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Thousands of Lost Canadians still ‘live in grey zone’ without citizenship

July 8, 2016

Metro News | A cyber-security expert on hold for a Simon Fraser University IT job because a bureaucratic loophole blocked him from inheriting his Canadian grandmother’s citizenship.

A First Nations man who spent his life in stateless “limbo” because his parents hid him from residential schools in the 1950s.

A Vancouver resident who had to fight to be Canadian despite being born in Canada —  — and is now fighting for other so-called “Lost Canadians.”

These are just three among thousands of others who have fallen through the cracks of Canada’s immigration system and who are fighting for a fix despite repeated promises from both the current Liberal government and its predecessor.

“I basically live in a grey zone,” said Kyle Lopez, a 32-year-old living in Atlanta, Georgia whose Canadian grandmother lost her citizenship around 1965 after she married an American. Lopez’s father was later granted citizenship, but he’s been stuck in limbo for years.

Yet he has no problem crossing the border frequently to visit Vancouver, where he was recently offered an SFU job — on condition he prove he’s Canadian.

“Right now, I can come to Canada no problem,” he told Metro in a phone interview. “They consider me a ‘non-resident Canadian,’ but I have no rights once I’m there.

“I’ve tried four times for proof of citizenship. Every time they look at the law they’d say, ‘We think you are Canadian, but we don’t know. It’s a grey area.’ Basically, the left hand has no idea what the right hand’s doing.”

The federal government said it overhauled its policies in 2009 and 2015 to restore citizenship to all but a “very small” number of Lost Canadians. Anyone who feels they deserve status can contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a spokeswoman said.

“The Minister has the authority to grant citizenship on a discretionary basis to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship,” Nancy Chan stated in an email. “Those cases are assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

Some have successfully requested such an assessment. Others have been forced to apply as if they are immigrating to the country, even some born here. One of those is Don Chapman, self-styled spokesman of the Lost Canadians movement and author of The Lost Canadians: A Struggle for Citizenship Rights, Equality and Identity.

“These anomalies in law continue,” he said. “We have a Citizenship Act that is based on previous acts, with amendments to amendments to amendments. It’s become a barnacled creature growing more barnacles.

“It’s become so confusing that no one actually understands who is entitled to citizenship and who is not. But right now it doesn’t appear they want to fix this or address it.”

Even with the promise to hear case-by-case applications, however, some Lost Canadians say it’s simply created new layers of Kafkaesque bureaucracy too complex to handle. One told Metro there aren’t even any official forms or paperwork to make such an application.

“They made a provision in the law, but no way for that provision to be acted on,” according to Donovan McGlaughlin, a 62-year-old Yukon retiree, “there are 10,000 hoops and hurdles you have to jump through.”

The former jack-of-all-trades was born in Ontario to Canadian parents, has lived his entire life in Canada, but spent his life effectively stateless.

Why? His First Nations parents knew he’d likely be snatched up by authorities and forced into residential school. So they didn’t register his birth. For his entire life he’s relied on hospitals’ goodwill, including bare-bones pro bono services to treat three heart attacks. But with three children of his own, he worried without status they could be stuck in limbo too.

“It’s a process that no one person should go through by themself,” he said. “It’s impossible without a team to help you.

“I appreciate that the onus has to be on me to prove who I am. But I shouldn’t have to be judged on the person’s personal views. It’s a coin toss — you depend on which officer you get.

McGlaughlin suggested Canada create an independent Citizenship Ombudsman to review complicated cases and guide would-be Canadians through the process of claiming their status.

“It would help people who have fallen through the cracks,” he said. “An ombudsman could be a final sober thought when people have nowhere else to go. It’s desperately needed.”

On March 21 last year, McGlaughlin finally got what he’d sought for decades: a short citizenship ceremony that lasted two minutes but which he’ll remember for the rest of his life.

“It took a while to sink in, in all honesty,” he said. “The storm clouds lifted from over me. There were always dark clouds — you have no future.”

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