Time to confer citizenship on 'Lost Canadians'
By: David Haas
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 06:00 am
Back in 1966, I took a step that had a significant beneficial impact on my future – I applied for a Canadian passport. I was planning international travel and because I had been born abroad I could see a potential problem getting back into Canada, even though I was a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada and was serving as a regular officer in the Canadian army.
I thought I was a Canadian by right of birth – my claim being through my father who had served overseas in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. He had married a British woman, and my mother and I came to Canada in 1946 as part of the war brides and children patriation scheme. There was no such thing as Canadian citizenship when we arrived at Halifax; instead there was a welter of legal provisions, which accorded various forms of status. People who arrived in Canada as the dependent of a Canadian military person did not come in as immigrants; instead upon arrival we immediately acquired through a governmental decree the Canadian status of our military family head – absolute and unrestricted.
I had understood that from this status I later gained Canadian citizenship automatically when the Canadian Citizenship Act came into force on Jan. 1, 1947. And indeed, after certain informational requirements were satisfied, I received a passport stating that I was a Canadian citizen. Acquiring that passport, though I would not learn it until many years later, avoided my possibly being stripped of my citizenship, or having the government deny I had ever held it.
One war baby who later encountered difficulties had arrived in Halifax in 1946 seven months after me, went on to graduate from RMC in 1969 three years after me, and a couple of years afterwards while serving as a regular army officer applied like me for a passport. Roméo Dallaire – now a retired lieutenant-general and a Senator – was told he was not a Canadian citizen. He had to go through the naturalization process to become one.
I am not aware of the precise legal and practical differences that may have existed between Dallaire’s case and mine, but the new citizenship law had provisions, which began generating problems for people whose Canadian status derived from a Canadian war service parent, even in some cases when they were born later in Canada! There was no practical recognition that the Canadian status accorded in the wartime patriation was unqualified. It got pared down. Provisions were enacted respecting potential loss of status, or a need to formally assert it by a certain date. Not that these were made widely known.
I have since read a court judgment dealing with the issue reciting the mantra that everyone is presumed to know the law, and that there is no onus on government to make persons aware of the threat to their status. Well, it was disgraceful that the government did not and instead let people wander blindly off the cliff.
The resultant phenomenon of “Lost Canadians” is a stain on our national honour. In 2007 the government corrected a lot of the mischief. But there are still people from that era lacking the Canadian status to which, in all decency and honour, they are entitled – and it would be good if the Canadian government would stop perpetuating past pointless legal technicalities and instead finish draining the citizenship quagmire left from that time – and thereby honour the citizenship by right intention inherent in the post-war patriation scheme.
David Haas is a retired lawyer.