Vancouver Observer: Amid deportation fears, Indigenous Lost Canadian struggles to gain citizenship

Photo of Donovan McLaughlin with his children.
Source: Vancouver Observer
by Jenny Uechi

In the cold northern town of Dawson City, Yukon, 59-year-old Donovan McGlaughlin speaks with a heavy voice as he describes what it's like to wake up each morning, wondering if the government will deport him. McLaughlin lacks identity papers, and can't prove he is a Canadian citizen.


 "Every day, it's just...living in fear," he said with a sigh. "I have two six-year old twins, a boy and girl, and a five-year old boy. I want to be able to enjoy life with my children without being taken away. They deserve to have their father."

A life outside the system

The thing is, McGlaughlin isn't an illegal immigrant. He has lived in Canada for 40 years, and is the son of a Canadian mother and Native American father. His wife is from Qu├ębec. But although he appears Canadian through and through, McGlaughlin is one of the extremely unusual cases of Lost Canadians who doesn't have citizenship, due to the unique circumstances of his birth.

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Citizenship papers aren't all he lacks. He also has no birth certificate, social insurance number, or even a health care card. Because his parents were anarchists who distrusted governments, McGlaughlin has spent his whole life outside of the system.

"My mother was a very devout anarchist, and we moved around constantly, all over Canada and then Europe," he said. "But at 15, I'd had enough and came back to North America, then settled in Canada when I was 19 and have been here, ever since."

As the son of an Aboriginal father, McGlaughlin should legally be able to travel anywhere around Canada and the U.S. without fear of being deported. The trouble is, it requires documented proof of his background, and McGlaughlin has none.

"My parents never did anything more with the government than they absolutely had to, especially my father. He trusted no government official."

A legacy of residential schools and colonialism

McGlaughlin explained that given the history of his father's people, it was understandable for him to be suspicious.
His father also was one of the last remaining Susquehannock, a tribe now broadly considered extinct. The Susquehannock were mostly massacred in the Northwest Indian War in 1792. The few who survived eventually lived with the Lakota and Cheyenne in South Dakota.

His father, he said, met his Canadian mother in Rosebud Sioux Reservation, South Dakota, which he described as a "hellhole" during the 1950s for the people living there. The situation appears to have changed little since, with life expectancy for men there still at just 47.

"The (U.S.) government didn't care about the people there. They didn't do anything for the First Nations there," he said.

His parents were both acutely aware of the residential schools in Canada, and the rampant physical and sexual abuse going on in them. Thousands of Aboriginal children died in such schools, while others dealt with trauma and substance abuse in their adult years.

If the Canadian government found out that McGlaughlin was half-Aboriginal, what was to prevent them from forcibly placing him into one of these schools?

Although McGlaughlin doesn't lay blame on his parents, whose desire to live without government resembles that of early Mennonites, their philosophy took an immense toll on his daily life.

"I haven't ever been able to vote or had any rights as a citizen, access to health care or anything," he said. Lacking a SIN number, all of his work has been under the table, for cash.

"I've done everything from logging, to auto mechanics, to building homes. And I've always managed my own health."

His off-the-radar existence changed when met his wife, who he met while she was visiting Dawson City from Quebec.

"She showed me that I was worth something," he said, and speaks fondly of the family he has built with her, with three young children.

"I made sure they had birth certificates and were able to receive all the benefits of being a citizen. I don't ever want them to go through what I went through."

Even though his children are now documented, McGlaughlin now needs to have his own citizenship and enter mainstream Canadian society. And no one seems to be able to help.

Fear of deportation McGlaughlin says he has been talking to people at his MP's office, lawyers, and scouring endlessly on the internet to find out what people like him could do. Most times, he says, people are stumped when they hear his story.

"It is indeed an unusual case, and our office is working closely with the Minister’s office to resolve it," said Kay Richter, chief of staff to Yukon MP Ryan Leef. She said she couldn't comment further, out of respect for privacy for his case.

McGlaughlin hasn't gone to the federal government yet, out of a fear of being deported. Three years ago, authorities tried to deport him out of the blue, even though it was proven then that he was a Canadian.

"The border guards came to speak to me in 2010. It was for a removal order," he said.

Although he had a phone conference date set for October, he had a massive heart attack on the day before the interview, causing it to be postponed until February 2011. After a series of questions, they decided he would not be removed from Canada.

"Basically, it was explained that I was not a citizen of any other country, ergo, I must be Canadian," he said. But he still had no citizenship papers to prove it, and the border authorities did not help resolve his status.

"I'd asked what the next step was, but it was the same with every other government agency. They didn't know. Over the years I've tried many times, but one department wants me to talk to another department, and every politician I've ever spoken to says, 'Sorry, I can't help you.'"

"What is going to happen to me? Nobody knows," he said, frustrated. He reached out to the Lost Canadians after reading about them online and realizing that he was not alone. All over the country, he learned there were Canadians who had lived in the country for decades, and who government did not recognize as citizens, due to outdated laws that discriminated based on race, marital status and gender. Some of them were even war veterans who had fought for Canada, yet had to later fight the government for citizenship rights.

The Lost Canadians' ongoing legal battle with bureaucrats to obtain citizenship hasn't given him much cause for optimism, but McGlaughlin is determined to have his situation corrected for the sake of his children. His deepest fear is that the government will revoke their citizenship because of him.

"The doctors told me I don't have many years left," he said, remembering the heart attack.

"I do not want or need a passport," he said. "What I need is the right to be a person."

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