Paul Martin's two classes of Canadian citizens

Cover Story Canada Free Press
Paul Martin's two classes of Canadian citizens
By Garth Pritchard
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
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Prime Minister Paul Martin said Sunday that Abdullah Khadr, arrested by the RCMP in Toronto on a provisional warrant issued by the United States, will have all the rights of any Canadian citizen during a police investigation. He then went on to say, "The family came to Canada many, many years ago, and they obtained Canadian citizenship many years ago. They have Canadian citizenship, and we don’t have two classes of citizens."

The first Canadian Citizenship Act began in the aftermath of World War II in 1947, as Paul Martin, Sr., the current prime minister’s father, toured the somber graveyards of Dieppe, and was moved to resolve that Canada needed citizens of its own, to replace the then-status of British subjects.

The legislation was a product of its time and contained wording that would shock modern Canada in the era of the Charter of Rights. Women, for example, were essentially deemed the property of their husbands, and were classified with minors, lunatics and idiots, under a disability, and ineligible to claim nationalization in their own right except in very special circumstances.

It wasn’t until 1977 that Canada got around to removing such blatant anachronisms. But the act was not made retroactive. Sadly, thousands found themselves bound by the draconian provisions of the original act. And that’s where it sits today.

The result is over 85,000 human beings--all born in Canada--but because one of their parents left Canada and took out citizenship in another country, do not qualify for Canadian citizenship.

They call themselves the "Lost Canadians." Don Chapman, himself one, has championed the cause for years. His three children are also lost Canadians. He’s a senior pilot for United Airways. He and others fought not only in the courts of Canada--where they won--but also in the hallowed halls of Ottawa, where they also won--unanimously--in the Senate under Bill S-2. Of course they were Canadians, said the courts and the Senate.

But the Liberal government’s bureaucracy has said ‘No.’

One if the "Lost Canadians" lives in exile in Europe with her husband. Oh, she won the court case alright. But then, the government approached her with a gag order. They wanted her to never speak out on how she had got her citizenship. She refused, and she still lives in exile.

There are many others.

As Canadians approach retirement age of the baby boomer generation, some boomers, some are now finding out that they, too are Lost Canadians. Born here, they worked here all their lives. But with retirement in their beloved country, Canada, the Liberal bureaucrats are proud to tell them that they do not qualify: one of their parents had taken out citizenship in another country and they are stateless.

So much for Paul Martin’s proud statement on Sunday. In fact, in spite of what the prime minister says, there are two classes of Canadian citizens--just ask the 85,000 Lost Canadians.

As a documentary film-maker, I have been working on a one-hour documentary on the Lost Canadians, featuring Don Chapman. To get some idea of how ugly this government is, when we approached the National Film Board and the CBC with the proposal, they were back to us in one day. Both refused to tell the story.

Oh, the current events programming on CBC? They refused it, too.

The Kahdr family has had their story in front of Canada routinely--championed by none other than the CBC National news. It all started when one of the Khadrs showed up back in Canada with an incredible story of being held by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. From the time of his release, he disappeared somewhere in Europe and only showed up in Canada months later, whining that he had been illegally detained by Americans, and that he was a Canadian citizen. CBC was all over it.

As the story progressed, the truth somehow got left behind. There was a documentary done in which the mother of the Khadr family, sitting with her two daughters, makes the statement that she wished her girls would martyr themselves like their father did in a fire fight on the Afghanistan / Pakistan border.

My thoughts at that time, watching this unfold, were "My God, ask this woman where she wants her daughters to kill themselves--Toronto? Montreal?" The question never was asked.

While in Afghanistan, I had met the father. He was honoured to tell his story about his friend, Osama bin Laden, how he and his young family had lived at Tarnack Farms. You may remember this place--it was where four Canadians were killed when an American fighter pilot dropped a bomb on them--while in Afghanistan fighting terrorism.

Months later, I was to learn that Mr. Khadr was dead. American Special Forces sought me out in Bagram to tell me about this great Canadian that CBC was championing. Their story was that American Special Forces were involved in the fire fight, and they maintained the second youngest Khadr--Omar Khadr, 19--who is being detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — threw a hand grenade that killed an American Special Forces sergeant, U.S. medic Sgt. Christopher Speer, and took the eye of Sgt. 1st class Layne Morris.

Their anger at that time was that because of his Canadian citizenship, Karim Khadr, who was wounded in the same firefight that killed his father, would be brought back to Canada to get the best medical attention the country could provide. How right they were!

I also heard that one of the Special Forces sergeants ‘stepped out of line’ in the States and charged the young Omar Khadr with murder.

We now have the arrest of Abdullah — the charges against him are from the United States, and they read: possession of a destructive device, conspiracy to murder US nationals outside the country; conspiracy to use a destructive device against US nationals and US property outside the country.

There is one very sad fact in Canada. Traditionally people who receive their citizenship in Canada vote for the government that was in place when they became Canadians. Paul Martin was drawing on this well of votes by using the Khadrs. It’s my impression that he was telling all new Canadians that the government would stand behind them no matter what. How wrong he is. There are 85,000 Lost Canadians born in Canada, but denied citizenship by his government.

My question to the Prime Minister: Is this what your father had in mind, after his walk through the graves in Dieppe, when he drafted the first Citizenship Act in 1947? Is this how he envisioned the citizenship of Canada?

Canada Free Press columnist Garth Prtitchard, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker living in Alberta.

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