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Citizenship Minister Kenney: war dead were Canadian, but not citizens

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Video of Jason Kenney by Beth Hong

Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney said fallen Canadian soldiers who fought in the First and Second World War were not legal citizens of the country they died to defend. 

"You know, that's just -- the question itself is ridiculous," Kenney said at a business event in Burnaby, when asked about a previous comment he made in which he told a war veteran's daughter that Canadian soldiers were "heroes" but not citizens at the time.  

"The Citizenship Act did not come into effect until 1947. Legally speaking, Canadians were considered British subjects prior to 1947, and from 1947 onward they were considered Canadian citizens. That's the law."

The federal government's assertion that there were legally no Canadian citizens prior to 1947 raises some important questions as the nation commemorates Canadian soldiers on Remembrance Day.

Despite the fact that Supreme Court cases on citizenship were taking place well before 1947 (for example, on the citizenship of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War), Citizenship and Immigration Canada has asserted repeatedly that no one was a legal "citizen" -- with all the rights that entails -- until 1947.  

It is the basis on which some Canadians known as the "Lost Canadians" remain denied citizenship to this day.

The Minister stressed that the soldiers were Canadian -- a point that is not in dispute -- but that they were also not citizens due to the laws of the time. 

"I mean, we're celebrating the War of 1812, acknowledging the people who defended Canada then as Canadians in the defence of Canada just as our veterans in the first and second world war were Canadians defending Canada," Kenney continued.  

"But they were doing so at a time when we did not have something called Canadian citizenship."

On the issue of when he was going to rectify the situation of people who have been excluded because of the "non-citizen" legal status of Canadians prior to 1947, he said he doesn't have a "precise date" yet, but that it would be within the next several months. 

"I don't have a precise date yet. But one of the issues we hope to address in the legislation is the very small category of people who were born to mothers abroad whose fathers who were born out of wedlock but whose fathers were Canadian soldiers because under the 1947 law, the paternity of the father was not legally -- did not have legal status," he said.

"That's a reflection of the values of the time in 1947. We think it's quite appropriate to go back and correct that, and to ensure that Canadian children born out of wedlock whose fathers were soldiers, for example, should receive citizenship."

In August, The Vancouver Observer questioned Kenney's office why the government was ignoring an all-party recommendation by the federal citizenship committee in 2008 that all first-generation born abroad Canadians be given citizenship -- regardless of their age or parents' marital status. 

Citizenship and Immigration Canada responded with a letter from former Citizenship Minister Diane Finley, which showed that the Conserative Party chose not to implement the recommendation about granting citizenship to individuals -- including children of soldiers -- who were born prior to 1947. 

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