Coderre must right citizenship injustice

Elizabeth Thompson
The Gazette
Friday, January 31, 2003

Magali Castro-Gyr must have been one shocked woman back in 2001 when she applied for certificates of Canadian citizenship for her two sons, only to find out she wasn't a citizen herself - in spite of the fact she'd been born in Montreal, lived in British Columbia and had a Canadian passport and Social Insurance Number. True, she had moved to the United States with her family when she was a teenager, but she had always maintained her Canadian ties and had eventually moved back - as did her parents.

But as Castro-Gyr told the House of Commons immigration committee this week, none of that counted. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration told her that she'd lost her citizenship in 1975 - not because of anything she'd done but because her father had renounced his citizenship to become an American. It turns out that from 1947 to 1977, fathers and husbands could renounce Canadian citizenship for their wives and children, without their consent. In fact, wives and children pretty much lost their Canadian rights automatically as soon as the man of the household renounced his.

Even for the age, this was an egregious injustice. Canadian citizenship is the precious birthright of everyone born here, and no one - not even a parent and certainly not a spouse - should have the authority to renounce it for someone else.

That principle is adequately reflected in the Citizenship Act as amended in 1977, but that doesn't help Castro-Gyr and others like her. They're still officially aliens in their native land, and Immigration and Citizenship Minister Denis Coderre's suggestion - that they rely on ministerial intervention on a case-by-case basis - isn't good enough. They should get their citizenship back on application.

That could come with a cost. A few ''lost Canadians'' might head north just to cash in on Canada's welfare benefits and free health care. But it's unlikely we'd be flooded with such freeloaders. Many of the children who went south with their parents - and there are unlikely to be more than 10,000 of them - are leading happy lives in their adopted home and have no intention of returning.

The government already has a fast-track system to restore Canadian citizenship to those who voluntary renounced it. Surely, native-born Canadians who were stripped of their citizenship without their consent or, in some cases, their knowledge are entitled to even greater consideration.
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