Sandra Burke: Woman learns, too late, she is not a Canadian

Sandra Burke, here with her three sons, Robert, William and Chad, came to Canada at age 6 and had always considered herself a Canadian until she applied for old age pension and got a rude awakening from the immigration department.

Click here to read original story in the Toronto Star

After 60 years here, senior is shocked to be denied old age pension

Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter

Toronto StarSandra Jean Burke has lived, worked, paid taxes, raised three boys and even voted in government elections in Canada since her grandparents rescued her from a U.S. orphanage at age 6 and brought her here in 1951.

Only last year, when she applied for the Old Age Security pension and was asked for her “immigration landing paper,” did the Mississauga woman discover she had never been registered as a landed immigrant with Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Burke, who turns 66 in August, called the immigration department for a routine “verification of entry” and was told it had no record. She is not sure if her deceased grandparents had ever completed the proper application for her, or the document was simply lost.

Now, Burke just hopes to get legal status and receive the assistance she desperately needs to enjoy her senior years with her three adult sons, Robert, William and Chad, and four grandchildren.

“I have had my social insurance card, my health card. I’ve lived here for 59 years. I always tell people I was born in the United States and they’d never questioned me,” Burke said at the Barsuda Dr. townhouse where she has lived since 1978.

“It makes me angry,” added Burke. “I didn’t come here under my grandmother’s coat. Now I have to prove I’ve had roots in Canada.”

Don Chapman, who founded an online group called Lost Canadians to lobby for those who lose their Canadian citizenship for various reasons, said he was not surprised to hear of Burke’s case. Immigration status was simply not a big deal in the post-war period.

“Sandra is just one of many who may not have the papers. Now, they are getting to that age to collect pensions. This is happening with more regularity now. It’s a bubble that’s going to burst,” Chapman said.

Born Sandra Jean MacEwen, in Somerville, Mass., Burke was sent to an orphanage when her American mother died in 1950 and her Canadian father gave her up.

Her paternal grandmother, Catherine Bell MacEwen, later located her and brought her to Norval, Ont., by train. The family then moved to Prince Edward Island, where Burke finished high school. She came to Toronto in 1963, at 19.

She had worked all her life — on electronics assembly lines at Canadian Admiral, Inglis and Pyroil — until nine years ago, when she was forced to take a disability pension because of her worsening diabetes and associated health problems. In between, she got married, divorced and became a single mom.

Last summer, when she turned 65, her $715 monthly disability pension was stopped and replaced by Canada Pension Plan payments at roughly $430 a month. She had to apply for Old Age Security to supplement her dwindling income.

Burke said she had never applied for a passport — one way she might have learned of her tenuous status — because she had never had spare money to travel.

Earlier this year, Burker’s MP, Paul Szabo (Mississauga South) submitted an application for a citizenship certificate on her behalf under her “unique” circumstances.

“It appears that the adults in her childhood, including the foster care program that she was in, never applied for permanent residency or Canadian citizenship when she was a child,” Szabo wrote in a letter.

“As Canada is the only country she really knows, she has always considered herself Canadian. She has been through a lot of turmoil and misfortune in her life and now faces financial hardship. All she seeks is to be considered a Canadian, especially considering her strong family ties to Canada.”

In June, Citizenship and Immigration Canada rejected the request, citing the fact that Burke, born in 1944, did not acquire “British subject” status before January 1, 1947, when Canada introduced a new citizenship act that would restrict citizenship for those born to Canadians overseas. It’s just too late now.

Officials said Burke can still apply for permanent residency through a sponsorship by her family or on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. However, there is no guarantee she would be considered eligible to receive OAS because her time in Canada prior to issuance of citizenship might not count toward the 10-year residency requirement.

A Facebook group, Give Sandy Burke Her Citizenship, has been launched, along with a letter campaign to petition Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to grant Burke citizenship.

Click here to read original story in the Toronto Star