The first anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's election is marked by the passport requirement for travel to the U.S. Hundreds of people living in Canada applying for their passport are finding out that for a variety of reasons they are no longer Canadians. A CBC investigative series highlights the problems. According to the CBC, tens of thousands of people could discover that they have lost their Canadian citizenship.
"The CBC reports that at least 50,000 who think they are Canadians are in fact not Canadians according to the current archaic citizenship legislation. This is totally unacceptable," says the Hon. Andrew Telegdi, MP for Kitchener-Waterloo. "It is time to update the current archaic Citizenship Act and bring it into compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
Telegdi points out that so much of what is happening in Canadian citizenship law defies logic. "For a country that prides itself -- almost defines itself -- on respecting human rights, the reasons seem unreal," he says.
For example, Senator Roméo Dallaire, born in Holland to a Second World War-bride mother, found himself entangled in Citizenship and Immigration Canada's web. As a captain in the Canadian army he discovered that he wasn't a citizen. At an Oct. 4, 2006 news conference, Dallaire described the actions of CIC as being "absolutely inhumane” and went on to say “It is absolutely nonsensical and that is why -- you know -- there is a term called bureaucratic terrorists. That's the gang in the middle of the system that fights the system that has this power trip of authority and interpret things -- not in the benefit of the citizen but in the benefit of the government. And that is not their duty. Their duty is to make sure that the government is compliant with the laws in order to help the citizens -- not the other way around.”
Telegdi says that rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must trump archaic bureaucratic regulations when it comes to a person's citizenship.
A recent precedent setting case supports Telegdi's views on this issue. It involved Joe Taylor, a Canadian born out of wedlock to a Second World War Canadian soldier and his war bride, who failed to reapply for citizenship in time to retain his citizenship. Federal Court Justice Luc Martineau ordered the minister to restore Mr. Taylor's citizenship stating sections of the Citizenship act that discriminate against a person born out of wedlock abrogate the Equality Rights Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the obscure rule that Taylor had to apply by his 24th birthday to retain citizenship do not comply with the Legal Rights Section 7 of the Charter. "It is very disappointing that the current government is appealing the ruling," Telegdi says.
Another bizarre case that has come to light is that of Johan Teichroeb, who lost his citizenship because his great-grandfather, a Canadian citizen was married in a church rather than a civil ceremony in Mexico before his grandfather was born and therefore his grandfather was considered to be born out of wedlock and so was not a Canadian citizen. All this, despite the fact that in Canada church marriages are legal.
Telegdi asks: "Why is the citizenship department wasting their time and resources splitting hairs on a witch hunt to strip people of their citizenship when they should be doing something useful like updating the Citizenship Act?"
The previous Liberal Government had committed funding to produce a new Citizenship Act and had the government not fallen, Canada would have had a new Citizenship Act. The Conservative government has removed this funding and eliminated the Court Challenges Program that gave ordinary Canadians help in defending their Charter Rights.
"When I was the Chair of the Committee in the last Parliament, our No. 1 priority was to make any new Citizenship Act compliant with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," he adds. "We produced three reports to Parliament, supported by all parties, which stated this very clearly, including one titled: Citizenship Revocation: A Question of Due Process and Respecting Charter Rights, which was unanimously adopted without debate in the House of Commons."
The Conservative government's total disinterest in citizenship rights is reflected in their appointment of Monte Solberg and then Diane Finley as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, neither of whom had any previous experience with the file and both of whom have stated the Conservative government had no intention of updating the Citizenship Act. The government should have appointed Diane Ablonczy, who is knowledgeable and has extensive experience with the citizenship file, having helped produce the Committee reports that demanded the Citizenship Act comply with the Charter.
Telegdi has long proposed a separate Department of Citizenship that works on behalf of all Canadians, calling for a stronger Citizenship Act.
"I call upon all Canadians across the country to contact the Prime Minister and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and demand that the government take action to update the Citizenship Act, and copy me," he says. "Instead of wasting tax dollars fighting to uphold Neanderthal legislation and terrifying people, the government should do the right thing and revamp Canada's archaic and unconstitutional Citizenship Act."
