How the Children of Canadian Soldiers Lost Their Citizenship

As Lost Canadian activists fought for an amended Citizenship Act in the mid-2000s, one of the zanier stories that came out about Canada’s oddly inept patchwork of citizenship laws involved those people who were born abroad to Canadian soldiers during the Cold War.

Often referred to humorously as “The Military Brats,” the story of what they went through was more tragic than funny. 

The Military Brats were among the largest groups affected by the various anomalies in the 1977 Citizenship Act, with about 110,000 people who either lost their citizenship or could have lost their citizenship. 

In 2007 I wrote about the issue for CBC News, and the story is still posted on the CBC website. It stated, “They got their name because the majority were born during the Cold War on Canadian military bases abroad. Others were the children of Canadians who worked abroad for the diplomatic corps or on other government work.

Christine Eden is one of those people, and also the chair of an Armed Forces committee that deals with Lost Canadians in the military. She says the problem arose due to a simple foul-up in the paperwork by federal bureaucrats.

Before 1977, all Canadians who had children abroad were required to secure their children’s citizenships with a form known as the Registration of Birth Abroad. In the case of children born on military bases, those forms were collected and filed by the Armed Forces.

After 1977, the laws about registration changed, and anyone born abroad was required to obtain a certificate of Canadian citizenship. Eden says that, in many cases, Citizenship and Immigration Canada did not tell the affected people of the new requirement.

“The problem is, these people are clearly Canadians, but they cannot prove they are Canadians,” Eden says. “It’s a big problem because if we’re not Canadian, then we’re citizens of the country of our birth — and I’m already hearing about some men who have been served draft notices by those countries.”

Eden says at least two active soldiers have lost their citizenship. She too was affected, when she couldn’t prove her Canadian status and was detained for eight hours at the U.S. border.”

While the numbers are large, the impact on most military brats was often less extreme than for other categories of Lost Canadians. Because the military or CIC can often track down the original Registration of Birth Abroad, it is often a case of proving citizenship, rather than losing it and having to apply to become an immigrant. 

However, the problems faced by these children of Canadian soldiers also indicated the larger and much more serious plight faced by other Canadians who lost their citizenship for similar reasons.

While the government generally dealt with citizenship issues very quickly for soldiers’ families, the same was not true of the so-called Born Abroad category of Lost Canadians. In many cases, those Canadians never regained their citizenship until the passage of Bill C-37 in 2009.