VANCOUVER – Donovan McGlaughlin admits his story is hard to believe, but he wants Canadians to keep an open mind as he explains why he may have to apply as a political refugee in the country he’s called home for his 60 years.
His father was First Nation, his mother Caucasian, and both were anarchists who didn’t want to register his birth because they feared he’d be taken away from them and end up in a residential school, said McGlaughlin.
The ramifications of their decision have been far reaching for the Dawson City, Yukon, resident who said he’s been caught up in a life-long bureaucratic nightmare that has prevented him from obtaining any form of identification, including a health-care card.
He said his problem came to a head even before he was hit by a series of heart attacks that have resulted in up to $130,000 in medical and air-ambulance bills.
Nobody in government, it seems, has yet been able to help him, said McGlaughlin, who said applying as a political refugee may be his last option.
“I don’t know how much harder my situation has to be without applying for political-refugee status,” said McGlaughlin. “What else is there? I mean I’m stateless. I have no rights within my own country.”
His lack of status and medical troubles also have territorial and federal government bill collectors knocking on his door, looking for money from the man who has never had held full-time job.
Jan. 19, 1954 is the day McGlaughlin celebrates as his birthday, although he doesn’t know the exact date. He only knows he was born somewhere between Rosebud, S.D., and Guelph, Ont., where his maternal grandparents lived.
Home schooled as a child, McGlaughlin said his parents moved around Canada frequently because they were afraid of the government, and at the age of 15 he left them, surviving off farm work and “migrant jobs” like picking fruit.
About 30 years ago, he hitchhiked to and fell in love with the Yukon, where he has survived ever since by hunting and fishing on First Nations’ land.
Yet, because he has no birth certificate, McGlaughlin said he hasn’t been able to get a citizenship card, a Social Insurance Number or a passport, and that means he can’t get a driver’s license or even a Yukon Health Care Card.
Since he has no identification, he also can’t apply for a job, vote, marry his partner who is the mother of his three children, or volunteer at their school because a background check is required. He can’t even get on a long-haul bus, because that now requires ID, too, he said.
McGlaughlin said he had an interview scheduled with a Citizenship and Immigration Canada official in October 2010, but he suffered a near-fatal heart attack and was flown to a hospital in Victoria, so he missed the meeting.
The interview was rescheduled and took place in early 2011, and the official decided against issuing an order for his removal from Canada, he added.
He has had three more heart attacks since that interview, one of which required his admission to a Vancouver hospital and another expensive air-ambulance flight, said McGlaughlin.
Lacking a medical card means McGlaughlin is on the hook for his health-care and transportation costs and can’t book any followup treatments, he said.
Taxation problems are now his family’s latest worry.
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press show the Canada Revenue Agency and Yukon government wrote his partner, Julie Dugrenier, asking her for McGlaughlin’s Social Insurance Number and 2012 tax return to determine whether she was entitled to tax benefits for their three children.
In an Oct. 21 letter, the revenue agency followed up, demanding Dugrenier repay $2,249.50.
McGlaughlin said he has applied under Section 5.4 of the Citizenship Act for the minister to grant him citizenship because of a “special and unusual hardship.”
Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said in an email that McGlaughlin filed an application in late September, but it contained “insufficient documentation to demonstrate how long he has been living in Canada,” and the agency asked for more information in a November correspondence.
“We recognize Mr. McGlaughlin lacks most forms of ID and documents that citizens would use as proof of residency,” said Caron. “CIC will consider any evidence he can provide to support his claim that he has resided in Canada for the majority of his life.”
The department, she said, has yet to make a final decision on his application.
Ryan Leef, the Yukon’s member of Parliament, was unavailable for an interview, but in an email, his executive assistant Kay Richter said staff have communicated with McGlaughlin.
“Mr. Leef, as a general rule, opens his office to assist with all matters of federal jurisdiction,” said Richter. “We deal with many immigration related cases, and have a high resolution rate.”
Don Chapman, the founder of Lost Canadians, a group that has spent years identifying gaps in citizenship laws, said he has tried to intervene on McGlaughlin’s behalf and estimates there could be as many as 50 or 60 people across the country in a similar situation.
“Quite seriously, denying Donovan citizenship amounts to a death sentence,” said Chapman in a recent email. “With no medical insurance and being a victim of a major heart attack, Donovan is doomed.”
As for his refugee application, McGlaughlin was told that all applications must be delivered in person to a Citizenship and Immigration office, an ordeal for somebody who lives in the North, doesn’t have a driver’s licence, can’t book a bus ticket and has heart problems.
McGlaughlin said he may have to make that trip by foot.
“I have battled this far and will continue to as long as I can,” he said in a followup email. “Perhaps after the holiday, I may just go ahead and start walking. Until then I will be enjoying what could be my last Christmas with my children and wife.”