Bill S-230: It’s Time to Restore Citizenship to “Lost” Canadians. Limited numbers although rhetoric continues

This issue continues to attract more political support than is warranted given that the major issues were dealt with in citizenship legislation in 2009 and 2014.

The Bill concerns a small cohort of second-generation Canadians born inside a 50-month window, from February 15, 1977, through April 16, 1981, so those who had already turned 28 when that age 28 rule was repealed through Bill C-37. 

Despite all the earlier and current rhetoric regarding the large numbers affected, IRCC officials advised SOCI of the numbers:

  • Following the 2009 changes, about 17,500 applied and were granted citizenship;
  • Following the 2015 changes, about 600 applied and were granted citizenship;
  • Since 2014, there were 109 persons who applied for a discretionary grant to address particular hardship situations. 105 have been granted with four still under review;
  • Estimates of remaining cases are in the order of a few hundred.

Substantively, given the small number remaining in the window, discretionary grants are the appropriate response. What is clear from the numbers, is that the actual number of “Lost Canadians” who wish to claim Canadian citizenship is small, contrary to earlier and current claims.

It is unclear why Senators wish to pursue this when there are many more substantive citizenship issues that warrant attention.

The contrast between these small numbers and the inflammatory, often fact-free and exaggerated rhetoric of long-term advocate Don Chapman in his opening statement and subsequent comments is striking. Opening statement below gives the flavour (highlights some of the more egregious assertions):

Don Chapman, Head, Lost Canadians: Thank you, honourable senators. I’m honoured to be in the presence of all of you. I admire your social and moral engagement in serving Canada to make it a better and more inclusive country. We’re on common ground.

Bill S-230 is a continuation of recommendations the Senate made 13 years ago.

Senators, Lost Canadians is the Canadian version of the British Windrush scandal, except ours is mostly off the radar, far larger, affects way more people and is one of the biggest scandals in Canada’s history. Now, that probably sounds presumptuous, especially after the horrific discovery of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children. To explain why I make the comparison, those children, including all Indigenous people, are part of the Lost Canadian narrative. There are at least 15 categories of Lost Canadians, and Indigenous and First Nations are just one. But their story is our story and our story is their story. It’s about a country that has and continues to turn against its own people. Since Confederation, Canada has not always embraced Brown or Jewish people or other subgroups. Canadian history was written to conveniently include a colossal fabrication, which has produced heinous results. To know the truth, you must understand the history of citizenship.

Senators, you and the MPs are the guardians and caretakers of our collective identity called citizenship. You’re our parents, we’re your children and the family’s dysfunctional. Picture a neighbour befriending kids from all around but then secretly abusing their own children. That’s how it is for Lost Canadians. Canada welcomes people from around the world, but not us, your own children. To be clear, we’re pro-immigration; Canada needs people. But why are long-standing Canadian families rejected while immigrants are welcome? Why can’t there be room for everyone?

In 2003, in my first House of Commons Citizenship and Immigration Committee testimony, I described myself as a Canadian in exile. Years later and after numerous rejections, I actually considered declaring refugee status in my own country, and I wasn’t the only Lost Canadian so desperate. Regrettably, this horror show is ongoing. It’s about identity, belonging and culture.

Indigenous Canadians are proud of who they are. I’m proud of who they are and admire their perseverance in standing up for what is right. Canada wrongly tried to strip them of their identity, with deadly consequences. Be forewarned: They are not the only category of Lost Canadians who died due to the neglect.

Now think of citizenship as being a member of a family. It’s the fibre of your being. How would you feel if your parents booted you out? Picture a six-year-old, born in Canada and extremely proud of being Canadian. Psychologically, how is that child affected when they discover that their own country or family doesn’t want them anymore? That child was me. How deplorable that this is still happening to other children, with the obvious devastating results. Their hurt lasts a lifetime.

Now flip the coin. How does it feel being the Canadian parent of a minor child being rejected? I know this too because, as an adult, after 47 years, Canada finally said I could go home with citizenship, but on condition I leave behind my minor-aged daughters. Today, some Canadian citizen parents are in the same boat, forced to explain to their kids why Canada doesn’t want them.

Lost Canadians is not about immigration. It’s about citizenship and rights. Please make the distinction.

