'No longer a citizen': Government letter tells mom of 4 she's not Canadian

A Winnipeg mother of four has been told she no longer has a Canadian citizenship and fears she’ll be deported to Paraguay — despite the fact she’s been in Canada since she was two and has a (now void) letter as proof of her citizenship.

Anneliese Demos is a so-called ‘Lost Canadian’ due to archaic law

Anneliese Demos came to Canada with her family at age two. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

Anneliese Demos thought she was a Canadian until she got a letter in the mail last Friday.

The 39-year-old Winnipeg woman has four kids, has been married for 19 years, works two full-time jobs and pays taxes every year.

"My life is here."

She came to Canada when she was just two years old and still has the government-issued citizenship card she received when her parents moved to Steinbach, Man. from Paraguay in 1980.

"This is my home. It's Canada. I've lived here all my life," she said.
Anneliese Demos and her four children at her family's Winnipeg home. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

But the government has informed Anneliese she's in fact not a Canadian citizen and has cancelled the certificate that had proved she was.

"I have determined that you are not entitled to hold a Canadian citizenship certificate," reads a letter from Citizenship and Immigration Canada dated Dec. 22, 2017.

The letter from the registrar of citizenship then asks for Demos to return her citizenship certificate to the citizenship and passport division in Ottawa.

"It kind of makes you worry, like what are they going to do to me?" Demos said.

2009 law repeal wasn't retroactive 

Anneliese is a so-called "Lost Canadian" due to a law that required second-generation Canadians who were born outside Canada to re-apply for citizenship before turning 28.
The two-page letter Anneliese Demos got says she isn't entitled to the Canadian citizenship certificate the government gave her. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

The Harper government repealed the law in 2009 but didn't make it retroactive, meaning it was too late for anyone who missed the deadline before their 28th birthday. It is an issue that has affected many Mennonites such as Anneliese. 

Many people, including Anneliese, weren't even aware of the law.

Advocate says hardship 'so unnecessary'

Bill Janzen, ​retired ​director of the Ottawa office of the Mennonite Central Committee, said ​he's worked on more than 200 Lost Canadian cases since retiring in 2008.

​That's usually meant doing extensive research into a person's past, searching for records that prove where they went to school and lived and then taking the case with a plea to Canada's immigration minister asking citizenship be granted due to unusual or special hardship. 
John Demos doesn't know what he'll do if his wife is deported. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

To do that, it's meant looking for documentation that doesn't always exist anymore, especially for Mennonites who went to school in one-room country schools. "It just seemed so unnecessary that one had to deal with this on an individual basis in such detail when there could have been and should have been a global solution," Janzen said.

Anneliese's problems began in 2012 when she tried to get a passport to travel as a celebration of beating breast cancer. Anneliese said a clerk advised her she might have an issue because of her birth year and home country.

Officials denied her passport application and sent her a proof of citizenship form to fill out. She completed it and received a certificate and letter in the mail telling her she was a Canadian citizen, and allowing her to get a passport. She thought the issue was resolved until last Friday.
Anneliese still has the government-issued ID card she was given when she came to Canada at age two. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"Just when you thought it was fixed then you're like, 'oh now you're like no longer a citizen.'" 

Anneliese said two out of her six siblings have also had the same problem. Her sister was able to get it fixed after three years but her brother is still in limbo and she said a cousin was deported for two months because of similar circumstances. "It's stupid," she said.

Anneliese worries she may now be deported back to Paraguay even though she hasn't been there since she was two. "We don't know that family from a hole in the wall."

'I don't even dare try to leave the country'

Her passport is set to expire in April but she fears she wouldn't even be able to get back in Canada if she tried to use it.

"I don't even dare try to leave the country."

Her husband is worried, too.

"I don't know what I'm going to do [if Anneliese is deported], like who would drive the kids to school?" said John Demos.

Anneliese is planning on holding on to the proof of citizenship document issued in 2012 the government now wants back. "I'm tempted to keep it."

​Janzen said he had hope the Liberal government would fix the problem but nothing changed.

"I thought we could go somewhere but we didn't."​
Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, holds a news conference to update Canadians on the possible impacts of recent immigration-related decisions made by President Donald Trump, in Ottawa on Sunday, January 29, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Janzen has spent years working on this issue and said government staffers were aware of the problem — and hoped to fix it years ago — but they were too late.

​"The officials then told me that 'we know it would be a mess and we hope to abolish this provision before anyone turns 28 under it.'"

Government aware of problem

The Liberal government is aware of people who have lost or never been able to get citizenship due to the issue and is considering making legal changes, said Jaswal Hursh, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen.

Hursh said "a small number of affected individuals remain" and the government encourages people with similar stories to come forward as they are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

The government didn't respond to questions about how Anneliese was able to obtain a Canadian passport if she wasn't considered a Canadian citizen. 

'No longer a citizen': Government letter tells mom of 4 she's not Canadian 2:45

About the Author

Austin Grabish

Reporter

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg​ where he files for TV, web and radio. ​​Born and raised in Manitoba, Austin has had an itch for news since he was young. He landed his first byline when he was just 18. Before joining CBC, he reported for several outlets with work running across the country. He studied human rights in university and holds both a degree and diploma in communications.​ Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca