Vancouver Observer: Daughter of Canadian war veteran fights 18 years for citizenship

Sheila Walshe's mother and father on their wedding day in 1942.

Before his death in 2004, Lloyd Cross, couldn't believe that the country he fought for would refuse to recognize his daughter as Canadian. Missing his first Remembrance Day parade since the end of World War II that same year, his daughter, Sheila Cross, marched in his place. For Walshe, the battle her father waged in Europe all those years ago ended in 2009, but not without a cost.

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Sheila Walshe, 67, holds a Canadian record that will likely never be broken. She has been a Canadian citizen, not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times. Her most recent acclimation came in 2009, when a brown letter from Ottawa arrived on her doorstep in Kelowna, BC, saying the government now recognized her birthright from the date of Canada’s first citizenship act, January 1, 1947.

“I’ve got two citizenship cards now, and they are not going to take them from me, I can guarantee you,” she said with an enthusiastic British accent in a phone interview with the Vancouver Observer.

You might think Walshe to be a decorated war veteran, a Noble Prize winning scientist, or maybe a hero who saved a busload of children from a burning school bus to warrant such special attention, but that’s not the case. To count her lucky would be a testament to resilient optimism. The only prize for Walshe’s four-times-Canadian record is relief. Her commendations cost her entire life savings to fight, and tested her faith in the country she calls home.

Walshe’s 18-year ordeal began in England in 1991 when she applied for her Canadian passport.

“In June, 1992, I got the letter saying I had a claim for Canadian Citizenship, however, I ceased to be a Canadian citizen on March 30th, 1967, because I did not reside in Canada on my 24th birthday.”

Until Amendments to the Canadian Citizenship Act were made law with Bill C-37 in 2009, if a Canadian born abroad did not reside in Canada on their 24th birthday they could be stripped of their citizenship. At twenty-four, Walshe was in England.

"I was totally unaware of the necessity. I had always accepted it as a fact that I was one [Canadian]," she said.

And as if this outdated law wasn’t enough to put the nail in the coffin of Walshe’s Canadian identity, the letter also said that because she hadn’t taken steps as a youth to reaffirm her Canadian status, she was twice-over not entitled.

Walshe’s citizenship woes originated during the turbulent years before she was born. In 1941, her Canadian father, Lloyd Cross, a veteran of Canada’s tank divisions in World War Two, fell in love with her British mother whom he married in 1942.

“My father was in the Three Rivers Tank Regiment, based in Worthing, Sussex, England. He requested permission from his C.O. to marry, and this is recorded in his Army records, of which I have a certified copy, Dad got it for me. He was granted permission to marry and the following year I was born.”

Her father was fortunate to survive some of the hardest fought battlefields in Italy and Germany, and at wars end moved his wife and three-year-old daughter to Canada. Fate, however, would not be as kind to her parents as it was to him during the war (he survived two tank wrecks). For reasons Walshe doesn’t know to this day, her mother whisked her and her two Canadian born siblings back to England in 1952, telling the kids their father had died. Walshe was nine years old.

“This was without my fathers knowledge, so I was, in fact, abducted, with absolutely no choice in the matter,” Walshe said, spending her youth and adult life in England under that assumption.

On a whim in 1990, she sent a postcard to distant relatives in Canada. With great shock, came a very strange reply. It was from her father. Forty years of separation flashed through her eyes as she realized her life had been based on a lie. She visited Canada as soon as possible where she was welcomed with open arms by her new found Canadian half siblings and her father.

“Always I was yearning for the land in which I had known such happiness as a child.”

After being rejoined with the kin she’d been robbed of, Walshe sold her home in England and made the steps for a permanent move. That is when she found out that despite having a Canadian father, would be citizenship allocation number one, and having been a landed immigrant in 1946 pre-dating the first Canadian Citizenship Act, would be citizenship allocation number two, that she had no right to be here.

“‘I could have died in that war,’” Walshe recollects her father saying about her scenario.

“He was a Canadian British soldier… and I am his Canadian daughter. That’s what made him so angry."

He passed away before seeing her citizenship recognized.

Before receiving a special 5.4 grant of citizenship in 2007, and her official recognition back to 1947 in 2009, Walshe was a Lost Canadian – would be citizens who through no fault of their own have been stripped of their nationality rights because of antiquated provisions in the Canadian Citizenship Act.

While most of these laws have been struck from the book, like the one that said Walshe had to live in Canada on her 24th birthday, there are still laws that effect an untold number who are still finding out that they too are not Canadian. One of those laws pertains to Jackie Scott, 65, who is being denied citizenship because she was born out of wedlock to Canadian soldier and British mother in World War II.

“There’s no clear and informative guidelines. Its like someone picks a name out of a hat and says that one’s got the thumbs up and that one’s got the thumbs down – they’re playing Caeser,” Walshe said of Scott’s case, whose plight the Vancouver Observer has been following since July, 2010.

No sense is right. Walshe has dozens of letters bearing the signatures of countless officials from numerous Ministry’s spanning three Canadian Prime Ministers – letters that say the problem belongs to another department.

Some acclaimed Lost Canadian’s have been fast tracked through the bureaucracy over the years, like Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire, who was born abroad and not in Canada on his 24th birthday, to save government embarrassment. Others have not been so lucky in the citizenship raffle. Canada’s last surviving World War I veteran, Jack Babcock, almost died disenfranchised and would have were it not for a last minute ministerial intervention.

Like Sheila Walshe, Jackie Scott’s father was also a Canadian soldier stationed in Britain during World War II. And like Walshe once faced bureaucratic stonewalling, Scott is waiting on another set of applications and getting no answers.

“I got letters from all of them [Ministry heads] over the years and they passed me like a parcel. Nobody opened the parcel. They just passed it,” Walshe said of her ordeal.

Reports from the Vancouver Observer have shown the same. In February 2011, the Observer reached out to the Ministry for the Status of Women but was told Scott’s case was an immigration issue – this despite the fact that Scott’s charter rights are being violated by sexist laws pertaining to her mother’s chastity. In March 2011, after eight months of stonewalling, the office of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration replied to the Vancouver Observer's numerous requests in an email about outstanding Lost Canadian cases.

“This government takes the issue of people’s citizenship very seriously, and we sympathize with all those whose citizenship has been questioned due to outdated citizenship laws that have been on the books for many years. We have taken measures to give citizenship to those who are not Canadian because of outdated provisions in former legislation.

Your support for Ms. Scott has been noted. Although I cannot discuss the details of her case, I can inform you that her circumstances have been fully considered by Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials.”

The correspondence was signed “S. Charbonneau, Ministerial Enquiries Division. Attached was the adage: This electronic address is not available for reply.”

Click here to read the original article in the Vancouver Observer.