Also, senators and MPs are appointed or elected to represent Canadian citizens. The problem is you don’t really know who is or is not a citizen, yet citizens are your constituents. So who exactly do you represent? The legislation remains a Rubik’s cube of confusion. Maybe it’s you, a family member, a grandchild or someone you know that’s a Lost Canadian. Roméo Dallaire lost his citizenship, as have other parliamentarians.

Question: If you’ve been aware of ongoing Lost Canadian abuses, why were you silent? Personally, I don’t think you were fully aware, but it wasn’t for my lack of trying to tell you. Going forward, no excuses, you now know. As for citizenship, Canada, the country you represent, is violating three United Nations human rights conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it’s already broken promises made on gender equality at the recent G7 summit. Maybe that’s because citizenship is not and has not been Canada’s priority. Take the name, IRCC. Immigration and refugees come before citizenship, the latter being the bastard child. For Lost Canadians, Canada’s outcasts, that’s exactly how it feels.

Bill S-230 is a much-needed fix. Thank you to my good friend Senator Martin and to Senator Omidvar. But for importance, the age 28 rule is third in priority of the five remaining Lost Canadian deficiencies. For the complete fix, Bill S-230 would need amendments that I’ve included, and the fixes are relatively simple. But absent that, tiered citizenship and unequal rights remain. Are you okay with that? It’s certainly against the Charter. That said, if amendments would delay the passage of this bill, then please pass it as is. Just don’t ignore other desperate Lost Canadians still in limbo, like children. As an airline pilot, I’d never ditch in the Hudson River and knowingly leave people behind. As overseers and protectors of Canadians and their identity and citizenship, please don’t you leave anyone behind either.

With urgency, put forward another Lost Canadians bill so that women have equal rights; that all Canadians are able to prove their substantial connection; that naturalized Canadians don’t have more rights than other Canadian citizens. Make it so that every naturalized Canadian, not just 99% of them, be deemed to have been born in Canada so that they too can confer citizenship to their children. Canada’s war dead must be recognized as having been the Canadian citizens they were.

After that, together, let’s work on introducing a mint-fresh, inclusive and Charter-compliant Citizenship Act. That’s what this committee recommended 13 years ago in your report on Lost Canadians, and then you promptly forgot about it, just like Canada did with the age 28 rule.

Now there are MPs and Canadians who believe the Senate is irrelevant. They’re wrong. For me and the hundreds of thousands of other Lost Canadians, we regained or qualified for citizenship because of wonderful and compassionate senators like yourselves, from all sides of the aisle. You were our saviours as Bill S-2 was our first parliamentary victory, and it was unanimous. Now let’s do it again, in the Senate today, with Bill S-230. Make it the first bill to correct these egregious wrongs, and then introduce a brand new, Charter-compliant national identity, making Canada the beacon of light to the world for its vision, its inclusiveness, its values and for its positive actions on human rights and equality.

Honourable senators, citizenship could be one of your greatest legacies. I look forward to working with you, and thank you.


And the earlier statement in the Senate by Senator Omidvar

Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-230, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (granting citizenship to certain Canadians), introduced by our colleague Senator Martin.

Before I comment on this bill, I would like to mark June 1 as a transformational day in the Senate. We have passed Bill S-4. We have held on to tradition where we have needed to, but we have also gone with confidence into the future. I want to thank our colleague, Senator Marc Gold, for his dedication to bringing this to our chamber.

I am the official critic for Bill S-230. I always think of a critic as someone who has something to object to. In truth, there is very little to object to in this bill, so I stand very much as a supporter of this long overdue piece of legislation.

When I became a senator in 2016, I started to get emails from Canadians who knew of my interest in citizenship. I heard the term Lost Canadians for the first time. I have to be honest, I was, frankly, lost when I heard that terminology because those of us who have found Canada know what a privilege it is to be Canadian. To have inadvertently lost your citizenship — because of what I can best describe as bureaucratic missteps and fumbling and lost opportunities — is unimaginable to me.

In June 2016, I rose in the chamber as the sponsor of the citizenship bill, Bill C-6, and I drew a picture of Canada and its citizenship as a house with a strong roof, a strong door, a lot of windows to let the sunshine in, but also to keep danger out. I believe that metaphor still stands today, but the foundations of this house are grounded in a few principles.

First and most important is equality amongst citizens. Equality sees all Canadians — by birth or naturalization, mono-citizens or dual citizens, whether citizens of 50 years, 10 years or 1 month — treated equally under the law. Equal rights, equal responsibility and, when necessary, equal punishment. These are not aspirational goals. This is the floor; the absolute foundation of how equality is expressed in Canada.

