Lost Canadians denied citizenship with 'out-of-wedlock' status

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun October 17, 2009

Click here to read original story in the Vancouver Sun

Jackie Ellis Scott was a teenager when she discovered that her parents did not get married until after her birth on June 29, 1945.

When she confronted her parents, they were both embarrassed and horrified because of the stigma attached to out-of-wedlock births at the time. After that confrontation, none of them spoke of it again.

Scott's Canadian-born father was a soldier during the Second World War. Stationed in Britain, he met and fell in love with her mother. Why they didn't marry before her birth, Scott doesn't know. But soldiers needed an officer's permission to marry and sometimes that permission wasn't granted before they shipped out.

It was January 1948 before Scott and her mother arrived in Canada. They flew rather than coming by ship with the last wave of war brides, who along with their children had been promised Canadian citizenship. Their arrival was delayed because Scott had been deathly ill, requiring surgery and time to recover.

The Ellises married in May 1948. From that day on, Scott's mother always carried the marriage certificate in her purse. But she'd altered the date, backdating it by three years. So, in 1995, a few months before her father's death, the Ellises, their friends and family held a big party to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Growing up in Ontario, Scott had no reason to believe that she wasn't Canadian. But a little over five years ago, Citizenship and Immigration Canada decided she doesn't qualify. In February, Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney refused her request for a special grant of citizenship -- a ministerial permit.

That archaic phrase "out-of-wedlock" is the reason her applications and appeal to the citizenship minister have gone nowhere.

Even telling me that and using that phrase, Scott -- a mother and a grandmother -- flinched before her anger flared.

The minister and his department appear to be ignoring the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has consistently ruled that denying citizenship to children of unmarried parents is prejudicial, demeaning and illegal.

They also seem to be ignoring a 2006 Federal Court decision that said denying citizenship to Joe Taylor, another "out-of-wedlock" child of a Canadian soldier, was unconstitutional.

Yet, Scott has a stronger case.

Unlike Taylor and his war-bride mother who returned to Britain within a few years of immigrating to Canada, Scott grew up in Ontario, worked in Vancouver, paid taxes, voted in elections, married and gave birth to her daughter on Canadian soil. (That, by the way, means that Scott's daughter and grandchildren are eligible for citizenship even if Scott herself is not.)

What seems more important to the minister and the bureaucrats is that she has lived in the United States since 1972. She became an American citizen in 2005, but only after she'd been denied Canadian citizenship.

Those facts were specifically mentioned in a Feb. 23, 2009, letter from Stephane Larue, the director general of Citizenship Canada's case management branch.

"You have not demonstrated that you have suffered special and undue hardship as a result of not being a Canadian citizen," Larue wrote. "Further, based on the information in your file, no compelling grounds have been identified to warrant a reward for exceptional services to Canada."

But Scott and her Scottish-born husband only left Canada in 1972 because the Vancouver company he worked for went out of business. He was unable to find a job here, but did find one in the United States where they have lived ever since.

There may be another unstated reason for the government's refusal of Scott's application. During Taylor's court hearing, the government admitted that as many as 500 people a year for 40 years were denied citizenship because their parents weren't married at the time of their birth.

That's a lot of people, who are now in their 60s and older. And the only option Canada gives people like Scott is to apply as an immigrant for permanent resident's status, pay the fees and, if successful, move to Canada to fulfil the three years' residency before becoming eligible for citizenship.

No government official has directly suggested that she and other so-called Lost Canadians of a certain age are only now trying to regain citizenship to get health care coverage. But other people have accused her of trying to gain benefits she's not entitled to.

But Scott and her husband are happy with the health care benefits that come as part of his retirement package.

As for pensions, Scott and her husband both get small amounts from the Canada Pension Plan based on what they contributed over the years they worked here.

Scott's reason isn't practical or financial. It's personal, sentimental. It's about blood and belonging and being officially recognized for who she is.

"Canada," says Scott, "is the home of my heart."


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun