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Harper Could Make This a Happier Women's Day

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Today is International Women's Day, so expect a lot of feel-good words in the House of Commons.

As the father of a 13-year-old daughter, I want her to know that she stands on the shoulders of giants. The opportunities she has today were made possible by the courageous pioneering women that came before her. And while there is much to celebrate in the significant achievement of Canadian women, there is also a great deal of unfinished business.

Two weeks ago, years of Harper government inaction forced Mrs. Jackie Scott, now 66, to file an action in the Federal Court in Vancouver gain her citizenship. It was denied to her because she was born out-of-wedlock.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Jackie's mother was an English War bride who came to Canada with her young baby in 1948 to be with her husband, a WWII veteran, James Ellis, who was born in Canada and was wounded in Europe fighting for our country. Sent back to Canada to be treated and recover from his battle injuries, Jack was unable to marry his bride until after infant Jackie was born.

The Ellises -- Jackie's parents -- married shortly after arriving in Canada. They stayed married for 51 years, until Jack died. Their daughter Jackie grew up in Canada, went to school here, voted, paid taxes, married, had a family, had a Social Insurance Number, paid into Canada Pension Plan, and has been married to her Canadian husband for 42 years. She grew up 100-per-cent Canadian and believed that with every fibre in her being. Both Jackie's parents were Canadian, and so was her sister.

But astonishingly, the Government and Parliament of Canada do not deem Jackie to be a Canadian citizen. Why? An arcane and arbitrary clause in the Citizen Act says she can't because her parents didn't quite make it to the church on time before she came into this world.

This is an incredible -- even unbelievable -- story. It is fair to ask what is missing from this picture. Surely, there's more than meets the eye; Jackie has to be a bad person, a criminal, or maybe a tax cheat? No, no, and no. She's been an upstanding citizen all her life.

Many other Canadians were born out-of wedlock prior to 1947. Jackie is far from being alone. To make this even worse, you could also be denied because you were born in wedlock!

Prior to 1947 Canadian married women were considered chattel of their husbands, and children were chattel of their father if born in wedlock, and chattel of their mothers if born out-of- wedlock.

What the Government and Parliament of Canada are effectively saying is that because she was born out-of-wedlock, Jackie was property of her British war bride mother, and not her Canadian soldier father.

Now let's take this further into the Twilight Zone. Arch Ford was born in wedlock prior to 1947, so the Government of Canada is also telling him he's not a Canadian. Why? Because Arch was born in wedlock to a Canadian mother and U.S. father prior to 1947. Ottawa's logic is that he was property of his father and his mother had no standing. Where are the rights of Arch's mother? What the law says is that she doesn't have any, and therefore, Arch is not a Canadian.

What does that say about the fundamental human and civil rights of Canadian women, especially on the day we celebrate their great strides?

It defies common sense and decency that potentially thousands of Canadians could find themselves at risk of being stripped of their citizenship, simply because our government has decided to judge people born prior to 1947 under the archaic laws that were on the books more than half a century ago.

Don Chapman, a tireless advocate for people like Jackie, has been fighting for a decade to correct this historical injustice. The organization he founded, The Lost Canadians, was instrumental in driving important amendments to the Citizenship Act in 2009 to capture people born from 1947 forward. However, inexplicably, the Harper government made the deliberate decision to ignore Canadians born prior to 1947. For reasons that remain a mystery, taking the "acceptance" date back further was not acceptable to the Harper Conservatives.

Therefore, flagrant discrimination in citizenship law -- denying people citizenship only because of age, gender, and family status -- remains the law of the land.

I cannot think of a situation that is more obviously at variance with the basic spirit and tenets of what we stand for as a country. This need not be a political or partisan issue. But this is a profoundly Canadian issue that should and must be rectified.

The lives of real people have been profoundly affected. They have suffered quietly in pain for decades. Their grace and dignity has hidden their real anguish and hurt that their parliament and government have told them they don't belong.

Jackie's father fought for Canada and almost died to protect the freedoms and values we so take for granted. There are far too many Jackie Scott's out there, and that is why she has felt compelled to take the Government of Canada to court to seek justice. Not only for her, but also for all Canadian women, wherever they may be. And for the legacy of our parents and grandparents who sacrificed so much for the country they left us.

A day more of inaction on this matter is contemptible of our parliament and unworthy of Canada. The time has come to correct these historic injustices. On this day -- especially on this day -- actions speak louder than words.

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