Thank you for inviting me today. This is my fifth appearance before the committee, and I have to say I'm a little disappointed that Bill C-37 has not become reality.
I wrote some notes so I could at least have some thoughts to refer to.
After listening to Bill, I think it's important to clarify the process and who's responsible. It's my understanding that the bill has had first reading and it has to be brought forward to the committee. However, that has not happened yet. Nearly 60 days have passed since the bill was introduced in the House of Commons, on December 10.
I was full of hope in December that we could have this bill passed very, very quickly. As far as I know, everyone is in favour of it. I am. War brides and war bride children are in favour of it, and they're expecting it. In fact they think it has been passed; they don't know that it hasn't.
When the minister, Diane Finley, phoned me on December 10 to explain Bill C-37--as she did with Bill and a number of us who were involved in this issue--I was virtually assured that the passage of the legislation was guaranteed. I wrote down what she said that day because I wanted to remember it; I'm a notetaker, anyway. I asked her how fast this bill could be passed. She said, and I quote, “The ideal is that the committee will push it through as fast as possible. It's entirely up to the committee.”
But the committee can't deal with legislation that has not been sent to it. It's easier for me to travel all the way from Fredericton, New Brunswick, through snowstorms, sitting on the tarmac for an hour, rerouting to Montreal and Toronto, losing my luggage, staying a night in the hotel, and getting here by taxi, than it is for the bill to make its way from down the hall somewhere to this committee.
There is something wrong with the process. We need to get this process speeded up. It's absolutely imperative. It is stalled at the most critical time, given the election fever in Ottawa. I'm not impressed, and neither are most Canadians, that there's talk about an election right when we need to get these very important bills passed that people are waiting for, and they have been waiting a lifetime for in some cases.
Why am I here for a fifth time to speak about this bill? It has still not been brought forward to the committee. It has been 60 days now. It's inexcusable. It's an insult to the 43,454 war brides and their 20,997 children, who they brought to this country in 1946, that it has not been brought before the committee. The committee cannot deal with legislation that has not been brought to it.
It's a national disgrace that these elderly women and their children, especially those who are now in their sixties.... It's these 20,997 children. They are the ones who are most affected by this. These kids--they're not kids anymore--are now 63, 64, 65, and they're approaching CPP and OAP time. Many of them, for the first time in their lives, have been confronted with the reality that the status of their citizenship is in doubt. It's upsetting. I don't have to tell you how upsetting it is. They're afraid. The war brides are afraid to come forward. The ones who never ever left the country, never applied for passports, and who've never had an issue with their citizenship are afraid with all this talk now. They're afraid to come forward with all this uncertainty.
And believe me, I know first-hand about the very personal impact this is having on their lives and how they fear applying for a passport in case their citizenship status is detected by some ill-informed bureaucrat within the department. For example, I know of an 86-year-old woman who was stopped at the border between the United States and New Brunswick two and a half months ago, and she was told to go back. She wasn't allowed in the country because she didn't have her citizenship card.
And there are the children. Let's face it, most of the elderly ladies have dealt with it by now. Those who haven't are going to hide their heads in the sand. They will go away very quietly, and they will die away. But the children have a good long life ahead of them. They've had their lives turned upside down when they found out, after living here all their lives, since the day they stepped off the boat as babes in arms, as Senator Roméo Dallaire did on December 13, 1946.... He arrived here on the Empire Brent with his mother, a Dutch war bride. He found out when he was 21 years old that he was not a Canadian citizen.
It's infuriating to them that they're told they can't vote, that they have to apply for permanent resident status, or they're a subsection 5(4), a special discretionary grant from the minister.
These people have worked all their lives in Canada. They've voted in every election. Some of them have worked as enumerators, for goodness' sake. They've paid taxes. They've even served in the military. Their fathers served Canada with honour during World War II. Their mothers are Canadian war brides. Is this the way we treat the children of war brides?
Subsection 5(4) is not an answer. And it's not the rule of law; it's a special favour of the minister. That's not the way citizenship should be dealt with in this country.
If their fathers were Canadian veterans and their mothers were British war brides, and if they came to this country with the mass transport of war brides at the end of World War II, they are Canadian citizens. If you take the temperature of Canada on this subject, Canadians are going to agree with you on that one.
The surviving war brides and their children don't want to hear any more excuses. They've waited long enough. They've waited 62 years. It's long enough, wouldn't you agree? Their children especially, the war bride children, the 65-, 66-, and 67-year-olds, want to move forward. They want to have a future. They want to make plans. They want to get their lives in order. They want to apply for their Canada pension. They want to apply for their OAP. They may want to take a trip and get a passport. Guess what? It's all held up.
They absolutely have to have this very central part of their identity straightened out so they can get ahead with their lives, make these applications and go on trips, but they're afraid they can't. They don't want to be used as political pawns. They're upset. They're nervous. They're worried. They're fed up. That is not the feel-good story that should be coming out of the very good, hard work of the people of this committee.
You guys have heard a tremendous amount of emotion poured out in front of you here at this committee, the heart and soul of individuals across this country. So many good people from the four parties have sat here and listened to that. They're heart-wrenching stories from people who have cried here. We've had to watch helplessly as the tears in their eyes just spilled out like a flood, and they've been spilled in front of you here in this committee.
It's not the story that politicians want to hear on the eve of an election, which, I tell you, I don't want to hear about, and I don't think the war brides, and their children especially, want to hear about, especially if this bill doesn't pass. The Canadian war brides and their children are not props to be used for political advantage. They are a Canadian icon. They are the most revered and respected citizens, whom Canadians have fallen in love with. The story of love and war, of passion and tragedy, of overcoming so many obstacles, of courage and strength in the face of adversity--it has been the subject of Hollywood movies, of television documentaries, of countless radio interviews, of innumerable print media, Internet articles and books, including my own: War Brides: The stories of the women who left everything behind to follow the men they loved .
I have an entire chapter on the issue of Canadian children of war brides and the issue of citizenship. It's gone out of print. It sold out in Britain. I'm going to be rewriting chapter eight, and I would like to have a happy ending to this story, and I'm sure you guys on this committee, who have worked so hard, all of you—Andrew Telegdi, Meili Faille, Bill Siksay, Ed Komarnicki, Norman Doyle.... There are so many people. I've seen the same faces over and over again here. It's very sad. At this point, all of you have worked so doggedly for the citizenship of people you don't even know, and you knew it was the right thing to do. You can be the heroes of the day. But if this keeps up and the committee does not get the bill immediately—this process I was referring to earlier—I'm not the one who's going to be saying very nice things. I'm not. I'm not going to say nice things, because you guys are in control of the process and you haven't done what you're supposed to do.
Who's “they”? Well, you figure it out yourselves.
Two months ago, I praised the minister when she introduced Bill C-37 in the House of Commons. Just last week I was in Vancouver for the citizenship ceremony of Joe Taylor, who was granted a subsection 5(4). In an interview with Curt Petrovich of CBC's national news, I said, “I've got to give credit where credit's due.” The Tories introduced a bill when no one else would do it. And that is true. I have to give credit where credit's due.