exceptions to the rule, it’s understandable why the Lost Canadians are cynical of a system that only works when the politicians start to feel the pressure.
“I’ve been working on this issue nearly full time for the past ten years,” says Chapman, “And I’ve seen plenty of less deserving people get their citizenship ahead of Lost Canadians who were born in Canada and who have been waiting in the line up for years. It’s unjust.”
Sadly, time is not on their side. Eighty-four year old World War Two veteran, Guy Vallieres, who was born in Quebec, passed away two weeks ago while waiting for his Section 5.4 grant of citizenship to be processed by the Department.
Sixty-two year old Lucie Proulx is on her deathbed in the United States and is not expected to live long. All she wanted to be able to say before she died was that she was a Canadian citizen. She received her rejection letter last week and is about ready to give up the final battle.
Lucie and Guy join tens of thousands of Lost Canadians who have been rejected by the Department over the past 62 years for no other reason than the discriminatory and archaic provisions of the 1947 Act through which their application for citizenship is judged.
If Don Chapman has anything to say about it, Casey and Darcey will get their special grants of citizenship before April 17, but he knows it’s not going to be easy. Despite years of lobbying human rights groups and government agencies tasked with women’s and children’s rights, he doesn’t see that they really care a whole lot about citizenship. He has long lists of so-called human rights activists whom he has contacted over the years and none of them were any help save for the Cape Breton Children’s Rights Center, headed by _______________.
But he’s not going to give up, especially as another International Women’s Day comes and goes and the Canadian government pays lip service to women’s rights by hosting events across the country honouring Section 15 – the equality provision - of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Acknowledging that the issue of gender discrimination at CIC is a “can of worms” that Mr. Kenney and his bureaucrats could easily avoid, Chapman says he’s feels he has no choice but to open it wide so that “every Canadian, and every feminist, lawyer, scholar and politician who claims to have any respect for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does something about the way CIC treats women.”
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