B.C. woman fights to get citizenship back after obscure rule leaves her stateless
Bertha Funk had been a Canadian citizen until she turned 28 — when an obscure rule she didn’t know existed revoked her citizenship.
Bertha Funk received a nasty surprise on her 28th birthday — she lost her citizenship.
“It felt like somebody just kicked me in the stomach. It was a complete shock,” said Funk, who has lived in Canada almost her entire life after moving here from Mexico with her family in 1980 when she was 2 months old.
The Squamish, B.C., woman is now virtually stateless after being caught in a citizenship snafu that has affected an unknown number of other “lost Canadians.”
Unbeknown to Funk, Canada changed its Citizenship Act in 1977, requiring those born outside the country to a foreign-born Canadian parent — between Feb. 15, 1977 and April 16, 1981 — to reapply for citizenship before their 28th birthday.
Funk, now 36, didn’t find out about this requirement until years after she’d unknowingly been stripped of her citizenship. In fact, she didn’t even learn she was stateless until earlier this year when she called the immigration department to inquire about a replacement citizenship card she’d applied for when she misplaced the original months before.
“How was it even remotely possible what had happened to me?” asked Funk, who is still reeling over her lost citizenship — and desperately fighting to get it back.
“Canada is the only home I know, but it’s saying to me that I don’t belong here any more. It’s a devastating feeling,” she said.
The obscure provision in the Citizenship Act that caused Funk so much grief was repealed in 2009. Its intent was to limit citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada.
A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told the Star an attempt was made to contact those affected, where possible.
“As we do not have data on the number of individuals who might have been impacted, we were unable to advise people systematically (about the changes),” said spokesperson Lindsay Wemp.
“When possible, IRCC did inform people . . . that they would have to take steps to retain their Canadian citizenship prior to their 28th birthday by way of a written notice to the client included with their citizenship certificate,” Wemp added.
Funk’s father, who was born in Mexico to Canadian parents, returned to Canada with his family of seven and settled in Manitoba in 1980. However, only Bertha was affected by the citizenship regulation because of her date of birth.
She lived in Winnipeg and later moved to Surrey for school, living a normal life, working as a counsellor, paying taxes and travelling with her Canadian passport — until now.
Funk said she received a letter from immigration officials in April offering two options: to apply to become a permanent resident as an immigrant, or to apply for a “discretionary” grant of citizenship, designed to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada.
However, she noted the letter said the latter “is a long and formal process that requires many levels of approval. Grants under this subsection are only used in very exceptional cases.”
To be considered, Funk would need to provide documentation including lease agreements, expired and valid passports, school transcripts, pay slips, dentists’ and doctors’ contact information and any relevant documents to establish her continuous residence in Canada.
“There is no guarantee I would have my status back by applying for permanent residency or citizenship grant. It’s all at the discretion of the officials,” said Funk.
According to the government, only “a very small number of people” were affected by the clause, and officials have received only 330 applications to date for a grant of citizenship — probably because many people don’t even know they have lost their citizenship.
“I have lived in Canada all my life,” said Funk, who has made a personal appeal to Immigration Minister John McCallum to restore her citizenship. This is completely ridiculous and unjust.”