Scores of ‘Lost Canadians’ face bu­reau­cratic night­mare


Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Chris selley

One of Justin Trudeau’s more no­table — and braver — sound bites con­cerns the na­ture of cit­i­zen­ship: “A Cana­dian is a Cana­dian is a Cana­dian,” he has averred on many oc­ca­sions. He coined it in 2015, when Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tives tabled and passed leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing the gov­ern­ment to strip Canadians con­victed of ter­ror­ism of­fences of their cit­i­zen­ship, pro­vided they hold cit­i­zen­ship of an­other coun­try as well. (Canada is bound by treaty not to ren­der peo­ple state­less.) The first bad­die thus pun­ished was Jor­da­nian-born Zakaria Amara, ring­leader of the Toronto 18 ter­ror plot.

It was just weeks be­fore the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the law was quite pop­u­lar. But Trudeau stuck to his guns. “The (law) cre­ates sec­ond-class cit­i­zens,” he ar­gued. “Un­der a Lib­eral gov­ern­ment there will be no two-tiered cit­i­zen­ship. A Cana­dian is a Cana­dian is a Cana­dian.” Last year, the Lib­er­als fol­lowed through. Amara got his cit­i­zen­ship back. “A Cana­dian is a Cana­dian is a Cana­dian,” Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Ahmed Hussen told a Senate com­mit­tee ex­am­in­ing the bill re­peal­ing the mea­sure.

It’s a line that par­tic­u­larly ran­kles a (for now) small group of Canadians who have been locked in slow, Kafkaesque bat­tle with Hussen’s min­istry and its global bu­reau­cracy. They are Cana­dian cit­i­zens, with deep, life­long, un­ques­tion­able ties to Canada, but whose chil­dren are not au­to­mat­i­cally en­ti­tled to Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship be­cause both par­ent and child hap­pened to be born abroad.

The long­est and per­haps most be­wil­der­ing case may be that of Pa­trick and Fiona Chan­dler, and their chil­dren Ryan and (es­pe­cially) Rachel. This is an un­am­bigu­ously Cana­dian fam­ily: Pa­trick’s fa­ther im­mi­grated to Canada from Ire­land roughly 50 years ago, Pa­trick tells me. Pa­trick’s mother was Amer­i­can, though her mother was born in Toronto and raised in Nova Sco­tia. At the time Rachel was born, in 2009, Pa­trick had lived only three-and-a-half of his 23 years any­where other than in Canada — two of them as an in­fant. He had held no pass­port other than Canada’s.

Fiona, Pa­trick’s wife, is Chi­nese. They met while Pa­trick was do­ing some­thing a lot of Canadians do: teach­ing abroad in their 20s. It’s a sort of Cana­dian world­li­ness that lib­eral (and Lib­eral) Canadians tend to boast about. It’s what Pa­trick’s par­ents had been do­ing in Libya, where he was born, be­fore they moved home to Mis­sis­sauga, Ont., when he was two years old. And when Rachel was born, they log­i­cally as­sumed Pa­trick would au­to­mat­i­cally pass on his cit­i­zen­ship to her — just as Pa­trick’s fa­ther had passed it on to him.

Not so. A few months ear­lier, the Con­ser­va­tives had passed leg­is­la­tion lim­it­ing the au­to­matic trans­fer of cit­i­zen­ship to a sin­gle gen­er­a­tion when chil­dren are born abroad. It was a re­ac­tion, in part, to the “cit­i­zens of con­ve­nience” foo­faraw that sur­rounded the mass evac­u­a­tion of Le­banese-Canadians dur­ing Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbol­lah. The gov­ern­ment’s leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion: if you were not born in Canada, and if your chil­dren are also born abroad, they will not au­to­mat­i­cally be­come Cana­dian, no mat­ter how com­pelling your links to Canada or lack of links to any other na­tion.

This is cer­tainly a form of “two-tiered cit­i­zen­ship,” which Trudeau promised would not ex­ist un­der his watch: One tier of cit­i­zens passes it on to their chil­dren un­der any cir­cum­stances; an­other does not un­der a fairly com­mon cir­cum­stance. A study by the Asia Pa­cific Foun­da­tion es­ti­mated that 2.8 mil­lion Canadians lived abroad in 2006; if that grew in lock­step with Canada’s pop­u­la­tion, it would be 3.2 mil­lion to­day. Roughly 20 per cent of Canadians were born abroad. Their kids will not au­to­mat­i­cally be Cana­dian un­less they are born on Cana­dian soil.

