A new generation of Lost Canadians

Casey Neal is two years old and Canada doesn't want her. Click here to read Vancouver Sun article
Casey Neal is two years old and Canada doesn't want her. Click here to read Vancouver Sun article

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun Columnist
March 10, 2009

All last year, Second World War veteran Guy Valliere waited anxiously to have his Canadian citizenship restored. He died last month, disenfranchised.

Like thousands of other foreign-born children, he had his citizenship stripped from him because his mother — not his father — was Canadian.

Had his father been Canadian, citizenship would never have been in doubt because in every successive Citizenship Act — as in the Indian Act — there has been a patriarchal preference.

What’s particularly galling is that it’s been 27 years since the Charter and its equality rights guarantee was passed and 12 years since the Supreme Court of Canada, in Benner v. Canada, declared the Citizenship Act unconstitutional because it discriminates against women.

Yet the act remains in force. A new bill has been passed and may be enacted next month. It will ensure that going forward, foreign-born children of Canadian mothers will be eligible for citizenship. But the new act will not automatically restore it to those mothers’ children whose citizenship was stripped. Plus it will create a new generation of so-called Lost Canadians — the grandchildren of women whose citizenship was stolen.

Last year, Lost Canadians’ advocate, Vancouver-born Don Chapman convinced the government that Valliere and a handful of others couldn’t wait. The government agreed and said exceptional cases would be dealt with through citizenship grants.

Yet not a single applicant has received such a grant. Not Valliere. Not Lucy Proulx. Not Arch Ford.

It makes Chapman furious because once the new law is passed, the special deal is off the table and those mothers’ children will have to apply for and then fulfil a three-year residency requirement.

Proulx hasn’t got that kind of time. The California resident has advanced metastatic breast cancer and suffers from “excruciating pain.”

She has no intention of returning to Canada. What she does want is proof that she is who she has always believed she is — a French-Canadian, like all of her ancestors.
Proulx can trace her Canadian roots back 11 generations on one side and 10 generations to the Plains of Abraham on the other.

“I may be very tired and weak, but I still believe with all my heart and soul that I was born and will die a French-Canadian,” she wrote in an e-mail. “But I KNOW who I am! And I'm proud of it!”

Ford was born in the U.S. to a Canadian-born mother and an American father. While he was still a baby, Ford’s parents divorced and he and his mother moved back. Ford grew up in Canada and had little contact with his father.

The 1947 Citizenship Act was in force at the time his mother moved back. It clearly said that the child’s citizenship is the same as that of the “responsible parent.” But somehow, the Canadian government won’t recognize Ford as a Canadian.

This week, Chapman was in Ottawa, begging the government to show some compassion and grant a handful of Lost Canadians their citizenship. But he also was there warning that the new act is imperfect and simply moves the gender discrimination back a generation.

Chapman uses the example of his two grand-nieces. One had a Canadian-born grandmother and the other a Canadian-born grandfather. Kasey Neal, whose grandmother is Canadian, is not eligible for citizenship. Her cousin, Lillian Miller, is.

It mirrors the supposedly remedied Indian Act, which was declared unconstitutional in 2007 by a B.C. Supreme Court judge, who said it discriminated along matrilineal and patrilineal lines, treating grandchildren differently.

Ottawa appealed and the case was heard by the B.C. Court of Appeal in October. No decision has been rendered.

It’s bad enough that old laws were discriminatory. But for a government to repeat the error in new legislation and then spend more time and money defending it is not only a waste of time and money, it’s insulting.


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