Who is the Lost Canadians Society?

Our vision is to update federal law to recognize rightful Canadian citizenship for those it has been stripped from.

The greatest attribute of Canadians is that they are so wonderfully nice. The greatest problem with Canadians is that they are so wonderfully nice.

C-37 affected every Canadian on the planet, which means that you have a different set of citizenship rights today than you did prior to April 17, 2009.

Canadians seem more than willing to stand up to promote human rights for all kinds of people around the world, but somehow when it comes to voicing their views regarding the rights of Canadians here at home we turn a deaf ear.

That’s where we come in. At Lost Canadians, we are advocating for the federal government to change the laws that protect Canadian citizenship.

Meet Don Chapman

From Airline Pilot to Activist

By Gary Symons

Don Chapman may well be the most stubborn man in Canada, and that is the only reason he can proudly say he is a Canadian citizen today.

Born to Canadian parents in Canada, Don was clearly Canadian at birth, and remained so until he was six years ago, when an obscure section of the Citizenship Act stripped him of his status. That law stated that any child whose father took out citizenship in another country would automatically lose his or her status as a Canadian, even if that child’s mother remained Canada. The law, dating from the 1947 Citizenship Act and carried through into modern times, stated that wives and children were essentially the ‘chattel’ or the belongings of the father, and so it only mattered what the father did. As the law stated: “Married women, minors, lunatics and idiots will be classified under a disability for their national status.”

The law discriminated against children and women, and yet this law was still followed even after Canada adopted its own Constitution and Charter of Rights.

But, as mentioned, Don is an extremely stubborn person. I met him while working as a reporter for CBC News with their greatly respected (or greatly feared, depending on your perspective) Investigative Unit. Don, as I was to find out, never backs down from anything, and if he sees an injustice, he will fight that injustice and the people behind it to the bitter death.

In the beginning, Don was fighting only for his own citizenship, but then he put up a blog, and soon dozens, then hundreds of people began contacting him and revealing that they too had lost their citizenship, and in a bewildering myriad of ways. Don decided then and there that he would fight for the citizenship of all the people he dubbed The Lost Canadians, and he kept his word. Don funded lawsuits, he lobbied politicians, he flew to Ottawa and chased the Prime Minister around the House of Commons, he testified at committee hearings, and he did it all out of his own pocket, while working as an airline pilot for United Airlines.

He also convinced me and CBC News to follow the story, and I agreed, not knowing I would spent the next eight years uncovering the sordid truth of Canada’s ineptly written, wholly discriminatory citizenship laws.

Don likes to quote an ancient Japanese proverb: “Get knocked down seven times, get up eight times.” And that’s what makes Don so fearsome. He never stops, never gives up, and just inexorably grinds you down. He is turned down daily by reporters and politicians and bureaucrats, and yet he just keeps going.

And it worked.

After years of lobbying and an explosive investigative series on CBC NewsBill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, came into force on April 17, 2009. It restored or gave Canadian citizenship automatically on that date to many who had never had it or who had lost it due to previous legislation. Many people who regained their citizenship never even knew it had been lost, many of them because they had never applied for a passport or a visa.

But Don’s fight still isn’t over. Not all the issues within the Act were dealt with, and the Harper government of the day also introduced new legislation that had unforeseen results, causing even more people to lose their citizenship.

Don once told me, as an airline pilot, he never felt it was okay to say you succeeded if you managed to land a crippled aircraft and you saved 99 per cent of the passengers. “It’s only a success if you save all the passengers,” Don said. “And we haven’t saved all the passengers yet.”

Today, Don is known as the founder of the Lost Canadians, and the man most responsible for the legislative changes that returned Canadian citizenship to thousands of people who unjustly lost their status.

When Don Chapman was six years old, he was stripped of his Canadian citizenship, thanks to an arcane provision of the Canadian Citizenship Act. He didn’t know it at the time, but rather learned the hard way, turned away from Canada as a teenager due to his father’s decision to take out citizenship in the United States, and  thus began his David-and-Goliath battle to change Canada’s archaic citizenship laws.

As the great Canadian writer Peter C. Newman put it, Don has “since become the voice for up to 1 million other Lost Canadians, whose ranks include such Canadian icons as Roméo Dallaire, Frank Gehry, and Nobel Prize–winner Willard Boyle.” In fact, it turned out my own uncle – my mother’s older brother – was also a Lost Canadian.  My uncle was born in Chicago while my grandfather worked as an electrician on a high steel project, and returned to Canada a few months later, where his birth was registered.

He grew up as a Canadian and later joined the Canadian Armed Forces, reaching the rank of Major before the federal government told him he wasn’t Canadian! In reality, as Don well knew, in every random group of thirty or forty older people, you would almost certainly find at least one Lost Canadian.

Today, most of those people have had their citizenship returned, and as for the rest, Don is now working on a new bill that will finally end this injustice that has lingered in our country since New Year’s Day, 1947, when the Canadian Parliament enacted a deeply flawed, unjust Citizenship Act.


The Lost Canadians: A Struggle for Citizenship Rights, Equality and Identity

When Don Chapman was six years old, he was stripped of his Canadian citizenship, thanks to an arcane provision of the Canadian Citizenship Act. Years later, he was stunned to discover the fact, and thus began his David-and-Goliath battle to change Canada’s archaic citizenship laws.