VANCOUVER – When tribute is paid on Remembrance Day to the soldiers, sailors and flyers killed in the service of Canada during two world wars, Canadians also need to think about citizenship, say two advocacy groups.
Don Chapman and Howe Lee want Canadians to know that those who died before 1947, and whose graves are marked with maple leaves, are still not officially considered citizens by the federal government.
At issue is Ottawa’s interpretation of the law, which holds that citizenship didn’t officially exist until Jan. 1, 1947, when the first Citizenship Act came into effect.
Chapman, of the group Lost Canadians, has started a petition, calling on the federal government to recognize as citizens the war dead who were killed before 1947.
He has also earned the support of Lee, who is the founder of Vancouver’s Chinese Canadian Military Museum, and managed to convince Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May to introduce the document to Parliament.
“If we allow this to continue, that our war dead weren’t Canadian, let’s go to all the graveyards in Europe and scratch out the maple leaves. Gone,” said Chapman, who lives in Vancouver.
As founder of Lost Canadians, Chapman has spent years identifying gaps in citizenship laws and pointed them out to politicians.
His battle has included court cases, such as the one launched by a woman named Jackie Scott, who was refused citizenship even though she came to Canada at age two with her British mother and Canadian father.
Chapman points to a legal response filed by federal lawyers in that case, stating Scott’s father may have been born in Canada and served as a Canadian soldier but was not a citizen because the former Citizenship Act had not yet come into force.
Sonia Lesage, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said the legal concept of Canadian citizenship has only existed since Jan. 1, 1947.
“That was not retroactive, and the act which created the concept contains no authority to grant citizenship posthumously,” she said in an email.
Lesage said recent reforms have included extending citizenship to more “lost Canadians” who were born before 1947 and to their children born outside of Canada.
“Some of the people who may now be able to get citizenship include many of the brave men and women who have served our country in past global conflicts, and whose invaluable contribution and sacrifice we formally commemorate every November,” Lesage said.
But Chapman said there are many references to Canadian citizenship in government publications before 1947, including a manual that was printed in 1943 and given to members of the Air Force who were bound for England. The publication identified them as citizens.
He also pointed to a recruiting pamphlet, “A Call To Arms,” which calls on the “loyal citizens of this dominion,” to enlist, and even school readers, including one first printed in 1937 and called “We are Canadian Citizens.”
Chapman said the government’s current position means that even Dr. Frederick Banting, who pioneered the use of insulin in the treatment of diabetes, died as a non-citizen.
“This is made-up history that is wrong,” he said of the government’s current position.
Lee, an 81-year-old resident of Burnaby, B.C., who has been helping Chapman, said Chinese-Canadians fought and died for Canada during both world wars, even though they were not considered Canadian citizens or even British subjects.
Lee said that when he was born in Armstrong, B.C., in 1932, he was considered a registered alien and carried that title until 1947, when he became a citizen.
He said the same rule applied to Quan Louie, whose family owned the H.Y. Louie Co., a major retailer in B.C., though Louie didn’t live long enough to become a citizen because his Halifax bomber was shot down during the Second World War. Louie was buried in a cemetery in Berlin.
Lee said another man, Fred Ho, was born in Vancouver, served in an Irish-Canadian regiment, but was killed in action in Italy.
“My feeling is that we can’t or shouldn’t forget our history and it should be recognized. And the injustice, like these Lost Canadians, I think that should be righted.”
May said she has agreed to introduce the petition to Parliament when it’s ready.
“For the most part, this is a matter of respect and setting this historical record straight,” she said.
“These people were Canadian. And these soldiers, these people who gave their lives for this country, were Canadian citizens at the time and should be recognized as such, despite the weirdness of our laws.”