“If she was born three months ear­lier, it would have been all good,” says Chan­dler. Had he known about the new law, he says, he and Fiona would sim­ply have hopped on a plane to Canada and had the baby back home, then hopped on an­other plane back to China with their Cana­dian daugh­ter. Not only are there two tiers of cit­i­zen­ship, then, but the tiers are non­sen­si­cal: any­one who’s born in Canada is au­to­mat­i­cally a cit­i­zen and can pass that cit­i­zen­ship down to their chil­dren, even if their par­ents leave im­me­di­ately with the baby and never come back. The Chan­dler kids en­joy no such priv­i­lege.

Baby Rachel wasn’t just not-Cana­dian, ei­ther. Be­cause China does not rec­og­nize chil­dren born out of wed­lock as cit­i­zens, she was state­less — not en­ti­tled to health care, ed­u­ca­tion or travel doc­u­ments, es­sen­tially a non-per­son. (Their younger child, Ryan, has Chi­nese cit­i­zen­ship be­cause Pa­trick and Fiona mar­ried be­fore he was born.) And the same Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment that de­ferred to in­ter­na­tional treaties on state­less­ness with re­spect to con­victed ter­ror­ists re­fused to help the Chan­dlers out with re­spect to their in­fant daugh­ter, ac­cord­ing to both Chan­dler and Don Chap­man, an air­line pi­lot who has fought tire­lessly and ef­fec­tively for var­i­ous classes of peo­ple he dubbed “Lost Canadians.” The Chan­dlers’ ap­pli­ca­tion for a min­is­te­rial grant of cit­i­zen­ship for Rachel — some­thing ex­plic­itly pro­vided for in the Con­ser­va­tive leg­is­la­tion in cases of state­less­ness or other hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds — was de­nied, they say. (Cit­ing “con­fi­den­tial­ity re­quire­ments,” a spokesper­son for Hussen says his de­part­ment “can­not com­ment on the specifics of … cases … with­out the con­sent of those in­volved.”)

It was a coun­try to which Rachel Chan­dler had a much less di­rect link that par­tially reme­died the sit­u­a­tion.

“Some­one from the Ir­ish con­sulate in Bei­jing reached out to me and said, ‘You know, we’ve heard about this and we can help you out here,’ ” Chan­dler re­calls. “’We no­ticed that your daugh­ter’s pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was born in Ire­land … so if Canada’s not go­ing to step up to the plate and do the right thing then we’re go­ing to.’ ”

One might think a Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing the value of Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship would be at least slightly em­bar­rassed by that. One might think a Lib­eral gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted to dif­fer­ent but no less high-minded cit­i­zen­ship ideals would be as well. Ap­par­ently not.

A decade later, Pa­trick Chan­dler has taken a job with the Bri­tish Columbia gov­ern­ment — “a ca­reer op­por­tu­nity I could not af­ford to pass (up),” he says. His wife and kids are still in China, how­ever, await­ing ap­proval to come to Canada as spon­sored im­mi­grants.

Chan­dler ap­plied in De­cem­ber 2017. “Now (it’s) the end of June and they still haven’t made a fi­nal de­ci­sion — and it’s like, guys, this is ridicu­lous,” he fumes. “We have Justin Trudeau go­ing all around the world say­ing ‘Canada be­lieves in hu­man rights, we be­lieve that fam­i­lies should be to­gether … a Cana­dian is a Cana­dian is a Cana­dian’ … but we’ll sep­a­rate (my) fam­ily for go­ing on nine months now — could be up to a year. I have no time frame.”

Af­ter we spoke, a re­lieved Chan­dler emailed me to an­nounce his chil­dren had fi­nally been granted per­ma­nent res­i­dency sta­tus. But it was a hell of an or­deal. “It’s tough on me and it’s tough on the kids. They need a dad in their life,” he said be­fore the good news. It could all be solved with the stroke of a pen.

So too could the case of Daniela Bramwell — an­other un­am­bigu­ous Cana­dian. Her fa­ther was born in Eng­land and im­mi­grated to Canada with his par­ents at the age of two; her mother’s fam­ily his­tory in Canada has been traced as far back as New France in 1662. Her par­ents moved tem­po­rar­ily back to Eng­land in the 1980s for work; Daniela was born in 1983, was reg­is­tered im­me­di­ately as a Cana­dian cit­i­zen, and be­fore her fifth birth­day re­turned to Canada, where she was born and raised.

Like Pa­trick Chan­dler, Daniela Bramwell has never held an­other cit­i­zen­ship. Un­like Pa­trick’s daugh­ter Rachel, Daniela’s daugh­ter Emma is not state­less, but a cit­i­zen of Ecuador, where Bramwell met and mar­ried her hus­band Marco, an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer. They had planned to im­mi­grate to Canada even­tu­ally and have kids, ideally once Marco’s ex­pe­ri­ence left him suit­ably qual­i­fied for en­gi­neer­ing jobs in Canada. In the mean­time, Bramwell won a Vanier Schol­ar­ship to pur­sue a PhD in ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Toronto, with field­work to be con­ducted in Ecuador on “dif­fer­ences in the hid­den cur­ricu­lum for high- and low-in­come high school stu­dents.” The plan was she would split her time be­tween Toronto and Quito.

When she got preg­nant in Ecuador, they de­bated var­i­ous op­tions in­clud­ing hav­ing the baby in Canada. But the visa process for Marco would have been oner­ous, and he couldn’t get enough time off work for them to be to­gether for Emma’s birth abroad. “We could not face the idea of him not be­ing there for the birth of our first child and me be­ing alone,” says Daniela, rea­son­ably enough.

Bramwell, un­like Chan­dler, was aware of the new sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion-born-abroad rule. But she says the Cana­dian em­bassy in Quito told her there would be no is­sue, and even di­rected her to on­line in­struc­tions for ob­tain­ing her daugh­ter’s cit­i­zen­ship cer­tifi­cate. (It is a com­mon re­frain among peo­ple in th­ese sit­u­a­tions that cit­i­zen­ship and im­mi­gra­tion bureau­crats are alarm­ingly ig­no­rant both of cit­i­zen­ship laws and of their own ig­no­rance.)

Alas, there was very much an is­sue: For the same rea­son as Rachel Chan­dler, Bramwell says, Emma wasn’t en­ti­tled to Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship. And Daniela had a hell of a time even get­ting her into Canada as a “vis­i­tor.” In one email she shared with me, the Cana­dian em­bassy in Quito passed on bad news from Pass­port Canada: Emma had been re­fused a tem­po­rary pass­port be­cause both she and her mother had been born abroad. In an­other, the same em­bassy re­fused Emma a vis­i­tor’s visa to Canada be­cause Daniela had ap­plied for her cit­i­zen­ship and “a vis­i­tor visa can­not be is­sued to a Cana­dian cit­i­zen.” The em­bassy then in­vited Daniela to email their con­sular sec­tion and ap­ply for Emma’s pass­port.

Bramwell says she didn’t ap­ply for a min­is­te­rial grant of cit­i­zen­ship for Emma be­cause she would be a “sec­ond-class cit­i­zen”: like her mother, she wouldn’t be able to pass on cit­i­zen­ship to any of her chil­dren if she com­mit­ted the heresy of hav­ing chil­dren abroad. “And who knows what else?” Bramwell muses. “Maybe later on they de­cide it wasn’t a good idea, and take her cit­i­zen­ship away.”

When I spoke to Daniela, she, Marco and Emma were to­gether in Toronto. Fa­ther and daugh­ter, with vis­i­tor’s visas, both had to pass med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions. “Luck­ily for kids that age they don’t draw blood and do all th­ese other tests,” Daniela says of her daugh­ter. “(But) what if she had not passed? For every other Cana­dian par­ent out there … if their baby has a health prob­lem, is their baby de­nied care and then kicked out of the coun­try?” Emma then had OHIP cov­er­age thanks to a loop­hole dis­cov­ered by a help­ful provin­cial bu­reau­crat Daniela dealt with. But Daniela strug­gled against tears de­scrib­ing the un­cer­tainty and pre­car­ity of the sit­u­a­tion and the thought of be­ing forced back to Ecuador to keep their fam­ily to­gether.

“I have my PhD here, I have my fam­ily here. You know, this is my coun­try,” she says. “Won­der­ing what they’re go­ing to do next — I don’t know. Com­plete help­less­ness.”

(Af­ter we spoke, Bramwell emailed with a se­ries of good-news up­dates — the last of which was that late last month Emma and Marco had fi­nally been granted per­ma­nent res­i­dency. This im­me­di­ately solves the health in­sur­ance is­sue and fi­nally puts them on track for cit­i­zen­ship. Marco will have to wait five years be­fore ap­ply­ing for cit­i­zen­ship, says Bramwell, but Emma might have it within a year. “I still feel like there’s quite a road ahead ... but with (per­ma­nent res­i­dency Emma) has rights!” she wrote “I can­not ex­plain my re­lief.”)

