Vancouver Observer: Government violates charter by denying citizenship to Lost Canadians, says Don Chapman

Don Chapman photo by Megan Stewart
In our ongoing coverage of the Lost Canadians' story, VO brings you an op-ed by Don Chapman, advocate for Lost Canadians, and Canada's most irritating activist.

Click here to read original article in the Vancouver Observer.

Chapman, whose own battle with Canadian citizenship laws has been documented by VO, runs a website devoted to raising awareness of the plight of the so-called Lost Canadians. He was the first to use the term to describe people who have been denied Canadian citizenship through archaic and sexist laws. Bill C-37 corrected some of the these legal barriers last year, but the case of Rachel Chandler demonstrates that substantial hurdles remain.

During Thursday's Question Period in the House of Commons, Justin Trudeau, official opposition critic for Youth, Citizenship and Immigration, is set to question the government about the Lost Canadians.

Tune in at 3 pm Pacific to hear a repeat broadcast of Chapman on In Discussion with David Gibbons along with Jackie Scott, Jan Makins & Ian Munro.

But first, read what Chapman has to say to Stephen Harper:

What part of equal does this government not understand? Guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is section 15 which states, "Every person is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination." If the government only followed the law there wouldn't be an issue. If only.

So despite the Charter, despite a unanimous Supreme Court decision upholding equality of rights for women (Benner vs. Canada, 1997), this government still refuses to give women equal rights under the law, specifically having to do with citizenship. Here's the history: Our first form of unique "Canadian" identity went into effect in 1868, just one year after Confederation. The exact words being, "married women, minors, lunatics and idiots" were considered under the same "disability" for their national status. Hard to believe that 142 years later in the year 2010 the equality battle still rages on.

Why? Because Canada's citizenship act, the legislation currently in place giving each one of us our right of belonging in this country, pre-dates the Charter by five years. It allows discrimination, gender inequality, as well as various classes of citizenship.

Let me explain, starting with people born prior to 1947. Back then women and children were, literally, chattel of their husbands / fathers. Canadian women who married non British-status men lost their Canadian status on marriage, thus their children, if born in-wedlock, were deemed to be property of their non-Canadian fathers and not recognized as being Canadian. In the 1990's Citizenship and Immigration Canada partially recognized their mistake, rectifying it by giving these women citizenship, but CIC did it only to the women- not their children. Thus if you were born in or out of Canada to a non-British father and a Canadian mother, today you could have your citizenship and pension questioned. It matters not that maybe you never left Canada, that you grew up, voted, paid taxes, married, had a family, or maybe fought for Canada in WWII or in Korea, today you could be faced with a citizenship and pension problem. Really.

The other issue having to do with people born prior to 1947 has to do with individuals (usually children) who came to Canada without proper documentation. Orphans, adoptees, and home children are particularly vulnerable. Today, they too could be faced with a denial of citizenship and pensions. For some folks like Sandra Burke in Ontario, Rita Rouselle in New Brunswick, or Rod Burgess in Calgary, this is already happening.

The next gender specific group deals with children born between 1947 and 1977 outside of Canada to Canadian mothers and non-Canadian fathers. Unlike men, women in this situation didn't have a right to pass citizenship onto their children. The Supreme Court declared this to be blatant gender discrimination and illegal, but no matter, today the Harper government has chosen to deny citizenship to people simply because their connection to Canada came through a woman rather than a man. By doing this Canada is ignoring its obligations by violating several UN Conventions on Equality of Rights.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. In September, 2004 the UN magazine Refugees highlighted Canada as an offending country. The bottom line, our international reputation is at stake. So too should our national pride.

To the government’s credit, in April 2009 Bill C-37 came into force to correct many outdated deficiencies in the citizenship act. While hundreds of thousands of people were positively affected, the Bill did nothing regarding the above problems as they still exist. In fact, Bill C-37 actually created a new inequity, giving immigrant Canadians more rights than many Canadian-born citizens.

It’s just so incredibly Kafkaesque.

The solution, however, is very simple. Equal rights in Canada should mean just that. No one group or one gender should be superior or conversely inferior to another. Our government should uphold and abide by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our Supreme Court decisions, the rule of law, and our obligations to the United Nations Conventions. Stephen Harper said, "The actions of our government are guided by the principal that hate and discrimination have no place in a civilized society."

Not until all Canadians, regardless of your year of birth (prior to or post 1947), whether you were born in or out of wedlock, or your connection to Canada came through your mother rather than your father (gender equality), and all Canadians have equal rights to pass citizenship onto their children, will Mr. Harper's words truly have meaning.

Click here to read original article in the Vancouver Observer.