Hamilton

This man has been a Canadian citizen all his life. So why can't he renew his health card?

Serge Currie's problems started when he tried to renew his Ontario health card two years ago. The Burlington, Ont., resident found out his Department of Defence birth certificate that was issued to his Canadian parents 52 years ago in Germany doesn't legally prove his citizenship.

Serge Currie has been trying to prove he's Canadian for more than 2 years

Serge Currie was issued a Canadian Department of National Defence birth certificate because he was born abroad while his parents served in the Canadian Air Force. The birth certificates have been discontinued and Currie is struggling to get his proof of citizenship. (Angelina King/CBC)

Serge Currie is Canadian but can't officially prove it, and that has turned the 52-year-old man's effort to renew his Ontario health card into a long, frustrating ordeal while he copes with diabetes.

Currie, who was born in Germany in 1966 while his parents were serving in the Canadian Air Force, has been trying to get his proof of citizenship for more than two years.

"It just baffles me, the amount of time that's wasted on this," he told CBC News on Tuesday during an interview at his home in Burlington, Ont.

He has a Department of National Defence (DND) birth certificate, also known as the DND 419. But in 2017, when he tried to renew the health card he had had since he was a child, he learned the DND 419 isn't a legal citizenship status document. All it does is confirm someone's age.

Service Ontario wouldn't accept it, putting Currie in a bind: he needs his proof of citizenship to renew his health card and a valid health card to get his proof of citizenship. Moreover, he's concerned about the potential impact on his health if he loses his public health coverage.

Currie's DND birth certificate isn't a legal citizenship status document. (Angelina King/CBC)

The Department of National Defence stopped issuing DND 419s in November 1979 after 16 years. When asked why they were discontinued, the department referred the question, among others, to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). IRCC didn't respond to CBC's request to answer the question. 

"Why didn't they reissue birth certificates or replace the card? Don't just delete it," Currie said. "I've been a Canadian citizen for 52 years. I think that would mean something."

Currie received two extensions to keep his current health card active while he's going through the process, but it expires Aug. 28.

A lengthy process

Currie started the process of getting his proof of citizenship in April 2017. He was first told to speak with the DND, but said after months of back and forth, he got nowhere.

Four months later, he was told to apply for his proof of citizenship, so did. Currie said he waited for months and didn't hear back. Turns out, he said, his application was approved, the documents sent, but he said he never received them. He had to reapply.

Currie's father, Arthur James Currie, served in the Canadian military for more than 30 years, including in Germany in 1966. (Angelina King/CBC)

"'Can you reissue it?'" Currie recalls asking. "They said, 'No, you didn't call us back in time,'" he told CBC News.

A spokesperson for IRCC said Currie's first application was approved in March 2018 and his certificate was sent to his address. 

"In February 2019, Mr. Currie indicated that he did not receive it. IRCC advised that Mr. Currie would have to submit a new application for proof of citizenship because the previous document had been sent to Mr. Currie over 180 days prior to the enquiry," Beatrice Fenelon wrote in an email.

I'm hoping someone else doesn't have to go through this.- Serge Currie

Currie reapplied in February 2019 but forgot to send a photo of the back of his driver's licence — and didn't know about that omission until all his documents were sent back to him.

Finally, three months ago, he sent in his third application. Last month, he received a letter saying it's being processed.

"This has been super stressful for me. I'm close to a nervous breakdown with this," he said.

Fenelon said it takes five months to process an application.

"This application is within established processing times," she wrote.

An unusual case

Immigration lawyer Evan Green called Currie's case unusual, but said he's not surprised to hear about it because of the various forms of birth certificates issued.

He said it's common for applicants to experience delays when applying for proof of citizenship and he has often seen cases where documents get lost, similar to Currie's experience.

"I see it every day," Green said.

A straightforward case can take around four months, and while it's "unfortunate" there's a long wait, the government takes citizenship seriously, according to Green.

Immigration lawyer Evan Green said Currie's case is unusual, but he isn't surprised to hear about the delays. He advises Canadian parents whose children are born abroad to apply for the child's proof of Canadian citizenship as soon as possible. (Angelina King/CBC)

"They're not handing these out willy-nilly. They want to be sure before they give it. But it's a government, it's a bureaucracy. Mistakes are made, and things take time."

When it comes to Currie's case, Green said he has had more than just bad luck.

"It seems it's fallen off the rails."

If a child of Canadian parents is born abroad, Green advises applying for proof of citizenship as soon as possible.

A warning for others

Currie hopes he'll have his proof of citizenship in September. He'll renew his health card, then apply for his very first Canadian passport so he can celebrate his official citizenship with his wife during a trip to Hawaii.

But in the meantime, he hopes others recognize the limitations surrounding the DND 419 and take steps to get the correct documents.

"I feel so bad for the next person because as soon as someone's passport expires they'll have troubles like this," he said.

"I'm hoping someone else doesn't have to go through this."

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