I reached Vic­to­ria Chi­ang in Ja­pan, where she is spend­ing part of the sum­mer with her hus­band and chil­dren — be­cause they have to leave the coun­try pe­ri­od­i­cally in or­der to re­new their chil­dren’s vis­i­tor visas to Canada. In the past they’ve driven eight hours from Edmonton to Mon­tana, and then straight back again, she says, but at least in Ja­pan they can visit fam­ily.

Chi­ang was born in Hong Kong, and came to Canada in 1980 with her mother to live with her nat­u­ral­ized Cana­dian cit­i­zen fa­ther — who was born in Viet­nam, and who hasn’t been a part of the fam­ily for many years — when she was just one year old. She grew up in Edmonton. But, like Chan­dler, she trav­elled abroad to teach English and found a part­ner — in her case, in Ja­pan. She says she learned about the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion-born-abroad restrictions while ex­tremely preg­nant in 2009, and sought ad­vice from the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment, but never heard any­thing back. And it was too late, med­i­cally speak­ing, for her to beetle back to Cana­dian soil to en­sure her first-born would be a cit­i­zen.

Chi­ang, un­like Bramwell, is bet­ting on Hussen grant­ing her chil­dren Akari, 9, and Arisa, 7, cit­i­zen­ship out­right. (Hussen has granted 37 peo­ple cit­i­zen­ship since his elec­tion in 2015, ac­cord­ing to min­istry fig­ures — though 26 of those were in Year One.)

She bris­tles at the no­tion of try­ing to ap­ply for their cit­i­zen­ship or spon­sor them when com­mon sense (if not the law) dic­tates they should al­ready have it. She has asked the min­istry for such dis­pen­sa­tion. Still she waits.

Chap­man’s tire­less ad­vo­cacy on Par­lia­ment Hill has suc­ceeded in repa­tri­at­ing thou­sands of un­ac­count­ably “Lost Canadians” — war brides and war ba­bies, home chil­dren, peo­ple whose par­ents took on Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship and thus for­feited their chil­dren’s Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship un­der pre­vi­ous laws, peo­ple who would have been en­ti­tled to cit­i­zen­ship had their mothers been Cana­dian in­stead of their fa­thers, peo­ple who failed to ap­ply to re­tain cit­i­zen­ship by dead­lines of which they were to­tally un­aware. Both Lib­eral and Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments have spent un­told for­tunes fight­ing th­ese peo­ple in court.

For such an os­ten­si­bly open coun­try, the ex­tent of the churl­ish­ness is re­mark­able. No less a Cana­dian than Roméo Dal­laire, al­ready a cap­tain in the Army, had to go be­fore a cit­i­zen­ship judge in the 1970s to prove his en­ti­tle­ment to a pass­port. He was born in the Nether­lands in 1946 to a Cana­dian sol­dier fa­ther and Dutch nurse. In the 2000s, Dal­laire threw his sup­port be­hind Chap­man’s ef­forts, liken­ing the forces ar­rayed against the Lost Canadians to “bu­reau­cratic ter­ror­ism.”

There are many other sit­u­a­tions like th­ese, and it’s an ob­jec­tively bizarre sit­u­a­tion. Trudeau’s Lib­er­als have even promised to ex­tend vot­ing rights to Canadians liv­ing abroad for more than five years, thus rem­e­dy­ing an ob­vi­ous in­con­sis­tency in the pro­gres­sive in­ter­na­tion­al­ist vi­sion of Canada. Yet they some­how can’t find their way to grant­ing ob­vi­ously Cana­dian chil­dren of ob­vi­ously Cana­dian par­ents the most ba­sic right of cit­i­zen­ship.

I re­quested an in­ter­view with Hussen, and as a fall­back asked his spokesper­son to re­spond to var­i­ous ques­tions about this sit­u­a­tion. An in­ter­view would be “dif­fi­cult,” the spokesper­son re­sponded, but he as­sured me he was work­ing on the ques­tions.

Many days af­ter dead­line, a dif­fer­ent spokesper­son re­sponded: “IRCC con­tin­ues to work with th­ese in­di­vid­u­als on a case-by-case ba­sis through ex­ist­ing chan­nels, in­clud­ing ac­quir­ing per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus through reg­u­lar im­mi­gra­tion pro­cesses,” she wrote in an email. “We con­tinue to en­gage with stake­hold­ers to ex­plore ad­di­tional ways to ad­dress this is­sue.”

Again: all this could be re­solved with the sim­ple stroke of a pen.



Vic­to­ria Chi­ang, right, was born in Hong Kong. When she was just one year old she came to Canada with her mother to live with her nat­u­ral­ized Cana­dian cit­i­zen fa­ther. Chi­ang is now seek­ing Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship for her chil­dren.

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