North Shore News: Fighting for the Lost Canadians

By Sean Kolenko - North Shore Outlook
Published: March 30, 2011 12:00 PM
Updated: March 30, 2011 12:48 PM

Weeks before the writ was dropped, both the federal Liberal and Conservative parties began drawing lines in the soon-to-come campaign sand.

Fighter jets, crime bills, coalition governments and, lying just beneath each election issue, trust have become topics of heated debate between the Grits and the Tories.

The Liberals have also been outspoken on immigration, in particular pledging help to the remaining “Lost Canadians.”

The “Lost Canadians” are an advocacy group headed by West Vancouver-born Don Chapman. Its goal is to re-instate citizenship for those who became stateless because of loopholes in the Citizenship Acts of 1947 and 1977.

Chapman is a former “Lost Canadian”. His father, suffering from arthritis in his hands, had moved the family to the U.S. in search of a warmer climate when Chapman was still a child. Chapman didn’t realize he had lost his citizenship — the United States did not grant dual citizenships at the time — until he tried to return to Canada at the age of 18. After discovering he didn’t qualify for his planned return north of the border, Chapman built a life in Phoenix, Ariz. but didn’t give up on his quest to become a Canadian, again. He began researching the intricate rules that governed how citizenship was attained.

He compiled a list of 12 ways one could lose their citizenship — those born out of wedlock, a woman who married a non-Canadian prior to 1947, or foreign-born Canadians who weren’t in Canada on their 24th birthday, for example — and began to advocate on their behalf.

On April 19, 2009, after years of pounding on the doors of both Liberal and Conservative governments, Chapman succeeded in helping a large majority of Lost Canadians when the Conservative government passed into law Bill C-37, which retroactively grated citizenship to those who lost their status after Jan. 1, 1947. For those who had issues from a time before that date, the file remains unresolved.

“It’s ridiculous that this is an issue we have to take a stance on. We are a country that values all the Charter, citizenship and the people who have paid taxes,” Justin Trudeau, Liberal immigration critic, told The Outlook.

“What remains about this issue doesn’t touch a whole lot of people, but this Conservative government won’t touch something unless there’s a swath of votes in it for them. That type of short-term strategy is not what Canada and the Liberal government stands for.”

The remaining five per cent of Lost Canadians generally fall into three groups: second-generation Canadians born abroad who were not in Canada on the day of their 28th birthday, those born before 1947 in wedlock to a Canadian mother and a non-Canadian father — children in these cases are considered the property of the father — and children born to Canadian citizen out of wedlock, who grew up outside of Canada.

Since the passing of Bill C-37, Chapman has lobbied to have all remaining cases in this file resolved but to no avail, he said. Chapman said he has repeatedly reached out to John Weston, MP for the West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky riding, for help in this issue but has been ignored.

Weston said he has met with Chapman on a number of occasions. When Stockwell Day visited the riding, Weston said he arranged for the two to meet. He’s spoken to Chapman both in his office and in Ottawa, and has helped a family on Bowen Island, the Segals, with their children’s immigration issues.

“The changes that are being called for would abolish the second-generation limit, changes that would allow people to claim citizenship even if they haven’t paid taxes,” said Weston. “It’s not something most Canadians would support, but people in this riding will be served. Citizenship is something I take very seriously.”

Chapman, however, isn’t convinced. He cites the case of Guy Valliere, a former WWII soldier, who lived in Canada his entire life but died stateless in February. Valliere was born in Montreal in 1926 to a Canadian mother and American father, in wedlock — and considered the property of the father. The government retroactively awarded his father citizenship, but Valleire was not included. He discovered in hospital he wasn’t a Canadian and died without citizenship.

“What public good is there in denying the last remaining five per cent their citizenship?” wondered Chapman, in an interview with The Outlook.

“Why doesn’t my MP [Chapman own a house in Gibsons, B.C] return my phone calls for help?”

Prior to the fall of the last Parliament, remaining citizenship inquiries in this area were handled on a case-by-case basis by immigration minister Jason Kenney.