Dan Veniez: The Inexplicable Tragedy of our Lost Canadians

Dan VeniezOne of the great joys of this journey to become our constituency’s next member of parliament is meeting remarkable people that fight to make a difference for their community and their country. It’s been a humbling and inspiring experience.

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Last week, I wrote about Buddy Boyd, an entrepreneur and environmental activist (no contradiction there!) who is on his way back from a groundbreaking zero-waste conference in Brazil.

In the next few weeks I’ll be writing about some of the wonderful people I’ve been meeting, from the gateway to Desolation Sound at one end of the riding to North Vancouver on the other.

For every cynic I happen to encounter, I meet 100 people that are filled with hope and optimism for what their community and country could be. The “silent majority” are those that keep me fuelled up to do more listening and to fight to serve as their voice in the House of Commons.

One such person is the incredible Don Chapman.

From his residence on the Sunshine Coast, Don has fought a national and long-standing battle to correct an inexplicable injustice. Vancouver-born Chapman lost his Canadian status as a nine year-old when his parents moved to the United States and his father took out citizenship there in 1961. Chapman led a decade long fight to get it back and with the implementation of Bill C-37 last year, he was finally able to reclaim citizenship for himself and his family. However, there are still many other Canadians, including children born abroad, who are being refused citizenship due to the gender and marital status discrimination. That discrimination is becoming inter-generational, as further generations of Canadian women are having children born abroad.

Don has taken up the cause of the Lost Canadians everywhere. There are thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands (www.lostcanadian.com). What is a “lost Canadian”? Lost Canadians are individuals and their children who lost or never had citizenship due to discriminatory provisions of the Citizen Act. Prior to 1947 the law treated women and children differently from men, stripping status from Canadian women who married foreigners - but not Canadian men who married foreign women. The 1947 Act prevented women who married foreigners and then had children abroad from passing on Canadian citizenship to their children. At the same time, Canadian men who married foreign women and had children abroad could pass on their citizenship without any problems whatsoever. Despite many Amendments to the Act over the years, including the "Lost Canadian" Bill C-37, enacted in April, 2009, the discriminatory provisions dating prior to 1947 remain in effect and continue to discriminate against women and children on the basis of gender and marital status.

In the year 2010, it is incomprehensible that the Conservative government refuses to make our Citizenship Act Charter compliant the Charter rights that most of us take for granted. But this issue was also ignored – and was given lip service by the previous Liberal government, too. This is not – and should never be – a partisan issue. It is one that touches the very essence of our citizenship.

Of particular concern is the "born out of wedlock" war bride children, born overseas before their parents married from inheriting the citizenship of their Canadian serviceman father. Despite Orders in Council granting them citizenship, the Harper government continues to ignore their rights. It's an insult to the memory of Canadian veterans and their War Bride wives since most of these children have lived their entire lives in Canada since arriving as babies with their mothers on the War Bride ships in 1946. War Brides and their children were promised citizenship upon arrival, and most of them believed they were. But as the children are discovering today, when they make application for Old Age pension or a passport, they are still being denied.

Don Chapman asks, "Is there any politician who can defend this kind of discrimination against women and their children today?"

It's a position that is politically and morally indefensible, yet, the current Minister of Citizenship, Jason Kenney, and the Prime Minister refuse to do anything about it much to the embarrassment of rights-minded Canadians who do not judge others on the basis of their gender and marital status. The continued discrimination against women and children is in violation of two Supreme Court Decisions, in particular Benner v. Canada (1997) and Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees equality of rights for all Canadians, regardless of gender or marital status.

A partial remedy—Bill C37 in 2008—restored Canadian citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Lost Canadians, but left behind thousands of other “Canadians” still affected by arcane provisions in the Citizenship Act, who have either inadvertently lost the Canadian Citizenship they once held, or—though they have spent their entire lives thinking they were Canadian—never actually held citizenship in the first place. Most affected are:

1- People born in or out of Canada to a Canadian mother and non-British status father prior to 1947.

2- People born abroad to a Canadian mother and non-Canadian father, between 1947 and 1977.

3- Some War Bride children who were born out-of-wedlock prior to 1947.

4- Certain 2nd-generation born abroad Canadians who didn’t reaffirm their citizenship by their 28th birthday.

5- Some 2nd-generation born-abroad children to a Canadian parent are stateless.

This is an unbelievable travesty.

A large number of these Lost Canadians are senior citizens who have fought for our country, paid taxes, worked hard, and have contributed to their communities in countless ways.

Yet, they are also largely forgotten and have slipped between the cracks of our current laws. They are in legal limbo.

I am calling on the Harper Government to introduce legislation to correct long-standing discrimination in the Canada Citizenship Act that still leaves thousands of Canadians in citizenship limbo. The legislation would correct the remaining injustices found in Canada’s most basic human rights document—the Citizenship Act. I am also calling on the Harper Government to create an independent Citizenship Ombudsman to focus solely on the thorny issues of gender and marital status discrimination.

My friend, Justin Trudeau, is our new Citizenship and Immigration critic in the House of Commons. I introduced him to Don and in his statement on the occasion of Citizenship Week he said: “Citizenship continues to evolve in dramatic ways. It was only in 2009 that most Canadian women gained equal rights with regards to the citizenship of their children and there continues to be a remarkable number of people whose commitment to this country is not properly acknowledged by the Citizenship Act. This week is also a time to acknowledge these lost Canadians and work towards rectifying the failures of current legislation.”

Justin has taken up this cause, as have several members of the Liberal caucus, including Marlene Jennings, Bob Rae, Ujjal Dosanjh, and John McCallum.

In the recent past, members of the Harper government have laid the blame for this legislative anomaly on “bureaucrats”. Public servants follow the laws as they are written. That’s their job, and they do it well. The onus is lay squarely and unambiguously on our parliamentarians – from all parties – to come together to correct this despicable injustice.

They have a solemn responsibility to make it right and do so without further delay or excuses. How many more Lost Canadians can our country allow to die without being officially granted their birthright?

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