Madam Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to second this important bill that is being sponsored by my colleague, the member for Calgary Forest Lawn.
Bill S-245 is one key step towards ensuring the inclusion of Canadians as citizens who have fallen through the cracks due to a gap in legislation. This group, commonly called the lost Canadians, is actually one that I was nearly a part of, so I feel that I am uniquely placed to be able to speak about this issue from a first-hand point of view.
I would like to thank my colleagues for their work on this file. This issue has been championed by many over the years, not just by politicians, but also by advocates for the affected individuals and families. Most Canadians are completely unaware that this has even been an issue, aside from those who have been directly impacted by it. I know when I talk about this subject to my friends, they look at me strangely as if they have no concept of what I am talking about.
I deeply appreciate the efforts that have been made in the political sphere to close up this gap and to ensure that everything possible is done so that no more Canadians fall through the cracks and become lost going forward.
The Canadian identity is one that comes with many implications and connotations, almost all of them being overwhelmingly positive. Canada is known across the world for many things, and one of the most common things is the kindness of our citizens and a willingness to help out whenever it is needed. This alone makes me proud to be a Canadian, and I feel strongly that my citizenship in this country has actually become a very formative part of who I am as a person and how I view my community and those who live within it.
Canadian citizens have rights and responsibilities which date back over 800 years to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 in England, and they are as follows: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of speech and of the press; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association. These rights that every Canadian citizen is entitled to are key factors when looking at what exactly encompasses a Canadian identity.
As a citizen, I know that I am protected by the rule of law in this great country, and that gives me a sense of security and peace of mind as I go about my day-to-day life. For many Canadians who have been left in limbo due to gaps in legislation like the one Bill S-245 is addressing, they may not have this security, and many would not even know it until they went to renew a passport or other federal document.
Imagine someone living their entire life believing without question that they are a Canadian citizen, only to find out much later on that they are not, or that their citizenship has been rescinded through no fault of their own. I know that I would be devastated to think that the only country I have known as home does not see me as a citizen, despite having a career, paying taxes and participating in activities that make up the very fabric of a Canadian identity. This is precisely what has happened to what we call the lost Canadians, who, through a gap in legislation, were not included in changes that were made to try and address this issue.
In 1977, under the new Citizenship 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 martial status. If, however, the Canadian parent was also born abroad, the child had until the age of 28 to apply to retain their citizenship, and if they did not, their citizenship would be stripped from them.
Section 8 of the Citizenship Act read:
Where a person who was born outside Canada after February 14, 1977 is a citizen for the reason that at the time of his birth one of his parents was a citizen by virtue of paragraph 3(1)(b) or (e), that person ceases to be a citizen on attaining the age of twenty-eight years unless that person
(a) makes application to retain his citizenship; and
(b) registers as a citizen and either resides in Canada for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the date of his application or establishes a substantial connection with Canada.
This law was passed, and then it seems it was forgotten. There was no follow-up from the government, and no process or instruction was released on how a person could go about reaffirming their citizenship. No forms were created for this. In fact, those who were affected were never even told that a retention requirement existed. This was a massive oversight that eventually led to a number of Canadians becoming stateless without their knowledge.
I was nearly one of those lost Canadians. I am eternally grateful that my father found out about this and contacted me so that I could take the necessary steps to ensure that I would not lose my status.
Again, I cannot imagine the dismay I would have felt if I only realized after trying to obtain or renew my passport that I was no longer considered a citizen of the only country that I have ever known. I was lucky that I was born before the set dates that were put in this additional legislation, but so many who have found themselves in this circumstance were not. This issue needs to be remedied as soon as possible.
One of the reasons I wanted to speak to this bill is that I recall what I went through in 1977 when this issue first came to light for me. What I experienced is not even close to the struggles that the majority of lost Canadians went through.
When I first encountered and heard about this legislation in 1977, I was a young student at the University of Waterloo. I heard about how I might be losing my citizenship if I did not do a whole bunch of paperwork, provide documents and get things all straightened out. As a youngster at that age and not understanding politics, legislation or any of those kinds of procedures, it threw me for quite a loop, especially as I was more concerned about getting my degree. It made me start to wonder what was going on and why it was going on. It was very distracting.
I was born in England to two Canadian parents who were posted overseas. My father was serving this country as a member of the military, so of course my mother was there with him during their time in Britain. That probably does not seem like a big issue. People hear that and say that someone born to two Canadian parents should be able to have citizenship through that avenue.
The problem is that my father was born in India to two Canadian parents. Therefore, when this legislation in 1977 came out, it put a panic in me due to the fact that I could be considered a second-generation Canadian, depending on how that was interpreted. That put a lot of fear into my mind as to what I had to do and the steps I had to take to figure out this whole situation. I was forced to deal with a bureaucracy that I did not understand and did not feel I had the time or wanted to get involved with. I had no idea where to go or whom to talk to, and there was no information that was easily available for me to figure it out and get answers as to what extent it impacted me.
At no point during this time did a bureaucrat or government employee say that I did not have to do this. My perception was that, after 1977, the Government of Canada put out that, by the age of 28, I had to determine whether I was going to reaffirm my Canadian citizenship. If I had forgotten to do that, I could have been in a situation where I lost that citizenship. Unfortunately, many of those lost Canadians had to deal with that exact situation. Furthermore, I was away at university and my mom and dad were not close to me. The reality is that I had to recognize that I was born before the dates proposed and at that time I did not. Lost Canadians lost their citizenship without even knowing because they likely never even saw or heard of the legislation until some time well after the fact when they were applying for a passport.
I know I cannot use props in the House, but I do have a citizenship card that I would like to read from, which I have kept in my wallet for 40 years. On this citizenship card, is my picture and, yes, I did have hair. It has my age and a number, and it has my height, my sex and my eye colour. On the back, it says, “Certificate of Canadian Citizenship”. It has my name and it says:
This is to certify that...is a Canadian citizen under the provisions of the Citizenship Act and as such is certified to all the rights and privileges and is subject to all the duties and responsibilities of a Canadian citizen.
I say that because I have had to have that card and my brothers do not have that card. They did not have to have it. There are many lost Canadians who do not have that aspect because they never even had the opportunity to do that.
This is something that is very unfortunate and it is why this legislation is so necessary. We need to recognize these lost Canadians and get them back the citizenship that they deserve and they are entitled to. The time period that this bill addresses is roughly 50 months. The affected individuals need to have the understanding and reassurance that they are respected Canadian citizens despite this gap in the legislation.