Today is Canada Day, and on televised ceremonies across Canada our government will be rolling out the welcome mat to thousands of newcomers. Now consider what that feels like to a Canadian-born, Canadian WWII veteran being told they're not wanted in Canada. That's what it's like to be a Lost Canadian.
Almost 50 years ago the civil rights movement was gaining tremendous strength in the United States. It was about an egregious issue -- an abomination if you will -- called discrimination. The pressing question was, should all people be afforded equal rights?
We as Canadians readily admit that everyone should be equal, but when Canadians learn about our country's ongoing discrimination in citizenship law, they seem content sitting on the sidelines in silence.
In 1963 U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave his famous Civil Rights Address. In 2011 -- on this Canada Day -- regrettably a lot of his words are just so apropos.
In what I'm about to say, I'll change a few of President Kennedy's words to make it Canadian specific- but sadly, his message is as true today in Canada as it was half a century ago in the deep south:
More legislation is needed,
but laws alone cannot make men see right.
Today, Canada is confronted with a moral issue.
The heart of the matter is, should all Canadians be treated with equality, so that each and everyone of us is afforded the same opportunities.
Should we treat all Canadians in a manner that we ourselves wish to be treated?
Some of the remaining Lost Canadians cannot send their children to a public school.
They cannot collect the pension they've paid into for most of their lives.
They can be denied medical coverage.
Or they cannot travel outside of Canada because they can't get a passport.
Consider: They can't even vote against the very politicians allowing these injustices to continue.
In short, who amongst us would willingly trade places with one of the five per cent of Lost Canadians who still remain disenfranchised from their own country? If it was you or your child being denied citizenship, would you be satisfied with the continued bureaucratic and political delays to correct the discriminatory legislation which has been enforced in Canada since 1868, or just one year after Confederation 144 years ago?
Or do you believe that Canada, and Canadians, can do better? Shouldn't the example we bestow to the world, is a Canada that at the very least nurtures and protects its own people -- regardless of age, or gender, or race, or whether a person was born in or out-of wedlock.
Proudly, it was a Canadian who wrote the first draft of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet today our own government refuses to abide by its provisions.
When confronted with the facts about citizenship and belonging, Canadians often turn a blind eye. To the Lost Canadian it's a deafening silence. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, "The greatest tragedy in this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good."
Canadian human rights activist June Callwood said, "Once you know about the abuse you become a part of it." In that sense all of you now share some responsibility for the outcome of your fellow Canadians.
One question remains: How many of you will come forward to help Lost Canadians? They too are part of our Canadian family -- except that our government continues to discriminate based on gender, age, and family status, while steadfastly refusing to recognize their citizenship. As I said, its an abomination.
Please, step forward and help me. Together there's much we can do. Individuals, especially with community support, can make a huge difference. A shining example of this was Denmark during WWII, where the Danish people so protected their fellow Jewish citizens. That lesson, of 'doing what is right,' should not be lost here in Canada.
On this Canada Day, let me end with two more quotes from President Kennedy:
"Those who do nothing are inviting shame. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality."
And, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."
Reaching out to help a Lost Canadian in need is a really great place to start.