Decades-long citizenship fight getting its day in court
Published Friday, July 19, 2013 11:51AM EDT
Jackie Scott, 68, is shown in this handout photo in Surrey B.C. on Thursday July 18, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
Jackie Scott has been waiting years to be officially accepted by her country.
The 68-year-old was raised in Ontario, paid her taxes and voted in elections. But a dizzying tangle of old laws have meant the government doesn't consider her a Canadian.
Now, her long, drawn-out fight to be recognized may be reaching its climax as her case is set to have its day in court on Monday.
As she considers all she's gone through to get to this point, Scott's voice cracks with emotion.
"The feeling of being rejected by your country is pretty devastating. You feel like the orphan child that's being pushed aside," she tells The Canadian Press.
"I am anxious, apprehensive, hopeful, all of those things, because we never know, do we, what way the justice system will go."
Scott was born in England in 1945 to a Canadian serviceman father and a British mother. Her parents later wed and raised her in Canada.
The government has argued in court documents that because Scott was born abroad out of wedlock two years before the country's first citizenship act came into effect, she has no claim to citizenship through her Canadian father.
The government has told the court in written submissions that Scott's father was legally considered a British subject at the time and not a Canadian citizen.
"That really upset me," says Scott. "He was a soldier who fought for his country."
If Scott's mother had been Canadian, or if her parents had been married at the time of her birth abroad, she could have a claim to Canadian citizenship.
That situation has made Scott one of the so-called "lost Canadians" who fell through the cracks of the country's citizenship legislation.
When the government overhauled its citizenship laws in 2009, children born abroad out of wedlock were given equal rights to citizenship, but only if they were born in 1947 or later.
The legal cut off leaves Scott and other seniors like her squatters in their own country with, in her opinion, the government doing little to help.
"Are they waiting for this to be handled through attrition?" she asks. "All they need to do is just wait for a few more years and we're not going to be around, so it just goes away."
Documents show Scott's father tried to get a citizenship certificate for his wife and daughter in 1954. While Scott's mother's application was approved, officials told Scott's parents they should apply for their daughter's citizenship under a different section of the former citizenship act. The government has noted that over the years, Scott's parents did not go forward with that application.
Scott didn't even realize she wasn't a Canadian until her request for a citizenship certificate was denied in 2005.
After the shock wore off, she tried three more times, unsuccessfully, to be recognized as a citizen. The multiple rejections eventually drove her to file an application for judicial review which asks Federal Court to recognize her as a Canadian.
"It's hard," she says of her prolonged fight. "I'm really proud of my country. I'm proud of being here. I'm proud that my daughter is Canadian, my grandchildren are Canadian. But on the other hand, how do you handle being rejected?"
Scott is now a snowbird, splitting her time between Surrey, B.C., and Arizona. She was able to take on U.S. citizenship in 2005 because her husband worked in the States, but she maintains she did so only because she was desperate.
Not being recognized as a Canadian citizen means a lack of long-term security.
"As I come through the Canadian border, they tell me I'm a visitor," says Scott.
A spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada says the government's amendments to the citizenship act have resolved the vast majority of "lost Canadian" cases.
"While it is impossible to know how many remaining cases were not addressed in 2009, the information available suggests the number is small," Sonia Lesage said in an email.
"Anyone who has been living in Canada most of their life and has the mistaken belief that they are a Canadian citizen, may be eligible for a discretionary grant of citizenship."
Those grants, says Lesage, are made on a case-by-case basis to relieve special and unusual hardship or to reward exceptional service to Canada. Scott says she applied for such a grant but was turned down.
Lesage added that former Citizenship and Immigration minister Jason Kenney has said new legislation making further amendments to the citizenship act "is anticipated at some point in the near future."
Documents submitted in court show the government suggests Scott can apply for citizenship the way many immigrants who are permanent residents do -- by meeting certain residency requirements and submitting an application to be considered a new Canadian.
That, Scott's lawyer contends, is not what's wanted.
"There's a point we're making here, that she always has been a Canadian, she never ceased being a Canadian," says James Straith. "This is one of those situations that cries out for some resolution."
The government also maintains that Scott's charter rights have not been violated, because the original citizenship act that caused her problems no longer exists.
But Straith disputes that argument as well, suggesting Scott is being discriminated against because she was born abroad to an unmarried, non-Canadian mother.
"She had been rejected before under the old act and then applied again under the new act, which is subject to the charter," he says. "In this day and age discrimination on the basis of sex is illegal."
While Scott is becoming the face of a low-profile but perplexing issue, Straith says there are many others like her who could benefit if the courts rule in her favour.
"We're hoping that this gives some more judicial guidance in regard to what has to be done in these situations," he says.
"What should happen is the government should just say, 'Right, we've got to fix the legislation."'