What is my greatest achievement?
I grew up an army brat. My husband and I are parents through adoption. I am resilient. You know all of this already if you’ve been following my posts. But how is it all connected? It’s a bit of a long story, so get comfortable.
I was born in Germany. My dad was a Canadian soldier stationed in Baden-Soellingen from 1976 to 1979. I was born in September 1978. Both of my parents were Canadian, which meant, at the time, that I was too.
About 60 km away, two Canadian school teachers were preparing for the birth of their first son, Michael. Because they, too, were Canadian, their son (my future husband), would automatically be a Canadian, too.
My husband and I were born in the same hospital in Lahr, Germany. Our German birth registrations were signed by the same bureaucrat. Michael grew up to join the army and serve in the same regiment as my father. When we eventually met and got married, our first home was across the street from the Pembroke, Ontario, apartment my parents lived in when they got married 40 years earlier.
I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)
Shortly after Mike and I were married, the Canadian government quietly changed the Citizenship Act. They were trying to crack down on people they deemed to be “Canadians of convenience.” They decided that if you had acquired your citizenship by birth, as I had, and as Michael had, you were no longer allowed to pass that citizenship on to a child born outside of Canada. It didn’t matter why you had been born outside of Canada. It didn’t matter if you had built your home and life here. Despite a card stating that you were entitled to all of the rights, privileges and responsibilities of being a Canadian, you would not be treated the same way as someone who was born here. Citizenship would be limited to one generation.
Like most other Canadians at the time, neither Mike nor I took much notice of the change or though about how it might impact our lives.
In 2011, we went through the lengthy and invasive process of being approved to adopt a child. After a lot of research and personal reflection, we decided that the path we would pursue would be international adoption from Haiti. We completed reams of paperwork, including part 1 of the citizenship application that would eventually allow our future child to enter the country. As I was going through the online information package that accompanied the application, I noticed a poorly worded subclause referring to people born outside of Canada, followed by another poorly worded sub-subclause referring to people born to service personnel posted outside of Canada. One seemed to contradict the other, and I started to panic. Legalese not being one of my spoken languages, I contacted an immigration lawyer to help me interpet the Act and determine whether our future son or daughter would be entitled to Canadian citizenship, or whether I would need to sponsor him or her as an immigrant. His interpretation, and the interpretation of the 3 Citizenship and Immigration Call Centre employees I also consulted, was that people like me — people born outside of Canada to soldiers serving overseas on the government’s orders — were exempt from the “one-generation” rule.
I completed the application and sent it off to Nova Scotia. Then, I waited. I waited, and I waited. I received a letter indicating that the application would be processed within 8 weeks. I waited 8 weeks. I phoned the call centre. I was told there was a backlog, and that it would take another 8 weeks. I waited again. Eight weeks later, when I was told that a decision still couldn’t be made because no one had encountered a situation like mine before, and no one knew exactly how to interpret that poorly worded sub-subclause, I started to get a little bit anxious. By this point, we had been matched with a little boy, and our adoption was moving through the Haitian legal system. I was facing the reality of being the legal parent of a child who couldn’t come home. I asked if I should change my application to sponsorship instead. I was told to wait and see. I waited. I waited a total of 11 months. Citizenship and Immigration stopped returning my phone calls. The media, however, were more than happy to listen to me. I contacted the Ottawa Citizen and told one of their reporters my story. That story was seen by an old friend of mine from elementary school, who showed it to a friend of his who worked for CTV Ottawa. I was on the 11’o’clock news. Two days later, I was interviewed by Bev Thompson on Canada AM. Citizenship and Immigration started returning my calls.
I did end up having to sponsor our son as a permanent resident, but realizing their initial error in advising me to submit a citizenship application, CIC expedited that process. We were home in time to celebrate our first Christmas together in December 2013. Then, in February 2014, the new immigration minister, Chris Alexander, announced a change to the Citizenship Act to ensure that the children born to Canadian service personnel overseas would not be subject to the one-generation rule. The new Act is still imperfect, but it’s a start. At the very least, it recognizes that I and other “brats” like me should not be penalized for our parents’ service to their country. Our rights are not a matter of convenience.