HOW CANADA FIXED THEIR CITIZENSHIP LAWS, AND THEN SCREWED THEM UP AGAIN, ON THE SAME DAY
The date April 17, 2008 means a lot to people who lost their citizenship over the years. That’s when Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, came into force by receiving Royal Assent. It was the culmination of decades of lobbying by Don Chapman and other members of the so-called “Lost Canadians,” and as a result people around the world could once again call themselves Canadian.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley said the bill would resolve over 95 per cent of the cases of Lost Canadians.
“We’re very pleased to have been the government that was able to resolve this situation finally,” she told CBC News.
The bill flowed out of a series of reports from CBC News in 2007 and 2008 that revealed thousands of people were at risk of losing their citizenship due to outdated provisions in existing and former citizenship laws.
A CBC News investigation found there may be more than 200,000 living in Canada who could lose their citizenship for various reasons, including:
- Some Canadian-born children lost their citizenship because their fathers later became U.S. citizens.
- The law from 1947 to 1977 required people living outside the country on their 24th birthday to sign a form to keep their citizenship.
- People who were born in a hospital south of the border were not considered citizens unless they later registered as Canadians.
- Some were stripped of their citizenship because they or their ancestors were considered illegitimate.
In May of 2005, Parliament passed a law expediting citizenship for those in the first category. Don Chapman, leader of the Lost Canadians and who spent 50 years fighting on behalf of Lost Canadians, was among the more than 100,000 people affected in this category. Under the law of the time, children of fathers who took out citizenship in another country automatically lost their Canadian citizenship as well, even if they weren’t living with their fathers at the time.
Chapman’s father moved to the U.S. when he was six years old. When Chapman tried to return to Canada at the age of 18 he was told he had lost his citizenship. He says the law at the time was discriminatory, focusing only on the rights of the father. “This ends today 140 years of discrimination against women and children on Canadian citizenship,” he said.
One of the people affected was Dean Echenberg, who spent years fighting for the Canadian citizenship he lost when his father moved to the U.S. and became an American citizen. “I’m a Canadian,” Echenberg told CBC News. “Always was, and now the government recognizes it.”
When Echenberg’s father died, the family moved back to Canada. Echenberg only found out about his rescinded nationality when he applied for a Canadian passport while studying at a U.S. medical school. “I was informed that I had been stripped of my Canadian citizenship. I was floored.”
His nationality was stripped under an old law that didn’t allow dual citizenship. That was revised in 1977, but it wasn’t retroactive.
While most provisions were good news for those struggling with citizenship, Bill C-37 also created new headaches for many others. Chapman, speaking for the Lost Canadians, predicted, “The amendment will create another generation of Lost Canadians.” Legal experts agreed, saying the amendment may create another generation of lost Canadians.
|Facts in brief
|Canada’s first citizenship act came into effect on Jan. 1, 1947. Residents were considered British subjects until then.Before the citizenship act was revamped in 1977, dual citizenship was not allowed.When children were born out of wedlock before 1977, Canadian citizenship was passed from mother to child.Under the new changes, citizenship will be restored retroactively to the date the person lost it or the date he or she was born.It limits citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada. For example, the child of a foreign-born Canadian does not receive citizenship if the child is born abroad.Exceptions to citizenship by descent are made for people working abroad for the Armed Forces or the federal or provincial governments.
|(Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada)
“There’s a whole new group of people who are going to fall between the cracks as a result of these measures, in addition to some of the people who fell into the former category of lost Canadians,” said Sharryn Aiken, a law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., in a CBC News interview.
Aiken said the law prevents citizenship from being passed beyond first-generation Canadians in some cases. For example, a person born abroad to — or adopted from a foreign country by — Canadian parents can’t pass their citizenship on to their children if their child is born outside Canada.
In fact, Chapman and Aiken’s words couldn’t have been more accurate. Now known as the ‘Second Generation Born Abroad’, many people born to Canadian parents living abroad were stripped of their citizenship.
One such case involves Vicky Maruyama
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told CBC News the new rule was made to prevent people who permanently live outside the country and never pay taxes from passing on citizenship to their children.
“We think citizenship is so important. It is such an important Canadian value and privilege that we want to limit it to those people who have some kind of enduring presence or commitment to Canada,” said Kenney.
Exceptions are made for children of parents working abroad with the Canadian Armed Forces, as federal public servants or in the service of a province.
But with an estimated 2.7 million Canadians living abroad, Aiken said, the Canadian government needs to rethink its definition of citizenship in a world where people increasingly identify with multiple backgrounds.
“I think it’s retrograde to suggest individuals can only have one loyalty and one country,” Aiken said.
Government estimates questioned
The government expects the new law will resolve more than 95 per cent of the cases of Lost Canadians, a total estimated to be a few thousand. Back in 2007, a CBC investigation found that as many as 200,000 people could be affected by various outdated provisions.
In the end, the amendments have failed to help several categories of Lost Canadians, including a group of Mennonites who were apparently issued citizenship cards in error and some so-called war babies.
Jacqueline Scott was born in England in 1945 to a Canadian serviceman and a British mother, who later married and lived in Canada. Under the new legislation, war babies born out of wedlock only have a right to citizenship if they were born after 1947 — the year Canada first adopted its own citizenship law.
“My father fought for Canada. Why should they deny his daughter what really should be hers?” Scott said.
The Immigration Ministry sent her a letter dated Feb. 23, 2009, stating that the law when Scott was born didn’t permit her to get British subject status through her father because she was born out of wedlock (at the time, persons born in Canada were British subjects). So when Canadian citizenship was created two years later, her father obtained it but she was ineligible.
“They consider me to be, in this day and age, a bastard. It’s a horrible expression, but that’s how they still deem me. And I’ve been denied based on that,” Scott said.
The problem of Lost Canadians was highlighted in a series of reports by CBC News in 2007 about how thousands of people were at risk of losing their citizenship due to outdated provisions in existing and former citizenship laws.
The issue gained importance after the United States started tightening border security in 2002, triggering a rise in Canadians applying for passports.
In 2006, Joe Taylor, the son of a Canadian serviceman and war bride who had been stripped of his nationality, fought and won for his right to citizenship. Though that ruling was overturned, the government later offered him citizenship.
Aiken said she expects the government could face other such court challenges as the changes to the Citizenship Act become more public.
The federal government said it will continue to look at cases on an individual basis.
- IN DEPTH: Lost Canadians
- Bill to give citizenship to Lost Canadians passes
- Committee report urges citizenship for ‘Lost Canadians’
- ‘Lost’ Canadian trapped in obscure citizenship rules
- AUDIO: Jacqueline Scott talks about her failed fight to gain citizenship
- AUDIO: Dean Echenberg talks about suddenly becoming a Canadian
- AUDIO: Bill Janzen talks about a group of Mennonites who lost citizenship
- AUDIO: CBC’s David McKie reports on a possible new category of Lost Canadians
- AUDIO: CBC’s David McKie reports on Lost Canadians still fighting for citizenship
- AUDIO: CBC’s David McKie explains the Citizenship Act changes on The House
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada: New citizenship rules
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada: New citizenship rules
The Bill 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 that violated the equality rights of women and children, or that unfairly stripped citizenship from people based on laws now considered arbitrary and unjust.