First she was Canadian. Then she wasn’t. Now she is again
“You don’t really give your national identity too much thought until you don’t have one. The fireworks on this Canada Day are going to be for me,” says Bertha Funk.
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Growing up in Surrey, B.C. and Winnipeg, Bertha Funk has always celebrated Canada Day with picnics in local parks, fireworks and festivities with family and friends.
The holiday will take on a new meaning for the 37-year-old Squamish, B.C.-woman this year, when she will be sworn in as a “new” Canadian at a ceremony at Canada Place in Vancouver, nine years after she was unknowingly stripped of her citizenship.
“It is going to be the most special Canada Day for me, not one that I’m going to forget,” 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.
“You don’t really give your national identity too much thought until you don’t have one. The fireworks on this Canada Day are going to be for me. The entire country is going to be celebrating with me.”
Until last year Funk did not know that Canada changed its Citizenship Act in 1977, requiring those born outside the country to a foreign-born Canadian parent to reapply for citizenship before their 28th birthday if they were born between Feb. 15, 1977 and April 16, 1981, the date the law was repealed.
Funk, now 37, only found out about this requirement — and her statelessness — when she called the Immigration Department to inquire about a replacement citizenship card she’d applied for when she misplaced the original months before.
At the advice of immigration officials, she applied 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. But there was no guarantee it would be granted.
In early June, while on a ride to Whistler with an out-of-town friend, Funk received a call from Ali Salam, Immigration Minister Ahmad Hussen’s chief of staff, informing her the request was approved and she would be contacted by immigration officials with details of her citizenship ceremony.
“I felt like I could breathe again. It’s a huge relief. It’s been a really long, hard year. I literally started crying. I kept saying to my friend, ‘Did that just happen?’” recalled a still emotional Funk.
For days, Funk said she anxiously waited for the notification from the Immigration Department, which finally arrived two weeks ago in an email.
Funk has already bought a floral summer dress and invited her husband Matt, friends, family, supporters and other “lost Canadians” to her citizenship ceremony.
“This is a really big day for me. My rights, privileges and freedom as a Canadian are going to be restored on that day. I will be recognized as a Canadian again. It’s a big deal,” she said.
“I’m definitely going to cherish my Canadian citizenship more. I won’t take my Canadian citizenship for granted, for sure. There will be plenty of crying on Canada Day for me. I finally belong to my home country again.”
For other lost Canadians, many may not even know they have lost their citizenship. Funk said the discretionary application process is not ideal for those in her situation.
“The grant alleviates a lot of stress for me, but it is still not a fix to the issue. People are still falling through the cracks,” said Funk. “I have had a lot of sleepless nights. We need to do away as many cracks as we can to solve the problem.”