Canadian Mennonites face threat to citizenship

By staff writers
January 25, 2007

Hundreds of Mennonites living in Canada may face losing their Canadian citizenship on account of the non-recognition of church marriages in Latin America, where some 7,000 of their ancestors moved in the 1920s, reports UPI and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Some traditional Mennonites, members of one of the historic peace churches in North America, went to Mexico and Paraguay looking for a place to live without what they saw as state interference with their communal way of life. But they have been slowly moving back to Canada ever since.

However, many of them were married by the church at the time, and Mexico does not recognize these church marriages as being legal.

Accordingly, their children are considered to have been born out of wedlock, and neither they nor their grandchildren or great-grandchildren are eligible to be Canadian citizens as the law currently stands.

Last year (2006), Anna Fehr, aged 20, the grandchild of one of these couples, who moved from Mexico back to Manitoba with her family over ten years ago, received a letter from the Canadian government, saying that she is not a Canadian citizen.

Bill Janzen, director of the Ottawa office of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), an inter-Mennonite relief and development agency, says that the situation has become confusing.

He explained: "It comes as a major surprise when someone born in the 1960s received [his or her] Canadian citizenship. They then had children in 1980s, grandchildren in 2005, and all of a sudden it's discovered the person born in the 1960s was not born in wedlock."

Janzen added: “The government usually does not deport [people in this situation], it looks for a way of getting them reinstated. But it's a cumbersome, and sometimes expensive and very inconvenient process."

MCC has asked the federal government for a general amnesty in hundreds of cases like this across Canada.

The Canadian minister of citizenship and immigration, Diane Finley, said Ottawa is trying to "right the wrongs of the past and do the reasonable thing."

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