September 16, 2006
Weekend Review, Issues and Ideas
A PEN’S STROKE CREATES THOUSANDS OF CANADIANS
JUSTICE - For years politicians and bureaucrats have stripped citizenship from people; now they have to give it back
Daphne Bramham firstname.lastname@example.org
Tens – possibly hundreds – of thousands of people suddenly became Canadians on Sept. 1, 2006.
There was no massive citizenship ceremony. There was no ceremony at all; not even a press release.
More surprising, many of those sudden Canadians had no idea that they weren’t Canadians all along.
For years, politicians and bureaucrats have routinely and retroactively stripped citizenship from people. Among them are 43,000 women who came to Canada as war brides and, their 22,000 children.
There are also an estimated 85,000 Canadian children born between 1947 and 1977 and Canadian-born wives who lost their citizenship not because they did anything, but because their fathers and husbands renounced their citizenship.
On Sept. 1, Federal Court Judge Luc Martineau handed citizenship back to them.
He ruled sections of the Citizenship Act are unconstitutional, contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, deny the right to due process and are contrary to the principles of fundamental justice.
His ruling resulted from the dogged determination of 61-year-old Joe Taylor and Citizenship Canada being so confident that it rejected Martineau’s suggestion during the May hearing that it offer Taylor his citizenship on the spot and forgo a judgment.
Taylor’s father was a Canadian serviceman and his mother, a British war bride. They weren’t married when Joe Jr. was born. Joe Sr. had been denied permission to marry because his unit was getting ready for D-day, which Joe Sr. fortunately survived. Taylor married Jenny Harvey when he returned to England in 1945 when Joe Jr. was six months old.
Jenny and Joe Jr. arrived in Halifax in July 1946 on the Queen Mary, which was filled entirely with war brides and their children. They were welcomed as Canadians. They were handed Canadian passports.
The horrors of war changed many of the husbands and fathers. It certainly changed the young soldier from Cumberland, British Columbia and the Taylor’s marriage fell apart. With no relatives in Canada, Jenny took her son back to England.
Year[s] later when Joe Jr. applied for a Canadian passport to return, he was told he wasn’t Canadian. The same thing happened to Senator Romeo Dallaire, the son of a Dutch war bride, when he applied for a passport in his 20s. Dallaire, had grown up in Canada.
Thousands of war brides – who never left Canada – only found out they were no longer considered Canadian when they applied for old age pension. Like Dallaire, thousands of their children found out when they tried to get passports or get their old-age pension.
Nobody told the war brides or their children that citizenship was a time-limited offer. Nobody told the children – a great many of them who were born out of wedlock – they would be treated differently as the years went on.
Having been told that they had the same citizenship as their fathers and husbands, there was no reason for any of them to believe that they would at some later date have to apply for what they believed they already had.
Martineau ruled that all of that was wrong.
He said the equality provisions of the Charter don’t allow the government to treat children born out of wedlock differently from those whose parents are married. He said it violates the equality provisions of the Charter for citizenship to follow only the matriarchal line.
He ruled that it is contrary to the equality provisions that the current act singles out only illegitimate children born prior to Feb. 15, 1977 and denies them citizenship.
Martineau said it goes against the principle of natural justice and the right to due process that the government strips people’s citizenship without notifying them that the rules have changed.
That notification would have been a bureaucratic nightmare, but it’s no worse than the mess that not notifying people has created.
Sheila Walshe is a war child, legitimately born to her married parents. In 1952, Sheila’s mother took her and her siblings to England ostensibly for a holiday, but they never returned. Walshe had no idea she wasn’t Canadian until she tried to get a passport after having tracked her father down and come to Canada in 1991. Since then, she’s been fighting the government.
"All those years since , I have felt sort of stateless, it is an awful feeling… I do not want to be anything other than the Canadian that I am."
Eswyn Lyster married fifth-generation Canadian Bill Lyster of the Calgary Highlanders on Aug. 21, 1943. She too came to Canada believing that a 1944 cabinet order granted all war brides and their children citizenship with no strings attached. She remembers their coming to Canada being referred to as "repatriation."
In 1976 at her husband’s insistence, Lyster applied for and received citizenship. So Martineau’s decision doesn’t affect her.
But Lyster has spent the last few years interviewing hundreds of war brides – many of whom are now in their 80s – for her website (http://pages.istar.ca/~lyster/warbride).
"I find it terribly distressing that that wives and widows of the men who paid such a high price back in the 1940s should be on this [citizenship] see-saw. Luckily, a great number of them do not realize how much depended on Martineau’s decision," she says.
But Lyster worries the government will appeal Martineau’s decision. It’s particularly worrying since Taylor has used the last of his savings to get this far and has no money for an appeal.
Earlier this year, on the 62nd annniversay of D-day, Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged Canadians to never forget the 25,000 Canadians who participated in the Normandy invasion.
"Let us never fail to defend their precious legacy," he said.
Their legacy and that of all Second World War veterans includes wives and children – Canadians all.
If Harper wants to honour the servicemen and what they fought for, he must let Martineau’s decision stand.