Second is the principle of facilitating citizenship, making it accessible for those who qualify. I think of this again as the main family room of the house: a big fire blazing to keep out the wretched cold and a big, welcoming door. However, for a few Canadians, the fire has lost its warmth, and they were inadvertently expelled, banished, so to say, from this house.

Many have lived in Canada for years, as Senator Martin has pointed out, without even realizing they may not have Canadian citizenship any longer. Although legislative fixes have tried to bring citizenship back in different ways, it has never captured everyone. This is a true example of the unintended, negative impact of legislation that we deal with in so many different ways.

When I rose to speak on Bill C-6, which was an omnibus citizenship act, former senator Willie Moore, who was with us, asked me whether or not Lost Canadians would be brought back into the fold. Sadly, I had to say to him, no, that was out of the scope of the bill.

After Bill C-6 was passed, former Senator Eggleton took it on and was almost ready to table the bill when his resignation date approached. Again, the bill was left orphaned, in a way. Since that time, Don Chapman and others have been talking to Senator Martin, Senator Jaffer and all of us to try to bring this back to our attention. I am incredibly grateful to Senator Martin for taking this bull by the horns and bringing our attention to it.

As we know, and as Senator Martin has explained, our immigration system is incredibly complex. Immigration law is complex. Within immigration law, there is citizenship law that is incredibly complex. It sometimes catches people in a net from which it is hard to escape.

As Senator Martin has explained, it’s a narrow bill. In 1977, the government introduced a new Citizenship Act. Under that act, children born abroad on or after February 14, 1977, received their Canadian citizenship if one of their parents was a Canadian citizen, regardless of their marital status.

However, if that Canadian parent was born outside Canada and, therefore, the child was what we would call second generation, the child had to apply for citizenship by the age of 28. If they did not put an application by age 28, their citizenship was taken away from them, often without them ever realizing it.

Later, in April 2009 — many years later, still trying to catch up on the problem — Bill C-37 changed the Citizenship Act again and repealed the age 28 rule. However, the bill didn’t completely deal with Canadians who were born abroad between that narrow window of 1977 and 1981, and who turned 28 before Bill C-37 became the law. Some of these individuals were well informed enough and applied for their citizenship. Others simply fell in between the cracks.

Senator Dalphond asked the question, how many are these? I’m also curious. My information is that there are definitely not thousands. There may even be just a few hundred. But I hope we all recognize, even for just a few hundred, how important it is to be able to be franchised as Canadians.

Many who were born overseas but raised in Canada had an entrenched life in Canada. They went to school here; they have jobs and families here. Their roots are firmly here. They have paid income taxes. But they were unaware of the issue — just as I’m often unaware of when my driver’s licence expires, and then I have to really struggle to regain it — which certainly happens to people. We are talking, as I said, about a few hundred people, at most.

The government relies, as Senator Martin has stated, on ministerial appointments. Every time I’ve spoken to every successive immigration minister, they have said, “It’s not a problem. I can deal with it. Send me the file.” But, colleagues, that is not a systemic way of dealing with an injustice of this kind. We need a law. Even though Byrdie Funk — someone whom I admire a great deal — and Anneliese Demos — the same — even though they had the agency, the voice, the capacity to advocate for themselves, I worry about those who do not, who cannot get the minister’s attention or that of his department. I think it is time for us to fix this in a systemic manner.

There are severe consequences for having to wait to get formal recognition back. While waiting to get your citizenship, you can’t have a social insurance number. You may not be able to get a job. You may not be able to travel. Likely you’re not able to travel because you don’t have a passport. You have limited access to health care. All this at the same time when there is always the threat of deportation hanging over you.

In the case of Byrdie Funk, it is not clear whether all her years of contribution to the Canada Pension Plan will be honoured when she gets her pension.

Bill S-230 will allow citizens who were born abroad and have built a life here to prove that they are Canadian and that they have the right to pass citizenship onto their children. It will not lead to a perpetual passage of Canadian citizenship to generations who may never live in Canada. This does nothing for third-generation Canadians.

Honourable senators, I urge you, in short, to support this bill and send it to committee for further study. Lost Canadians have already waited too long. Let’s bring them back into the Canadian fold sooner than rather later. Thank you.


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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