Battle to prove citizenship not unusual, says advocate

Telegraph Journal, Saint John, New Brunswick

Legislation: Other children of war brides said in bureaucratic tangle with Ottawa

Benjamin Shingler

Published Wednesday December 30th, 2009

The case of the daughter of a war bride who is being asked by the federal government to provide more documentation to prove her citizenship is far from unusual, an advocate says.

Don Chapman, the leader of an advocacy group called Lost Canadians, says there are many more people in New Brunswick and across the country whose citizenship is not recognized because of glaring holes in Canadian laws.

"People that are war bride children shouldn't have to fight for their identity," he said in an interview. "Our own people shouldn't have to fight against the government."

Chapman and others have been calling on Ottawa to introduce further changes to the Canadian Citizenship Act, which was amended last April.

Earlier this week, 65-year-old Rita Rousselle, who arrived in Canada as a toddler and now lives near Neguac, told the Telegraph-Journal she has yet to receive her first old age pension cheque because the federal government wants further proof she is a citizen.

Rousselle says she has for years voted in federal, provincial and municipal elections, held a social insurance number and contributed to the Canadian pension plan.

Rita's father, Augustine Rousselle, served overseas in the North Shore Regiment of New Brunswick during the Second World War, and married a woman in England.

In 1947, the young couple boarded the Queen Mary for Halifax with Rita, then two-and-a-half years old, took the train to Miramichi and eventually settled in Saint-Wilfred, about 15 kilometres west of Neguac.

Rousselle has provided the Canadian government with her English birth certificate, a baptism certificate from the Catholic Church in New Brunswick, and a marriage licence proving the union with her Canadian husband.

But for reasons unclear to Rousselle, Citizenship and Immigration Canada remains unsatisfied.

After more than a year of correspondence with the federal department, Rousselle says she received another letter this month requesting her father's New Brunswick birth certificate and her parents' British marriage licence, both of which she has been unable to track down.

Jon Stone, a spokesman for Canadian Citizenship and Immigration in Atlantic Canada, acknowledged earlier this week that cases like this one, where it's difficult for a person to prove their citizenship, are more common among the children of war brides.

Stone said that the problem among the children of war brides is that, in many cases, they arrived in Canada immediately after the Second World War, prior to when the Canadian Citizenship Act took effect on Jan. 1, 1947.

As a consequence, some children of war brides were never registered as citizens, he said.

The amendments to the citizenship act that came into effect in April mean that certain people who became Canadian citizens on or after Jan. 1, 1947, but then lost citizenship, now have their status restored.

The changes affect people born out of wedlock or those who lost citizenship when a person took on the citizenship of another country, among others.

But it doesn't apply to other groups, such as children of war brides who were born prior to 1947.

Chapman, who successfully fought to have his citizenship restored after it was stripped from him by another contested part of the 1947 Citizenship Act, says there are likely many more children of war brides in New Brunswick with the same problem as Rousselle, but that it's difficult to know exactly how many.

"All I want them to do is accept these people," Chapman says of the government.

He says further changes to the act need to be made so that the children of war brides and other groups are rightly recognized as Canadian citizens.

Roughly 44,000 young women who met and married Canadian servicemen during the Second World War immigrated to Canada in the years immediately after the conflict, along with an estimated 21,000 children.

A request for comment from the Minister of Citizenship Jason Kenney was not returned Tuesday.