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Woman’s Canadian citizenship revoked after 32 years amid federal ‘error’

The federal government has cancelled an Ajax, Ont., woman’s Canadian citizenship over an error it said it made more than 30 years ago — forcing her to pay hundreds of dollars in a bid to get it back.

In September, Arielle Townsend received a letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), saying her Canadian citizenship was at risk of being revoked. The ordeal began when the department said Townsend’s mother may not have been a Canadian citizen when Townsend was born in Jamaica. 

In a letter sent to Townsend this week and viewed by CBC Toronto, the department said Townsend’s citizenship has been rescinded.

“Your citizenship certificate is no longer valid,” it said.

“Townsend’s status in Canada is now a foreign national,” the department said in a further letter to her lawyers.

The news came as a shock to Townsend, who’s held citizenship in Canada since she was a baby.

“Applying for citizenship when you’ve been a citizen, or you thought you were a citizen your entire life is really jarring,” said Townsend. “This is putting me in a very difficult position.”

Townsend and her lawyers say they provided the government with all the facts, arguing Townsend’s mother was a citizen when Townsend was born as she was issued a citizenship card in July 1991, months before Townsend’s birth, which her mother has sworn to in a signed affidavit. 

In its response this week, the IRCC said while a citizenship card was created for her mother in 1991, she did not take her citizenship oath until a few months after Townsend was born.

‘A clear error’: IRCC

Townsend’s mother has said in her affidavit that asked a citizenship officer what she needed to do to get her infant status in Canada — and was assured her daughter was already a citizen. A citizenship card was issued to Townsend in August 1992. 

“IRCC acknowledges there was a clear error in the issuance of Arielle Townsend’s Canadian citizenship certificate,” the department said in an email to Townsend’s lawyer. “However, the legislative provision pertaining to recall of Canadian citizenship certificate does not allow for any discretion.”

Arielle Townsend
Arielle Townsend, left, pictured with her husband Amani. (Submitted by Arielle Townsend)

“Despite what is printed on her citizenship certificate, a person is only considered a Canadian citizen once they have taken the oath of citizenship,” it said, in reference to Townsend’s mother.

To get her citizenship back, Townsend must now make an application under “special discretionary grounds” in order for it to be processed “urgently,” said IRCC. It will cost more than $600 to apply, said Townsend. 

IRCC says decision based on oath

According to the statement of facts that Townsend’s lawyers have submitted to the government, Townsend’s mother had been living in Canada for several years by 1991. She became pregnant that year and travelled to Jamaica, where she could benefit from more family support in the lead-up to Townsend’s birth. 

Townsend’s mother’s family in Canada took their citizenship oath that July, around which time a citizenship card was issued to Townsend’s mother.

Townsend was born in Jamaica in October 1991.

Arielle townsend at graduation
Arielle Townsend, centre, at her graduation from the University of Toronto with her grandmother Susan, right, and mother Nichola, left. (Submitted by Arielle Townsend)

When she was only a few months old, in January 1992, Townsend’s mother returned to Canada briefly, without her, to sort out her citizenship papers. 

According the statement of facts, she went to the citizenship office in Mississauga, reported Townsend’s birth and asked how she could get status for her daughter, so she could fly her to Canada.

According to Townsend’s mother, the citizenship officer told her a citizenship application wasn’t needed because she was was already a citizen. 

Despite that, the department said in its letter that it has decided to cancel her citizenship because Townsend’s mother didn’t take her oath before Townsend was born. 

“After reviewing all of the information in my possession, I have determined that you never acquired citizenship,” said IRCC official, Corrina Clement, in the letter to Townsend.

‘It’s not fair to her’: lawyer

Townsend’s lawyer, Daniel Kingwell, says she should have never been put in a position by the government where as no status. Townsend does still hold Jamaican citizenship. 

“You go from being firmly entrenched in Canada and being a Canadian citizen to being at the opposite extreme of having even less status than someone who just entered Pearson yesterday as a visitor,” he said. 

He said the government should have a better method to handle clerical errors. 

“Granting her citizenship should be an immediate priority,” he said. “We are hopeful that it will be resolved, but it’s not fair to her to make her wait even a day long.” 

CBC Toronto reached out to the IRCC but has not yet received a response. The department previously said it couldn’t comment on individual cases.

Now that she’s lost status, Townsend is concerned she could lose her job as she technically can’t work in Canada until her citizenship is reinstated. She also has an elderly father-in-law in the U.S. that she can now not visit.

“It’s frustrating to think that I have to apply for citizenship that I thought I had all this time,” she said. 

“The humanity is really removed from this whole process.”

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