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Meet Lawrence Connelly: A Canadian Taxpayer Who's Told He's Not a Canadian

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You're not going to believe this.

I had difficulty accepting it, but it's true: A child born to Canadian military family serving overseas can be Canadian -- but has no automatic right to a passport.

Lawrence Connelly was born in Germany in 1967 when his father was a firefighter in the Canadian Air Force. His mother was Canadian, and Lawrence was issued a Department of National Defence certificate of birth, showing him to be Canadian. All pretty routine.

Skip ahead to the present. Lawrence is a teacher, lives in Orillia, works in day care, has no criminal record ("else I couldn't work in day care facilities"), pays taxes, has a social insurance number, an OHIP card, driver's license, pays into a pension fund, is married and has two kids. Can't be more Canadian than that.

For a family vacation, Connelly planned to take the family to Disney World in the U.S. in August, and under new regulations put in place after 9/11, applied in person for a passport. Until recently he traveled in the U.S. without a passport, just his identity documents.

Imagine his surprise when the Passport Office said there was no proof he was a citizen. Where was his Canadian birth certificate?

Connelly showed his DND card verifying his birth to a Canadian serviceman in Germany.

"Sorry, that's not proof of citizenship," he was told.

He showed his driver's license, OHIP card, and other documents.

"Yes, we accept that you are a Canadian, but we can't issue a passport unless you can prove you are Canadian," he was told.

How does he do that, if the DND birth document isn't acceptable proof?

"You can apply for citizenship -- like an immigrant. It may take 10 months. Then you'll get a card saying you are a citizen, and can apply for a passport."

Lawrence Connelly couldn't believe it. Nor could I. Here's a guy who is born a Canadian but needs a card attesting to that fact, while I, also born Canadian, have a birth certificate but don't have to carry a card attesting to my nationality.

Connelly is made to feel second-class.

"How can the Immigration and Citizenship Office agree that I'm a Canadian, but insist that I have to prove it to get a passport?"

And with a six or 10 month wait, there goes his August vacation at Disney World.

Connelly has called people in Ottawa, and apparently nothing can be done.

He contacted his MP, Bruce Stanton (Simcoe North), who agrees that it is frustrating for Connely, "but new security regulations have come into place since 9/11."

Stanton thinks six months is the waiting time.

"The document issued to him by DND at his birth, isn't proof of citizenship for a passport," said Stanton. "It's frustrating, but there's a backlog of passport requests, so he'll have to wait six months or so. Security is important."

It strikes me that any number of Russian spies have acquired phony Canadian passports by taking names off tombstones in cemeteries. That seems easier than acquiring a DND certificate of birth. But times change.

While sympathetic to Connelly, Stanton says there's nothing that can be done about the new security rules: "The document issued by DND at his birth was never intended to be proof of citizenship." Oh? Tell that to kids born to military families.

Connelly says the passport people told him he should have applied when citizenship rules were changed in 1977 -- "when I was 10 years old, for heaven's sake."

Perhaps Connelly would have gotten a more receptive hearing if he approached an NDP member of parliament.

"Funny, I've never before felt anything but Canadian, if I'm not considered Canadian enough for a passport, maybe I should ask for the taxes I've paid to be returned."

It bothers him that he is expected to pay $85 to file for proof of citizenship, "and then pay for the passport on top of that -- all because they accept that I'm a Canadian but not a citizen, and then won't accept my proof of citizenship." Catch-22 , indeed!

So Lawrence Connelly joins the ranks of "Lost Canadians," caught in a bureaucratic spider web from which there seems no escape. All because his parents served Canada overseas, unaware that someday their country would turn on their child.

Connelly apparently joins the ranks of an estimated 200,000 Canadians -- war brides, their offspring and those born overseas to Canadian Armed Forces families -- who are among "Lost Canadians" who have fallen through bureaucratic cracks and didn't know it until they reached retirement age or applied for a passport.

The problem continues -- for Canada and its "lost" citizens.