Jackie Scott, 65, in Sun City Arizona.
If Jackie Scott were born in wedlock, she would be Canadian. Unfortunately for her, her Canadian soldier father wasn’t able to marry her British mother until after the end of World War II. Never thinking this would be an issue, Scott lived half of her life in Canada as a Canadian citizen, until one day Canada took that citizenship away.
It's been a year and Jackie Scott, 65, hasn’t heard a word. On the phone from Sun City, Arizona, her normally soothing voice cracks with frustration over an ordeal fit for the fictitious plot of an existentialist novel, not the myth of Canada’s gracious open arms. Scott is waiting for a reply on her third and fourth Canadian citizenship applications. Her fist two, dating back to 2004, have failed.
The Vancouver Observer first brought you Scott’s story on Canada Day, July 1st, 2010. On that day she proudly hung a Canadian flag off the front hitch of her RV next to the 176th border crossing in Surrey, BC. With the holiday came thoughts of her Canadian war veteran father. That day, Scott couldn’t help but feel the joy that comes with celebrating the better side of her nation, the one her father fought fascism to defend. Seven months later, however, that flag is no longer there. And neither is Scott. She is back in America again, her six month visitor status all but used up.
Scott is a self proclaimed Lost Canadian, a term used to describe Canadians who, through a series of antiquated and sexist citizenship laws, are denied the citizenship that most of us take for granted. Over the years, some of the obscurities in Canadian citizenship law have been eliminated, like having to be in Canada on your 24th birthday or be stripped of your nationality, but not all of it. The law that keeps Scott out is still on the books.
That law is the 1947 Citizenship Act. It says that children of Canadian soldiers stationed overseas are the chattel of their foreign mothers and not their veteran fathers if the children were born out of wedlock before 1947. Jackie was born out of wedlock in England in 1945. And though her father and mother eventually married in Canada after the war ended and raised Scott in Canada from the age of two, the 1947 out of wedlock provision stands. Because of that law, Scott is the only member of her family who is not a Canadian. Even her grandchildren are Canadian. If not for her American status by marriage, Scott would have no country at all.
“I have to use my American passport and my landed immigrant papers from 1948, so I don’t get flagged at the border when I come into Canada,” Scott told the Vancouver Observer from Arizona.
As it turns out there are many people who don’t know they’re not Canadian until they are asked to prove it. And many of those realize it all too late in life, when they go to collect their pensions, like the recent Sandra Burke case, or to travel abroad on retirement vacations, like Scott.
Unable to show ‘proof’ of citizenship when applying for her passport in 2004, Scott was told that despite having spent half her life in Canada, working, paying taxes, voting, even baring her children here, that she wasn’t Canadian. Without citizenship, there is no pension, no opportunity to work legally, no extended healthcare benefits, and most importantly to Scott, no recognition of her ties to Canada or respect for her father’s service record.
“Does the Canadian government think that I want my citizenship to take advantage of the benefits that Canada has to offer? I have no intention of doing that. That is the last thing I want to do. I just want to be a part. I want my Canadian citizenship to be recognized. I want my father’s contribution to Canada to be honoured.”
A Tale of Two Laws.
Adding to the strain in Scott‘s voice through the phone is the time it takes to explain that while there is one obscure law the government upholds to say she’s a foreigner because she was born out of wedlock, there is yet another obscure law, the 1921 Ontario Legitimation Act, that says Scott is a Canadian.
“It's really frustrating. No matter what you say it gets ignored – by the bureaucrats, by the higher ups. They’re just not recognizing the laws they should be recognizing.”
It’s a story that Scott has told a hundred times, most recently to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa. Her own would-be MP, Fleetwood – Port Kells Conservative Nina Grewal sits on the committee.
Without getting overcomplicated, (which is half the problem of this conundrum, it takes longer to explain than it does to solve these cases), Canadian provincial governments had provisions that allowed children of foreign mothers born out of wedlock, legally called 'bastards', to be deemed ‘legitimate’ and thus Canadian if the parents eventually married. Scott’s parents did marry, and accordingly she should be counted in. One of Scott’s two current citizenships applications is to have that 1921 law upheld above and beyond the 1947 Act that stripped her of her rights.