Telegdi says that he will be working to bring in Citizenship and Immigration Canada department officials before the Citizenship and Immigration Committee to nail down the number of people affected.
You can download a petition to send to the Prime Minister at Telegdi’s website: www.telegdi.org. Petitions or letters demanding that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration take action to update the Citizenship Act should be sent to (all petitions/letters are postage-free) :
* Right Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada,
tel: 613-992-4211, fax: 613-941-6900
Room 313S Centre Block, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
* Hon. Diane Finley, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration,
tel: 613-996-4974, fax: 613-996-9749
707 Confederation Building, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
* Hon. Andrew Telegdi, P.C., M.P.,
Vice-Chair of Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration,
tel: 613-996-5928, fax: 613-992-6251
285 Confederation Building, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
There are currently 10 categories of people at risk of losing their Canadian citizenship. For all categories but two, a person has to have been born prior to Feb. 15, 1977. The categories are as follows:
1) Lost Canadians - Close to 100,000 live outside of Canada, the bulk of those in the United States. However, close to 20,000 still live in Canada.
2) War Brides from the Second World War are at risk.
3) Hand-in-hand with the War Brides are their foreign-born children.
4) Border babies. These are children born on the American side of the Canadian/U.S. border. Today, in towns like Emerson, Manitoba, Prescott and Fort Frances, Ontario, Sutton and Phillipsburg, Quebec, Osoyoos, British Columbia, Coutts, Alberta, or St. Stephen, New Brunswick, people are now just discovering that many residents are at risk.
5) Benner children. The old law was very specific to children born in or out of wedlock.
Benner had to do with foreign-born children to a foreign father but Canadian mother. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the 1947 Citizenship Act was blatantly discriminatory, thus granting citizenship to what has become known as the Benner children. Still left in limbo were Lost Canadians. When this anomaly was brought to the attention of the Senate, to a Senator they all expressed dismay. In the words of Liberal Senator Joan Cook: "Honourable senators, we have an extraordinary opportunity to right a wrong and to give meaningful consideration to those individuals who have been disadvantaged by the operation of the 1947 Citizenship Act." In response, CIC stated that the Benner decision was transitional, and that they would stop honouring the unanimous Supreme Court decision as of Aug. 14, 2004. Thus Canada has gone back to the incredibly antiquated and discriminatory standards of recognizing citizenship based on whether or not the child was born, to use CIC's words, a bastard or legitimately. Astonishingly, there are people who in 2007 possess Canadian birth certificates with the word "BASTARD" written inside.
6) Not only can citizenship be denied because you were born out-of-wedlock, but also the government has gone back generations in families, denying the Canadian-born grandchildren of the supposed illegitimate grandfather.
7) Reaffirmed just last month by Minister Monte Solberg, all second-generation children born outside of Canada after Feb. 15, 1977 will lose their Canadian citizenship if they don't renew their status before their 28th birthday.
The next two groups, which are so bizarre, come directly from Appendix B and C of CIC's own manual:
8) "Children born in wedlock (between Jan. 1, 1947 and Feb. 15, 1977) to a non-citizen father and a citizen mother could not claim citizenship."
9) Section 4(2) of the manual: Provisions - A person "Ceases to be a citizen on the day after 24th birthday if he or she does not: have a place in domicile in Canada on Jan. 1, 1954, or 24th birthday, whichever is later, OR file a declaration of Retention between the 21st and 24th birthday."
Finally, there is the matter of citizenship revocation:
10) The unjust revocation process in the Citizenship Act dealing with persons alleged to have attained their citizenship by fraud denies the presumption of innocence, the finding of guilt and the right to appeal.
Telegdi resigned as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in 2000 because the then proposed Citizenship Act did not comply with the Charter. In the 38th Parliament he turned down a reappointment as Parliamentary Secretary to former Prime Minister Martin because Telegdi recognized the urgency of updating the Citizenship Act. He was elected as Chair of the Citizenship and Immigration Committee in the 38th Parliament, which produced the report titled: Updating Canada's Citizenship Laws: It's Time. Central to this report was bringing the Act into compliance with the Charter.