Halifax Chronicle Herald: Time for women’s groups to stand up for war bride children

Tue, Mar 8 - 4:54 AM

This is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and all across the country, people are celebrating women who have made a significant impact on Canadian history.

Click to read original article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald

If there is one group of women that Canadians love to talk about, it’s war brides. Their immigrant story of love, courage and adaptation to a new life in Canada is an indelible part of our national and cultural identity.

But when it comes to war brides, immigration is one thing — citizenship is another. It’s high time politicians bowed their heads in shame at the dark side of the Canadian war bride story that everyone, especially Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney would like us to forget.

Canadians should know the real story of how war brides and their children were lied to about their citizenship status when they came to Canada in 1946, and how that lie has come back to haunt them more than 65 years since the end of the war.

When war brides were brought to Canada, they were told they and their children became citizens by virtue of marriage to Canadian servicemen.

The war brides had no reason to question their status. Didn’t Prime Minister Mackenzie King himself call them "a splendid addition" to Canada’s citizenship?

They didn’t know that with the introduction of Canada’s first Citizenship Act on Jan. 1, 1947, the rules changed. After that date, war brides and their children had to apply for citizenship: The problem was, nobody told them.

Over the years, many wives learned about the new rules after being hauled out of line at customs and warned about their Canadian status. But not every war bride travelled back home to Britain or Europe and, whether through ignorance or procrastination, not every one applied for her Canadian citizenship.

From time to time, we’ll hear about women like 87-year-old Priscilla Corrie of British Columbia, who found out in 2008 that she was not a citizen. Once her story hit the national media in 2010, the department moved quickly to solve her problem, but it was only because her story went public.

Those who are most affected by the citizenship issue are war bride children who were born overseas during the war. They, too, never knew about the change in rules but unlike with their mothers, the department doesn’t seem to mind picking a fight with the younger generation.

They are the "lost Canadian" war bride children, stripped of their citizenship because they didn’t fill out a piece of paper so many years ago.

Now aged 65 and older, these children are discovering they are not Canadian citizens. What ensues is a bureaucratic nightmare that can take years and thousands of dollars to fix. Imagine the anxiety when federal entitlements such as Old Age Pension, medicare and passports are denied until the paperwork is in order.

And it gets worse. If the war bride children were born out of wedlock, they are denied citizenship status because of a discriminatory section of the 1947 act. They can get a special grant of citizenship, but it only recognizes their status from the date of the grant forward. Jackie Scott is fighting to be recognized as a Canadian citizen, but her birth status is being used against her by the government.

Which brings me back to International Women’s Day. No politician or feminist would dare defend a bumbling bureaucracy that targets war brides and their children, nor the anachronistic and discriminatory legislation that bans children born out of wedlock from citizenship. But Jason Kenney does it all the time.

As a historian and women’s rights activist, I find it hard to believe that women’s organizations have not taken up the cause of war brides and their children who are being treated so badly by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.

And after 65 years, I don’t think I’m asking too much for women’s groups across Canada to make a principled stand on behalf of those children whose only crime was to be born out of wedlock during the Second World War.

Melynda Jarratt is a historian of Canadian war brides and an advocate of the Lost Canadians. She lives in Fredericton, N.B.

Click to read original article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald