Elderly Bracebridge waitress told she can’t prove citizenship

by Matt Sitler

Imagine Sandra Eaton’s surprise when she learned she couldn’t prove her Canadian citizenship.

The elderly Utterson resident, who has worked for years as a waitress in Bracebridge, says she made the shocking discovery when she applied for a new Health Card through Service Ontario.

“I had received a letter from Service Ontario saying I needed to get a photo Health Card,” she explains. “In November I went up there and they told me I couldn’t have one because I couldn’t prove I was a Canadian citizen.”

The backstory is that Eaton was born in the UK and has a British birth certificate, not a Canadian one. She doesn’t have a Canadian passport or proof of her Canadian citizenship, despite having lived in Canada for close to 70 years.

“I was two and a half years old when I came over,” she says. “I assumed all along that because my father was Canadian and my mother was a British subject, I assumed that by birth I was Canadian. I’ve always considered myself a Canadian.”

sandraNow, at age 72, Eaton finds herself in the process of applying for proof of her citizenship with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, but there’s a bit of a hitch.

Stymying the process is the fact she doesn’t have a bulk of the required information to complete the application form. Both her parents and grandparents are now deceased, making it next to impossible for her to provide details like their dates of birth and how they obtained their own citizenship.

“All these questions I can’t answer,” she explains. “Because my parents are deceased and I don’t know when my grandparents were born – I’m between a rock and a hard place.”

Eaton says she’s been told there are many like her across the country who find themselves in similar situations.

“I’ve been advised to fill the papers out as far as I can, then maybe somebody can help me – but maybe they can’t,” she worries.

The oldest of 13 siblings, Eaton says nobody else in her family knows the information required by the application.

“I’ve got a driver’s license, my old age pension & my Canada pension,” she says. “But I want people to know what you have to go through (to get the citizenship).”

Lindsay Wemp, media relations with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, says  if an applicant is unable to supply the required documentation to submit an application for a Canadian citizenship certificate (proof of citizenship), they can include a Statutory Declaration with their application indicating the reasons why they are unable to obtain the necessary documentation.  “This will ensure that the application does not get returned as incomplete,” she tells Muskoka News Watch.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) does not have data on how many of these type situations exist across the country, says Wemp.

“It is important to distinguish between those who are citizens but do not have proof of citizenship and those who are not citizens and who would be required to submit an application to be granted citizenship (naturalization),” she says. “It is recommended that persons who think they may have a claim to citizenship, such as through being born outside Canada to a Canadian parent, apply for a citizenship certificate to get a determination on their status. IRCC has various information on its website to help: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/citizenship/proof.asp.  If they are determined to not be a citizen, then an application for a grant of citizenship would need to be submitted.”

As for the estimated processing time for a citizenship certificate (proof of citizenship), Wemp says it is currently five months for routine applications.

“Non-routine applications could take longer if additional information or documentation is required.  Information on processing times can be found here:  http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/times/index.asp,” she says. “Applications for a grant of citizenship received on or after April 1, 2015 are currently being processed within 12 months. If applicants have difficulty providing documentation to demonstrate their claim for citizenship, as mentioned above, the Department may accept a Statutory Declaration where necessary.”

We’ll keep track of Eaton’s progress in her quest to prove her citizenship and let you know how it all pans out.

If you have a story suggestion, please email msitler@muskokanewsarchive.com. (Photo by Matt Sitler)