After spending his childhood, teens and early adulthood in Canada, a man who lived for nearly three decades in Ontario has been told he’s not Canadian enough for citizenship.
An immigration judge has told Jonathan Kuiper and his family that he doesn’t meet the necessary criteria for citizenship.
Kuiper, 33, is just like any other Ontarian who grew up within a few hours of Toronto.
Despite being born in the Netherlands there’s no Dutch accent. His clothing is the standard fare for 20-to-30-somethings and he’s up to speed on local happenings.
In 1983, Kuiper’s family moved from the Netherlands to the town of Aylmer, Ont., near London when he was just 14 months old. He grew up on a farm, played hockey as a kid, and fondly remembers high school, including singing ‘O Canada.’
Kuiper went to Toronto’s York University and helped found a small coffee chain in the city.
“My entire life I’ve always identified (and) understood myself to be Canadian,” says Kuiper over Skype from his apartment overseas.
A few years ago Kuiper moved back to the Netherlands to get his master’s degree. He returned to Canada, then left for work –- first to Norway for a job he says couldn’t be found here, then back to the Netherlands.
But being back where he was born has left him shut out of the country where he lived for over 27 years.
Kuiper finally applied for Canadian citizenship in 2013 while living in Europe. He says it had slipped his mind in previous years, but that he was motivated by a desire to vote in the 2015 federal election.
When the lengthy process was completed last February, Kuiper was shocked by the decision. He was denied citizenship and told he wasn’t Canadian enough to become a Canadian.
“I was short in my application about 597 days and the case law he cited was that I had not ‘been Canadianized.'”
The judge in Kuiper’s case cited a section of the Citizenship Act which at the time required that someone spend three out of four years in Canada prior to applying for citizenship. It now requires applicants to have spent four out of the last six years here, criteria he still wouldn’t have met.
Kuiper says he understands the need for the rule, but feels the spirit of it was lost in the way it was followed to the letter in his case.
“I had actually asked my lawyer once ‘how often have you seen this?’ And she said, ‘you know, I’ve never heard of this before in fact.'”
Back in Canada, Kuiper is the lone member of the immediate family missing at a gathering at his brother Alex’s home in the Hamilton neighbourhood of Ancaster. Cookies and coffee are laid out and the young kids crawl all over their grandparents in between dancing around and pushing toy trucks.
“I believe that it will be okay,” says Kuiper’s mother Anneka Janssens with a confident smile.
“Yoani belongs here. This is his country,” she said, using the family’s nickname for him.
As the conversation with family moves on, it becomes clear just how important it is to Kuiper’s family that he be able to come home.
“His nieces and nephew love him, his brothers love him, his mom misses him dearly,” says his brother Alex Kuiper.
But more the greatest concern is for their 69-year-old father.
“My father is in somewhat ill health. And I know that weighs heavy on Yoani’s mind too,” says Alex.
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Family members have been able to fly to Amsterdam to see Kuiper when they can, but come September that’s the only option they will have to see him face to face.
While waiting on word back on his application for citizenship, Kuiper’s permanent resident card expired. He’s appealing that, but the process can take as long as two years and he won’t be allowed to return to Canada in the meantime.
Kuiper has written to federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister John McCallum “begging him to re-instate my landed immigrant status and to approve of my Canadian citizenship application.”
Reforms made to the Canadian Citizenship Act two years ago allow the minister to personally grant citizenship on a “discretionary and case-by-case basis,” but ministry staff won’t say whether Kuiper’s case would apply, citing privacy laws.
It was Kuiper who took the initiative to get his own story out there — partially a call for help, and partially a warning to other long-time Canadian residents without citizenship.
“I think (it) begs some serious questions about what the Citizenship Act actually assesses when they’re assessing who is a Canadian and who is not.”