But when it comes to war brides, immigration is one thing, citizenship is another. It’s high time politicians bow their heads in shame at the dark side of the Canadian war bride story that everyone, especially the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, would like us to forget.
Canadians should know the real story of how war brides and their children were lied to about their citizenship status when they came to Canada in 1946 and how that lie has come back to haunt them more than 65 years since the end of the war.
The fact is that when war brides were brought to Canada they were told that
they and their children became citizens by virtue of marriage to a Canadian
The war brides had no reason to question their status. Didn’t Prime Minister MacKenzie King himself call them “a splendid addition” to Canada’s citizenship?
They didn’t know that with the introduction of Canada’s first Citizenship Act on January 1, 1947, the rules changed. After that date, war brides and children had to apply for citizenship: problem was, nobody told them.
Over the years, many wives learned about the new rules after being hauled out of line at customs and warned about their Canadian status. But not every war bride travelled back home to Britain or Europe and whether through ignorance or procrastination, not every one applied for her Canadian citizenship.
From time to time, we’ll hear about women like 87 year old Priscilla Corrie of British Columbia who found out in 2008 that she was not a citizen. Once her story hit the national media in 2010, the Department moved quickly to solve her problem but it was only because her story went public.
Those who are most affected by the citizenship issue are war bride children who were born overseas during the war. They too, never knew about the change in rules but unlike their mothers, the Department doesn’t seem to mind picking a fight with the younger generation.
They are the “Lost Canadian” war bride children, stripped of their citizenship because they didn’t fill out a piece of paper so many years ago.
Now aged sixty five and older, these children are discovering they are not Canadian citizens. What ensues is a bureaucratic nightmare that can take years and thousands of dollars to fix. Imagine the anxiety when federal entitlements such as Old Age Pension, Medicare and passports are denied until the paperwork is in order.
And it gets worse. If the war bride child was born out of wedlock, they are denied citizenship status because of a discriminatory section of the 1947 Act. They can get a special grant of citizenship, but it only recognizes their status from the date of the grant forward. Jackie Scott is fighting to be recognized as Canadian citizen, but her birth status is being used against her by the government.
Which brings me back to International Women’s Day. No politician or feminist would dare defend such a bumbling bureaucracy that targets war brides and
their children nor the anachronistic and discriminatory legislation that bans born out wedlock children from citizenship. But Minister Jason Kenney does it all the time.
As an historian and womens’ rights activist I find it hard to believe that womens’ organizations have not taken up the cause of war brides and their children who are being treated so badly by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
And after 65 years, I don’t think I’m asking too much for women’s groups across Canada to make a principled stand on behalf of those children whose only crime was to be born out of wedlock during World War Two.