Vancouver Observer: Discriminatory laws against unwed mothers leave Lost Canadian Ken Smith out in the cold

Liz Johnston and her husband, Lost Canadian Ken Smith, at their home in White Rock. Photo by Alexis Stoymenoff

Click here to read original article in the Vancouver Observer

As the world celebrate progress on International Women's Day, Lost Canadians born out of wedlock still face gender discrimination due to outdated citizenship laws.
Ken Smith and his wife Liz Johnston love to travel. But recently, planning a vacation has become a nearly impossible task.

“Lately, we’ve had some problems at the border because of my weird situation, where I can’t say I’m Canadian but I’ve lived here the majority of my life,” said Smith.

The 68-year-old White Rock resident is one of a number of Lost Canadians, excluded from citizenship due to the country’s archaic laws. Despite having lived in Canada since 1945, he’s been rejected twice by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. And ever since border security ramped up after 9/11 he says he’s had terrible experiences with customs officials.

“They don’t understand why I’m not Canadian, so immediately that raises some flags. About a year ago, the flags were all raised and we ended up not being able to go on our vacation down in the Caribbean because the plane landed in the United States,” Smith recalled.

“So we’ve got a little process that we’ve got to go through, and we’ve been advised that it won’t be a problem...if you get your citizenship first. And that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well, guess what? It is.”

Discrimination against women

Smith was born in England in 1943, to a British mother and Canadian father in the Royal Regiment. His parents were married 10 months after his birth, and they moved to Canada in 1945. Tragically, Smith’s mother died just 12 days after they arrived in Toronto, and when his father soon remarried, he was raised to believe that his stepmother was really his birth mother. It was not until his thirties that he finally found out he was not born in Canada.

Because Smith was born out of wedlock before 1947, the law says he’s not a citizen—even though his father was Canadian. Outdated regulations affecting war brides like his mother are the reason for many of the current Lost Canadian cases.

While it may seem shocking that such a discriminatory law is still in effect, despite aggressive appeals from citizenship advocates, the government has yet to fully resolve the issue.

“They still apply the laws of the time, which were, of course, very discriminatory,” said Johnston, who has passionately taken up the cause on her husband’s behalf.

“I mean, they’re not legal today but they apply these laws. It’s bizarre. And it’s because Ken was born out of wedlock. He was ‘owned’ by his mother, who was not a Canadian, which means he wasn’t Canadian.”

This week, as politicians commend progress on gender equality in honour of International Women’s Day, it’s particularly important to consider how such rules are still in effect. The laws at the time discriminated against women who had children out of wedlock, and the government continues to hold up this discrimination in existing legislation.

“There’s no question. If you’re a person who has a Canadian parent, you should be Canadian. Period,” said Johnston.

“It’s disheartening. It really is. Because you’re here, but you’re not one of them,” added Smith.

“There are times when you feel like you don’t even want to do it. You don’t even want to become Canadian, because why should you fight to become what you legally are supposed to be?”

Bill C-37, a problematic solution

Like many Lost Canadians, Smith was initially encouraged by news of a bill that passed in 2009—Bill C-37—which helped restore citizenship to people affected by loopholes in the Citizenship Act. Unfortunately, there were still many whose circumstances did not apply to the new legislation.

Smith was one of those excluded.

“We celebrated Bill C-37. I was pleased, and then it seemed to slide back to where we were before,” said Smith.

“Understanding that there’s about five per cent of the Lost Canadians who haven’t been dealt with, they’re saying that they’ll deal with them on a case-by-case basis. But the question is, how are they making judgment on a case-by-case basis? What rules are applying? They need to make it clear,” said Johnston.

While there have been some successes, other Lost Canadians who have applied on this “case-by-case” basis have still been denied. There has, however, been some recent progress in more aggressive appeals to the federal government.

Smith says he's paying close attention to a landmark court case taken up by Lost Canadian advocate Don Chapman, regarding the citizenship of Jackie Scott. Like Smith, Scott was also born out of wedlock and now faces a similar challenge in trying to prove her nationality. Just last month, Chapman applied for a federal review of Scott’s case, on the basis of age and gender discrimination.

“I think that the outcome of that case will affect Ken’s situation,” said Johnston.

Next steps

As they await the results of Scott's case, Johnston says she and her husband will continue to push for his own citizenship. But they don't want it to be adversarial.

“I like to advocate in a positive way,” said Johnston.

“And the way of doing that is that we need to find a person who is in a position to make change,” she said, pulling up a list of MPs on her computer.

Johnston says their next step will be reaching out to these politicians, particularly those on the Standing Committee for Citizenship and Immigration. The Vice Chair of this committee, Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies, is one of the top names on their to-do list.

Davies has previously commented on Lost Canadians, noting the difficulties in approaching an issue that bureaucrats are “a little reluctant to talk about”.

"I think it's just a combination of bureaucratic rigidity and weird historical elements and policy perspectives that you grapple with,” he said in July 2011.

Having dealt with this “bureaucratic rigidity” for most of his life, Smith says it’s tough sometimes not to simply give up.

“It has the very distinct effect of knocking the wind out of your sails, as they say,” said Smith.

“I’ll push it and push it, and then I get to the point that I’m so fed up with it because it’s so one-sided and it’s so discriminatory. It’s so un-Canadian.”

But despite past disappointments, Johnston is determined to take all necessary steps to secure her husband’s rightful citizenship. She looks forward to the day when they’ll be able to cross the border with ease, when Smith will finally get the acknowledgement he deserves.

“I want Ken to be a Canadian citizen, he wants to be a Canadian citizen—and he is a Canadian citizen. It’s a question of proving it. And that’s what is so frustrating,” said Johnston.