Vancouver Observer: To Stand on Guard for Thee

John DiefenbakerThe Harper government announced on February 8th a brand new award, to honour individuals and groups in Canada and around the world who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in defending human rights and freedoms. They call it the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award.

Click here to read original op-ed piece in the Vancouver Observer.

Mr. Harper is not in any position whatsoever to hand out 'Human Rights' awards. Just over a week ago his government denied a three-year old baby citizenship in Canada only because of gender. In doing so Mr. Harper knowingly violated three UN Conventions on Human Rights and the Supreme Court of Canada- not once, but in two separate decisions- Benner vs. Canada, 1997 and Leong Ba Chai vs. the Queen, 1954. In the former, the court said that discriminating against women in citizenship law was illegal. In the latter it was ruled that born-out of wedlock children, if their parents subsequently marry, were legitimized.

But today, several War Bride children who have lived in Canada since the end of WWII are being denied citizenship because Mr. Harper's government has declared them "bastards," and hence this Conservative government has deemed them unworthy.

Additionally, for some people born prior to 1947, they may soon discover to their horror that for the last half-century their citizenship was just a facade. Sadly, anomalies still exist in citizenship law, not just for those about to enter their retirement years, but for the very young as well.

Are you aware that just over two years ago your rights as a Canadian changed, and that it's now possible for a Canadian parent not to be able to pass Canadian citizenship onto their children?

Are you aware that even though you've lived in Canada your whole life and believed you were a citizen, that to collect your old-age pension, you must first prove citizenship or permanent residence status?

Or that immigrant Canadians can have more rights than Canadian-born citizens?

Did you know that to get a Certificate of Citizenship proving you are in fact a Canadian citizen, it can take well over a year?

While waiting for his proof of citizenship certificate, James Pemberton, a legitimate Canadian citizen, was wrongly made a refugee. For the better part of a year he was denied entry into University, the right to work, medical coverage, and all the other citizenship rights the rest of us take for granted.

Last summer, 87 year old War Bride Priscilla Corrie was initially denied a passport, then after media coverage, magically got one. Priscilla's first husband died fighting for Canada in WWII. Is this any way for a Prime Minister to treat a citizen of Canada?

As Sonny and Cher used to say, "and the beat goes on..."

A year and a half ago a tenth-generation woman from Quebec was denied a passport in Geneva, again, not because of anything she did, but rather because of incompetence and indifference by Jason Kenney, Harper’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Last year Sandra Burke was told she wasn't really Canadian, and thus didn't qualify for her pension. Sandra's father was Canadian, but the government's denial was based on the fact that she was born in the States prior to 1947. It didn't matter that she'd been in Canada for 59 years- working, paying taxes, voting, and having a family.

Jan Makins was told that if her connection to Canada had been through her grandfather rather than through her grandmother, she'd be Canadian. Despite their own admission of gender discrimination, what did the Harper government do? They put Jan on a plane and forced her to leave Canada. It didn't matter that she held a valid and legal visitor's visa.

Schneur Rabin is a rabbi in Montreal who was just denied citizenship because of gender discrimination against his Canadian mother. Theresa Kenney is a 94-year old Canadian-born Catholic Nun being denied citizenship because she was born prior to 1947. May Lin Dong's two daughters are being denied, and the reason goes all the way back to the old head tax. Her Chinese father was born and grew up in Vancouver, but her Chinese mother was from China.

Hard to imagine that today, Mr. Harper is keeping the Asian discrimination alive.

And that's not all. Allen Ussher was born in the Philippines as a Canadian citizen but grew up in the Vancouver Filipino community. Thinking that his citizenship was secure, he had no idea that there was a requirement to reaffirm his citizenship by his 28th birthday.

For not doing so he was rendered stateless, which clearly violates Canada's obligations to uphold a UN Human Rights Convention. Willie Van ee and his two sons are both registered Native Aboriginal Canadians, but because Willie was born out-of wedlock and prior to 1947, he and his two sons are also being told they don't belong.

It begs the question, what public good is being served by denying these people Canadian citizenship?

Prior to 1947, children born in wedlock were considered property of their fathers. This describes Guy Valliere, born in Montreal in 1926 to a Canadian mother and U.S. father. Guy grew up, married, worked, paid taxes, and even fought for Canada in WWII, but because his father wasn't Canadian, Mr. Harper refused to recognize Guy's citizenship. Guy died two years ago disenfranchised from his own country.

Question: Were you born prior to 1947 in-wedlock to a non Canadian status father, or out-of wedlock to a non-status mother? Maybe you were born after 1947 to a Canadian mother and foreign father. If so, will Mr. Harper treat you with the same disregard as he did with Guy, or as he's now doing to a rabbi, a nun, a Chinese family, or a Native Aboriginal?

These stories are much more common than you'd think, and what you don't know can hurt you.

Obviously, Mr. Harper has a complete disregard for equality of rights in citizenship law, yet Cabinet Minister Lawrence Cannon proudly made this statement when announcing the new Diefenbaker award, "Human rights are the cornerstone of the Canadian value system and the mainstay of society."

He goes on, "The Diefenbaker Award reflects our government’s strong support for human rights and the efforts of individuals and organizations to promote freedom and democracy worldwide, often under very difficult circumstances. Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with those who share our values of respect for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Our government always defends the vulnerable, to protect and promote human rights and human dignity at home and abroad. We will continue to be a relentless advocate of human rights around the world."

...but not for Canadians.

And to make matters worse, not one leader of an opposition party has yet to publicly challenge Mr. Harper. While Mr. Ignatieff did speak out three weeks ago to say that he will support the Lost Canadians, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe remain silent.

Could it be they don't know? If so, then they're completely incompetent, because it’s their job to protect and represent Canadians. Conversely if they do know then it's even worse, in that they willingly allowed discrimination to fester in Canada. Through silence they become Harper's accomplices. Ponder this, scary as it is, that our elected representatives knowingly allow human rights abuses, the victims being Canadians.

Truth be told, Stephen Harper is just another hypocritical leader in a country espousing to do one thing while the reality is quite another. Let me quote the PM: "As Canadians, we believe that a government must work in the interests of it’s people, not the other way around. We believe that countries that respect the rights of their own people are more likely to respect the rights of other nations and be good world citizens. The actions of our government are guided by the principal that hate and discrimination have no place in a civilized society."

As a suggestion, Mr. Harper, before any recipient is given the distinguished Human Rights award, you need to first get your own house in order. To do that, citizenship rights must be granted with equality, where the circumstances of ones birth- being born in or out of wedlock, and where age or gender matters not.

Only then will your words and your legacy have any true meaning.

From now on, think of our national leaders when you hear the words, "To Stand on Guard for Thee." Ask yourself, are they?

Click here to read original op-ed piece in the Vancouver Observer.