At the time the Lost Canadians were fighting for the return of their citizenship, I was a reporter at CBC News in Kelowna, BC. I also later became a member of CBC’s Investigative Unit, but before that happened I ran across the story of a Kelowna teacher who had been stripped of her citizenship, along with her children.
It didn’t happen because she’d committed a crime, or because she had immigrated to Canada illegally. In fact, Magali Castro Gyr was born in Canada to Canadian parents, and her ancestors were Canadians who had lived in the country for 10 generations.
But Castro Gyr was among those people who came to be known in Canadian citizenship law as one of the “Chattel Children.” Under Canadian law at the time, it didn’t matter if you were born in Canada, or if your mother remained Canadian; it only mattered what your father did. Despite the passage of the Charter of Rights, the government continued to adhere to an ancient section of law that stated that wives and children were the ‘Chattel’ or the property of the father. Therefore, if the father took out citizenship in another country, his children automatically lost their Canadian status.
Over the years, well over 100,000 people fell into this trap, many of them ending up in the US.
But with the help of Don Chapman, leader of the Lost Canadians, Magali fought the case and obtained a settlement that returned citizenship to herself and her children.
This is just one of the many ways Canadians lost their citizenship under the pre-2009 Citizenship Act. In the time leading up to passage of Bill C-37, I was leading a major investigation into these injustices, and we obtained a massive treasure trove of documents from various court filings, deportation documents, and demographic data from a scientist who compiled data for Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).
We found that hundreds of people were being stripped of their citizenship every year, and in the year we did the investigative series, about 450 cases were being actively reviewed. The potential damage, however, was far worse. Our data at the time showed that literally hundreds of thousands of people had either lost their citizenship, or would lose their citizenship if their status was discovered.
At the time, we broke it down like this:
The Chattel Children: Those whose fathers took out citizenship in another country while they were still minors. We estimated at least 20,000 people affected in Canada, and 85,000 who now lived in the United States. Don Chapman, leader of the Lost Canadians, was a Chattel child. His father took out citizenship in the US in order to work there, and even though his mother did not, Don lost his citizenship through no fault or decision of his own. (Read More)
Border Babies: These were children who, for whatever reason, were born across the border in the US. In rural Quebec, for example, it was not uncommon for women to have their babies at a hospital in the US. In other cases, parents might be working or travelling abroad when they had a baby, and those babies later lost their citizenship. At the time we estimated 10,000 border babies, but the real number we now know was exponentially larger. (Read More)
War Brides: These were women who came to Canada as the brides of Canadian soldiers, mainly during World War II. Ironically, Prime Minister Mackenzie King made a speech welcoming them as Canadian citizens, but later many of them had their citizenship stripped. We estimated about 35,000 people were affected, a number that outraged Canadian war veterans across the country. (Read More)
War Babies: These were children who were born to Canadian soldiers during World War II while those soldiers were stationed in Europe. Despite the fact they were born to Canadian fathers who later married their mothers and brought them home to Canada, many of these people later lost their citizenship as well as they were born out of wedlock; a prudish response that ruined the lives of some 20,000 people. (Read More)
Born Abroad Babies, pre-1977: We found records indicating 32,000 people had or could lose their citizenship because they were born out of the country prior to 1977, even though their parents were Canadian, and in many cases they lived their entire lives in Canada. One of the women I interviewed was Barb Porteous, retired and elderly when CIC told her she wasn’t Canadian, even though she’d spent almost her entire life in Canada. (Read More)
Born Abroad Babies, post-1977: An even higher number, at least 42,000, either did or could have lost their citizenship because they were born outside of Canada, to Canadian parents. Section 8 of the 1977 Act demanded that Canadians show a significant connection to Canada, and so people who were born outside of Canada had to ‘reaffirm’ their citizenship by age 28. Unfortunately, very few people knew this, resulting in many like Johan Teichroeb being stripped of their Canadian status. (Read More)
The ‘Illegitimate’ Mennonites: Canada’s prudish and foolish laws created decades of headaches for a religious minority in Canada, with an estimated 30,000 Mennonite Canadians losing their citizenship, despite many who were born in Canada to Canadian parents. Back in the 1920s many Mennonites had moved to religious communities in Mexico seeking religious freedom. However, Mexico did not recognize church weddings, and the children or grandchildren of those Mennonite couples could or did lose their citizenship because they were considered illegitimate. In one case, a young woman in Manitoba was stripped of her citizenship because the Canadian government asserted her grandfather was born out of wedlock! The government argued that since her father was born out of wedlock, citizenship could not have been passed down to him, and therefore his children also were not Canadian. Today, there are still many people affected by these issues, and most are Mennonites, but others were the children of Canadian soldiers. (Read More)
The Military Brats: The so-called military brats are one of the single largest groups affected by anomalies in Canada’s original citizenship law.
They got their name because the majority were born during the Cold War on Canadian military bases abroad. Others are the children of Canadians who worked abroad for the diplomatic corps or on other government work.
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. However, in many cases, Citizenship and Immigration Canada did not tell the affected people of the new requirement. These issues were generally corrected relatively quickly, since the military kept records of many of those births, but in some cases, children of Canadian diplomats and military personnel were being drafted to serve in the military of foreign countries.