Canadian Press: Frustrated but fighting: 'Lost Canadians' push Ottawa to make them true Canucks

Jackie, her mother and father in Niagara Falls in 1948..

By: Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Jackie Scott considers herself a true Canuck. The 65-year-old grew up in Ontario, paid taxes and even voted in federal elections. But in Ottawa's eyes, she isn't Canadian.

The government's core argument? She was born out of wedlock before 1947.

Scott was born in England to a Canadian serviceman and a British mother who weren't married. Because she came along in 1945, before Canada's first citizenship law went into effect, she isn't eligible to take on her father's citizenship, even though both her parents later married in Canada.

"It’s really, really upsetting," said Scott. "All my family is Canadian. I'm the only one who's not."

Scott is one of the so-called "lost Canadians" who have been left behind.

The government amended its laws last year to give children born abroad out of wedlock equal rights to citizenship. But the changes only applied to those who were born in 1947 or later. For Scott, it seems the government is deliberately turning a blind eye.

"At a certain point we're going to be too old for them to have to worry about us," Scott complained. "Are they waiting for all of us to die?"

Scott only found out she wasn't legally a Canadian when the government turned down her request for a citizenship certificate in 2005.

"They considered me a bastard,” she said. "Isn't that discrimination?"

For people like Scott who live in Canada, the worst part of not having Canadian citizenship is a lack of long-term security. Even a permanent resident can be stripped of their status and be deported for any number of reasons.

Determined to secure her place, Scott applied for a special grant of citizenship in 2008. It was denied.

Her frustration with the government deepened when she learned her parents had their marriage legitimized under Ontario’s Legitimization Act. While sifting through musty old documents, she even found a letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada sent in 1955 that legitimizes her birth.

Fifty-five years later, however, the government refuses to acknowledge its prior rulings.

Scott refuses to give up. She has since resubmitted her citizenship application, but has yet to hear back.

Now technically a U.S. citizen, she divides her time between Surrey, B.C., and Arizona. She was able to get a U.S. passport because her husband worked in the States, but she only did so because she was desperate.

"All my ties are in Canada," she said. "I am still fighting for my Canadian citizenship."

Denise Tessier knows how it feels. The 65-year-old was also born in England under very similar circumstances, but has lived in Canada since she was two months old.

Unlike Scott, Tessier was offered a special grant of citizenship, but rejected it.

"I think it’s a huge insult," said Tessier, who is waiting for the government to right the system for all remaining "lost Canadians."

Tessier found out she was stateless when her older sister applied for a driver’s license in Manitoba, a process that requires proof of citizenship. The sisters appeared before a parliamentary committee studying the cases of “lost Canadians” in 2007.

Melynda Jarratt, Sue Rouleau, and Denise Tessier at the War Bride exhibit "One Way Passage" in the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, May, 2007 following their appearance at the Parliamentary Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

The committee was moved by their stories and offered the pair a special grant of citizenship. Her sister took it, but Tessier refused, on the grounds that if she deserves citizenship, so do all the others facing the same hardship.

"They’ve not done the right thing," said the B.C. resident, who now has a British passport. "I’m waiting for them to do the right thing."

Another would-be Canadian citizen is fighting a similar battle with Ottawa under different circumstances: he was born abroad while his parents were married.

The 65-year-old, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he's in the country illegally, was born in 1945 to a Canadian mother and an American father. The law at the time considered married women to be the property of their husbands, which meant his right to Canadian citizenship expired before he was even born.

Now, more than six decades later, he is a man forced to go underground after repeated unsuccessful attempts to gain citizenship. He is officially a U.S. resident, but is desperate to stay in Canada to look after his ailing 92-year-old mother.

"I’m entitled to this citizenship as a right," he said. "I'm absolutely fighting for it."

The man, who has no public health insurance, no pension and no SIN number, is pinning his hopes on advocates like Don Chapman, who founded an online group for lost Canadians and has long been urging Ottawa to recognize the citizens that were left behind.

"This is one of the most shameful stories on Canada," said Chapman, who travels the country speaking on the plight of lost Canadians. "The laws are different depending on who you are."

For its part, the government has been clear all along that the 2009 amendments wouldn’t resolve the problems of all lost Canadians.

"Those rare cases where the facts turn on circumstances of births outside Canada prior to January 1, 1947, and where citizenship is in doubt, would remain," then-immigration minister Diane Finley said in 2007.

Finley also explained that the government would continue to judge individual cases on their merits and bestow special grants of citizenship where appropriate.

That’s the same approach carried on by Finley's successor, Jason Kenney, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

"The government will continue to address any remaining cases individually and on a priority basis," department spokeswoman Kelli Fraser told The Canadian Press.

Fraser also said the department has a process for situations where there is an urgent need for a citizenship certificate.

For University of Victoria law professor Donald Galloway, that approach just doesn't go far enough.

"When the recent legislation came in, the government felt they had to draw the line somewhere and decided, I think quite arbitrarily, they would draw the line at 1947," said Galloway, who has been following the saga of the lost Canadians for years.

"Having a clear line drawn was more important than making sure that fairness and equities were actually satisfied."

Even after the new changes to the law came into effect, Galloway said the general feeling was that the government would take care of those born before the cutoff date. More than a year later, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

"What I think we’re seeing is a number of people who are being stonewalled by the government," Galloway said.

He suggested establishing a list of criteria — taking into account age, time spent in Canada and contributions to the country — that would guide bureaucrats on how to deal sympathetically with such cases.

But for someone who has never questioned their citizenship, sifting through reams of case law and then making a case before the government can seem formidable.

"A lot of people must just give up," Galloway said.

"The government may actually be waiting for people to die off, and it’s shocking. The stories really speak for themselves, they all add up to a very callous approach."