Victoria Times Colonist
November 3, 2007 page A3
Court ruling means children of war brides may not be Canadians
Richard Foot, CanWest News Service
Tens of thousands of people who assumed they were Canadians have had their citizenship thrown into question by a federal court ruling on the status of Second World War brides and their children.
On Friday, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the decision of a lower court that in 2006 ordered Ottawa to grant immediate citizenship to the British son of a Canadian war veteran.
This latest judgment says that brides of veterans, and their children born overseas - who had been granted citizenship by a special wartime order in 1945 - lost that status if they left Canada after 1947 and did not sign a form to have their citizenship reinstated.
This condition was imposed by an obscure 1947 statute that has become a source of heartache for many war brides and their adult children now living both in and outside Canada.
The man at the centre of Friday's ruling is Joseph Taylor, a resident of England and the son of a war veteran from British Columbia, who has tried unsuccessfully since 2003 to have his Canadian citizenship reinstated.
Taylor's English mother became pregnant in 1944. She and the Canadian father wanted to get married before their baby was born, but didn't have time because the father was shipped to France to take part in the D-Day invasion in June that year.
Taylor was born in December 1944 and, the following year, his father came back to England to marry his mother.
After the war, Taylor and his mother sailed to Canada to join the father in B.C. Like 63,000 other war brides and their children, both were given instant Canadian citizenship by a special order of the government, adopted in 1945.
The marriage, however, didn't last, and Taylor and his mother moved back to England.
Then, in 1947, Canada passed a new citizenship law that effectively cast aside the wartime order. The new law said war-bride children who had left Canada, or children born out of wedlock to Canadian fathers and foreign mothers, must declare their Canadian citizenship by their 24th birthday or they would lose it.
Taylor has argued in court that he was never aware of this 1947 statute, and therefore never took the steps to maintain his citizenship.
He also says the rule on children being born out of wedlock is discriminatory under the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights, and should not apply.
The Federal Court agreed with his arguments last year and ordered Ottawa to restore his citizenship. The lower court ruling was considered a breakthrough, not only for Taylor and other war-bride families, but for many others born outside Canada to Canadian parents, who had run into roadblocks when applying for Canadian passports. Federal officials acknowledged in March that they knew of about 450 people who were struggling to obtain Canadian citizenship because of the 1947 statute. A recent CBC investigation, however, says that up to 200,000 Canadians, including war brides and their children, may be affected.
But the appeal court agreed with the government that the 1947 statute remains a fact of law. It found that the government was under no legal obligation to personally inform Canadians outside the country about the 1947 rule change, which meant their citizenship would expire unless they actively reinstated it.
It also says the "out of wedlock" provisions cannot be considered discriminatory because the equality rights contained in the 1982 charter should not be applied retroactively.
"What this ruling says is that the government's wartime order, giving the families of returning war veterans the same citizenship rights as the soldiers themselves, is meaningless," said Rory Morahan, Taylor's lawyer.
The appeal court ruling may, however, not be the final word on the matter. The New Brunswick-based group Canadian War Brides posted an angry note on its website hours after the decision was released, calling Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government a "gang of bullies" for fighting war-bride families in court.
"Supreme Court, here we come!" the note said.