Madam Speaker, on behalf of the people of my riding of Calgary Shepard, I am pleased to speak to Bill S‑245. It is always a great honour and privilege for me to be able to speak on behalf of Canadian citizens.
I am not like everyone else in the House. Like 23% or 24% of Canadians, I am an immigrant to this country. I was just talking about that with my colleague, the member for Calgary Forest Lawn, who was born in Dubai.
As someone born in Poland, Canadian citizenship is extremely important to me. Canada is not only my homeland, but it is also the country that accepted my father, my mother, my brother and me when our country of origin, where I was born, did not want us. My father was a member of Solidarnosc. He was a worker, a labourer, an engineer for the Gdansk shipyards when Poland was communist. My father left Poland in 1983 to come to Canada, and it was Canada that offered him the opportunity to stay. He started working at a shipyard in Sorel. It was in Sorel, where I lived with my father in 1985, that I learned French.
Poland let us leave the country, but it did not let us take our passports with us, because the Polish workers at the Gdansk shipyard, the Lenin shipyard, and their families were not allowed to return to that country. As I said, Canadian citizenship represents my homeland as well as the great honour of becoming Canadian in 1989. Now I have the great honour of representing my constituents as a Polish immigrant to this wonderful country that has given us so many opportunities.
I must admit that I did not know a lot about the so-called lost Canadians, the people who lost the Canadian citizenship they had at birth or did not qualify for citizenship even though they should have been entitled to it by virtue of their presence in Canada. That is the result of a whole raft of laws and attitudes, and many MPs have talked about this and debated it since 1945. The laws changed again in the 1970s. Finally, along came Bill C‑37, passed by a Conservative government that wanted to solve the problem for good and reduce the number of lost Canadians as much as possible.
Despite the many bills that have been introduced to reform the legislation in this century and the last, despite the fact that parliamentarians studied this issue and were meant to receive witnesses to explain to them how these things happened, despite the fact that the government has tried to change the legislation several times to ensure that this does not happen, no one noticed that there would be a gap of 50 or so months during which there would still be lost Canadians.
Where are we at today?
I would like to thank Senator Yonah Martin, herself an immigrant from Korea, who sponsored this bill in the Senate. In the House of Commons, it was sponsored by the member for Calgary Forest Lawn. It is Senator Martin who proposed this bill to try to fix this problem for lost Canadians. Apparently, there are hundreds of Canadians in a situation that I would describe as extremely shameful, despite the fact that parts of the legislation have been changed over the past 100 years. Several different governments have tried to fix this legislative problem.
Before, the problem was that Canadians born outside the country to Canadian parents had until their 28th birthday to notify the Canadian government that they wanted to retain their citizenship. However, there was no form or simple way to confirm this with the government. It was not easy to do.
Even within the Conservative caucus, our colleague, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain, would have been one of those lost Canadians, had it not been for his father tipping him off. I do not know how his father knew that Parliament was amending the Citizenship Act, but the amendments could have made him one of those lost Canadians.
In debate, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain said that he would be forever grateful to his parents who made sure to let him know, otherwise he would not have been able to serve in the House of Commons and represent the people of his riding in Saskatchewan.
This is the second time that we have tried to fill this legislative void by introducing Bill S‑245. I greatly admire author Franz Kafka. We have here the perfect example of a Kafkaesque or bureaucratic government that creates problems for ordinary citizens. This great German author who penned The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, The Trial, The Castle and Amerika, spoke about these major organizations that have far too many rules and far too many people trying to enforce them and about how an ordinary citizen can end up before them for making a mistake they were not even aware of.
Many people have lost their citizenship this way. However, those people can be proud because there are many parliamentarians, including Senator Yonah Martin, who are working to ensure this legislative void is filled.
We are now debating this bill to try to correct the error in Bill C‑37, which was introduced and debated in 2009 and 2011, if memory serves.
At the time, Bill C‑37 sought to amend the Citizenship Act to address this legislative gap. The period covered by the bill was approximately 50 months for second-generation Canadians. I am a first-generation Canadian. My children were all born in Calgary and are first-generation Canadians because they were all born in Canada. There was a legislative gap for Canadians who were born abroad to Canadian parents during those 50 months between February 15, 1967, and April 16, 1981. These Canadians were to inform the government before their 28th birthday if they wished to keep their citizenship.
As I said, there is hope, because we all agree that a Canadian is a Canadian and has the right to Canadian citizenship. It is a source of great pride and a great honour and privilege to be able to say that I am Canadian and always will be. In any event, that is my hope, unless the government makes another legislative mistake in the future and something happens to those of us who received their citizenship in 1989. I am hoping it will not happen, but one never knows.
In this bill, I think that Senator Yonah Martin found the right words to legislate on this issue. I have sponsored many bills in the House and I have had to talk to the jurilinguists and lawyers who work in the House to find the right words to achieve a goal. Sometimes, the problem is finding the right words and the right dates in order to ensure that legislative voids are properly filled while addressing the initial problem we sought to solve by introducing legislation in the House.
I thank Senator Yonah Martin, but also all of the other members and senators who worked hard on this bill. I am thinking of the former Speaker of the Senate, Noël Kinsella, and of former senators David Tkachuk and Art Eggleton, who worked hard to ensure that these Canadians get their citizenship.
During debates in the House, I always share a Yiddish proverb. Today's is this: “When you sweep the house, you find everything.” I hope that this legislation will make it possible for us to find all of the lost Canadians so that they can get their citizenship.