Do a Google search on the phrase “We went up Vimy Ridge as Albertans and Nova Scotians. We came down as Canadians” and there are 9,500 hits returned. The comment is attributed to an anonymous veteran, but it is a strong sentiment, forever associated with being Canadian.
The battle of Vimy Ridge was fought on Easter Monday, April 9th, 1917. It was part of the Battle of Arras, and it was the first time that all four Canadian Divisions fought together during the war. The objective of the Canadians was to capture the high ground, or escarpment, at the northwest end of the battle area. The area, known as Vimy Ridge, had been held by the Germans since October, 1914. The French had tried to take the ridge in May 1915. The British, in 1916 held the ground, and tried to disrupt the Germans using mining operations, but made no serious attempts to attack the German positions. The Canadians took over the area in October 1916.
In January, 1917, the commander of the 1st Canadian Division attended, along with two other officers, a series of lectures hosted by the French, describing their experiences at Verdun. Currie, who later went on to command the Canadian Corps, came back with the belief that by using artillery more effectively, and by training the men using scale mockups of the battlefield they could take Vimy Ridge. On April 9, 1917 they did exactly that.
Vimy Ridge was the first major victory by the allies during the Great War. The men that fought knew that it was a great accomplishment, and it bonded them as “Canadians”. Many people will refer to Vimy Ridge as the defining moment in Canadian history; when Canada first came together as a nation. The victory was applauded in newspapers around the world. The commander of the Canadian Corps, Sir Julian Byng, received a promotion as a result, and later became the Governor-General of Canada, a very popular appointment at the time. Byng’s replacement as commander of the Canadian Corps was Arthur Currie, becoming the first Canadian to ever command a Canadian army. The impact that the Canadians had at Vimy, and through the rest of 1917 and 1918 hastened the end of the war, led to Prime Minister Borden having a seat at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and had a direct impact on the Statute of Westminster in 1931. The cost was 3,598 men killed, 7,000 wounded at Vimy.
But that isn’t what I want to write about.
What I do want to write about was an article by Don Chapman in the Vancouver Observer. It was published on April 9, 2012; the 95th anniversary of the start of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
Chapman is very misleading in his article. He uses Vimy Ridge as a headline to engage the reader, but his story has no direct ties to Vimy Ridge, or the Great War, or even soldiers who fought in the war. It appears that the timing was opportune, and Mr. Chapman took advantage of it. In many ways, this reminds me of sensationalist reporting.
Jackie Scott was born in England, out of wedlock to a Canadian soldier and a British woman who later became his wife. This was during the Second World War. Her father was a Canadian soldier, who fought for his country. There is no dispute that he was a Canadian citizen. What is morally reprehensible is that she was denied Canadian citizenship, despite having been born to a Canadian, living most of her life in Canada. She worked in Ontario, paid taxes and voted in elections. But she isn’t considered a Canadian because laws that covered children born out of wedlock stated that the child would be the legal product of the mother, with no rights to her father’s identity. When her mother married her father, the mother was granted Canadian citizenship, but that did not apply to children. Bill C-37 was passed in 2009 to correct this, but was made retroactive only to 1947, several years after Ms. Scott was born. This article does a great job of explaining the issue.
Mr. Chapman brings up the point that in the letter that Ms. Scott received from Citizenship and Immigration (CIC), it is stated that her father was a British subject, not a Canadian citizen because Canadian citizenship did not exist prior to 1947. He then extrapolates this to say that all the soldiers that died at Vimy Ridge were not Canadian. Until I read the article closely, that is the impression that I came away with.
Looking at the facts; Canadians, before 1947, were indeed British subjects. This has little to do with citizenship. That was the “benefit” we enjoyed as a Dominion in the British Commonwealth. So the men that went up Vimy Ridge were British subjects. In the immigration act of 1910, it stated that Canadian citizenship was granted to any British subject who was born in, or had domiciled in Canada for 3 years. In 1914, the Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement to 5 years. By the end of the Great War, there would have been few men or women who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force who would not be considered Canadian. The person who wrote the letter to Ms. Scott should have understood the distinction between Citizen and Subject. Mistakes do happen, though, such as someone understating the casualties at Vimy Ridge by saying that there were 3,598 casualties, when in fact there were over 10,500. War casualties, and also by the standard definition, always include dead and wounded.
The statement concerning citizenship should not have been made, but it, like any reference to those that served their country (native or adopted) is not germane to the issue. Obviously using statements for their shock value works (Rush Limbaugh makes millions doing this) but it is blatantly wrong to imply a government position on the citizenship of soldiers from either World War based on this.
What is at issue is the fact that some laws, through the years, have been based on 19th century premises. At that time, women had no rights. Obviously, this is not acceptable in today’s world and this should be rectified. I am quite unhappy that we feel that we need to use the anniversary of Vimy Ridge as a forum for human rights. Bill C-37 was supposed to deal with this, but was retroactive to 1947 only, so there are exceptions, some 250 according to “Reclaiming citizenship for Canadians — a Report on the loss of Canadian citizenship”. These were supposed to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
What I find most troubling, although admittedly I do not know all of the facts in this case, is that Ms. Scott is one of those 250, and has been denied citizenship because of circumstances that are not acceptable in today’s world. The case should be considered with the Canadian Bill of Rights in mind, and with the laws that are in place today. If a government agency is indeed making a decision based on women being considered chattel per pre-1947 law, then Canadians should react with moral outrage.
I’m sure that the intent of Mr. Chapman’s article was to raise awareness of the plight of Ms. Scott. And I would believe that he has been successful in this (else, why would I have written this post).
So, Mr. Chapman, I would come back to the words from that anonymous hero : “We went up Vimy Ridge as Albertans and Nova Scotians. We came down as Canadians”. From a moral perspective, and from a legal perspective, I don’t know of anyone who would dispute that. I’m reasonably certain that even Mr. Harper would concur. I’m not prepared to allow your interpretation of a single sentence by a single bureaucrat to denigrate the work done by Government agencies (Veteran's Affairs, Libraries and Archives Canada to name two) who help us preserve the memories of our Canadian military.
On the subject of Ms. Scott; this is just plain wrong. This needs to be rectified. This is a human rights issue, and this is what needs to be raised with the Harper Government.