“It's Ontario law that they are violating. All provinces passed laws like that. They hinted that it [citizenship application] might be with the CIC lawyers, but that’s all I hear.”
It wasn’t until the 1990's that women in Canada gained equity on par with men to pass on their citizenship to their children. Those changes, however, are only retroactive to 1947. In her now six-year struggle, Scott has also tried to bring her case forward as a woman’s issue. She has had little success with Ministry for Status of Women, and its head, Conservative MP Rona Ambrose.
Minster Ambrose’s Director of Communications, Rebecca Thompson, told the Vancouver Observer that Scott’s case wasn’t a woman’s issue, and that Minister Ambrose’s task to support the role of women in Canada’s democracy didn’t apply to Jackie Scott.
“We have a very narrow mandate. I would hesitate to provide comment on something another department is responsible for,” Thompson said.
If Scott’s claim to her most basic democratic right, the right to be a citizen, is denied because of her mother’s gender, and this doesn’t qualify as a woman’s right, one has to wonder what does. The cold shoulder is hard for Scott to accept or understand.
“The government is making me feel like a second class person because of my birth history, my family history. Nobody should be made to feel that they are inferior because of some kind of discrimination that shouldn’t exist.”
A no brainer
The Conservative government had remained silent on the issue until 2008, when under pressure from Lost Canadian advocates, Parliament amended the Citizenship Act to remove antiquated language and sexist provisions, and to extend citizenship to thousands who had had it stripped away. But their changes did not solve all the problems.
Then Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finely said: “I would like to resolve the situation for over 95 percent, rather that do nothing for the sake of the five percent who will not be covered.”
For purposes of expediency (the looming 2008 election), the law was pushed through with an added subsection to makeup for holes called 5(4). It gives the Minster authority to grant citizenship on a case-by-case basis to those they knew the legislation would leave behind. But when the bill became law in 2009, the five percent whom the subsection was meant to cover had little to celebrate. Scott applied for a 5(4) and was denied.
Liberal citizenship critic, Quebec MP Justin Trudeau, has been following Scott’s dilemma since the two met in British Columbia this past summer. Like all those in the Lost Canadian camp, he is waiting with equal frustration for the government’s newest proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act, Bill C 37.
“This is something that needs to be fixed. And it's not that difficult of a fix. And unfortunately the Conservative government is dragging their feet. It's really frustrating. This seems to be a no brainer. Peoples' charter rights are being violated,” Trudeau said.
The Vancouver Observer has been trying to contact the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, but there has been no response. What Kenney and his office have said on the record dates back to 2009, that the 5(4) subsection of the act is good enough for the remaining Lost Canadians. Scott’s MP, Nina Grewal, has also been silent on the issue, making no recognizable commitments other than promises made in person (and in private) to Scott.
Trudeau told the Vancouver Observer that the existing legislation could work as the Conservatives say if the 5(4) special grants were actually granted to people like Jackie Scott, and if they were adjudicated in a timely manner. But such an ideal working of the law is not the case. Scott’s first 5(4) denial took over a year to receive, and a year has already passed on her two most recent applications.
“It is not a priority for the Conservative government. Jason Kenney and the department do not seem interested in getting this done,” Trudeau said.
Having high profile supporters like Trudeau gives Scott hope, but as time wears on, the feeling of abandonment deepens and the sense of insult grows. While she says that whatever way she gets citizenship will be a relief, receiving a 5(4) special grant instead of having her birthright acknowledged would lack the validation she says she and her father deserve.
“I am not an exception. I am Canadian. I was legitimized in 1954. I have a right to call myself a citizen since then. Not 2011.”
For more on Jackie Scott and the history of Canada’s citizenship law read the Vancouver Observer’s award-winning series, Lost Canadians.