A lost Canadian... home at last
As a boy exposed to the antigerman radio programs of the 1940s in Sydney, N.S., Paul Diekelmann dreamed of a career in the Canadian military.
“I wanted to be a tail-gunner,” he said in an September 6 interview from his residence at Macleod House in Baddeck.
When he turned 18, he tried to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RACF) but was ineligible. Paul wasn’t a Canadian citizen. “I was raised Canadian, without being recognized as Canadian,” he said during an interview on Sept 6.
Paul spent a busy childhood and adolescence in Sydney soaking up every opportunity that presented itself. He grew up learning how to shine and repair shoes, eventually running a shoe shine stand. One of his customers was the Branch Manager of the Bank of Nova Scotia on Charlotte Street. At 17, he found himself guarding damaged currency bound for the Canadian Treasury with a shot gun. From there, he worked his way up to become a teller.
In 1955, at 22, he returned to his birth place of Chicago, Illinois, to reconnect with extended family. While there, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and married his Sydney sweetheart. Paul and his wife, Toni, resided in the U.S. (Illinois, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico) until 2003.
Paul’s mother, Marie “Minnie” Martinello, was born in Sydney, in 1904. She moved to Chicago where she met and married Paul’s father, Paul Bernhard Diekelmann in January, 1931.
By marrying an American citizen, Minnie ceased to be a British subject on her wedding day. Prior to Jan. 1, 1947, when the Canadian Citizenship Act (CCA) came into force, people born in Canada and naturalized immigrants were classified as British subjects. The CCA did not apply to Paul because he was born outside Canada, in wedlock, to a mother who had ceased to be a British subject.
Paul was born on Oct. 6, 1932, in Chicago. In 1936, Minnie moved back to Canada with her American son when her husband began a 25-year prison sentence. Overwhelmed with responsibility, she placed Paul in the Little Flower Orphanage in Bras D’or. She retrieved him in 1939 when she remarried.
On Feb. 15, 1977, when the Citizenship Act (CA) came into force, both Paul and his mother remained ineligible for citizenship. The CA redefined “citizen” as “Canadian citizen” and granted the rights, responsibilities and duties of Canadian citizenship to all previously naturalized and native-born citizens. Once again, the new legislation did not apply to Paul or his mother because neither met the criteria of “citizen”.
Minnie and Paul were “Lost Canadians”.
Shortly after returning to Canada in 2003 as a permanent resident, Paul stumbled upon Don Chapman, leader of the citizen advocacy group The Lost Canadians. Chapman authored the 2015 book The Lost Canadians: A Struggle for Citizenship Rights, Equality and Identity. Both directly and indirectly, Chapman has shepherded about a million “lost” claimants on the path toward citizenship.
Paul took on the task of reclaiming citizenship for his mother and establishing it for himself to rectify the lifelong sense of “not belonging”.
On June 14, 2014, Marie “Minnie” Martinello became (posthumously) a Canadian citizen.
On Aug. 24, Paul, now 84, received a letter from Gayle Leith, Senior Decision-maker and Case Manager for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), sent him his citizenship case file. The conclusion reads: “Mr. Diekelman is a Canadian citizen pursuant to paragraph 3(1)(o) of the Canadian Citizenship Act.” Welcome to Canada, Paul. Visit www.lostcanadian.com for more information.
Paul Diekelmann, 84, proudly displays the Certificate of Canadian Citizenship he recently received after years of living as a 'Lost Canadian' in Canada but without the legal right to call himself a Canadian citizen.