DAWSON CITY, Yukon — The video showing Donovan McGlaughlin’s Canadian citizenship ceremony in Dawson City, Yukon, is just two minutes and 11 seconds long but the elaborate script was decades in the making.
Accompanied by his three children, common-law wife and best friend, McGlaughlin affirmed allegiance on Thursday to the country that has refused to recognize him for most of his 61 years.
A decision by his anarchist First Nation father and Caucasian mother not to register his birth out of fear he’d end up in a residential school started a life-long bureaucratic tussle.
With no birth certificate, he couldn’t get identification, a legitimate job or even medical care.
But a team effort of citizen advocates, a pro bono lawyer, friends and family members, brought together by media attention, altered his plight.
Finally a Canadian, McGlaughlin said he can apply for a Social Insurance Number, health-care card, driver’s licence, marriage certificate, then travel to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to see the spirit bear and California’s redwood forests — a dream of one of his sons.
“All my life, yeah, dogs have had more rights,” said McGlaughlin. “They (governments) enact more laws pertaining to dogs and cats than they do to help stateless people. I’ve always said I should just go buy a dog tag and wear it around my neck, and there. There’s my ID. I’m Fido.”
McGlaughlin doesn’t know where or when he was born, only that it was between Rosebud, S.D., and where his maternal grandparents lived in Guelph, Ont., around Jan. 19, 1954, the day he celebrates as his birthday.
Fearing the government, his parents home schooled him and moved around Canada, he said, adding he broke loose when he was 15 and worked “migrant jobs” on farms.
About 30 years ago, he hitchhiked to the Yukon, where he has lived ever since, supporting himself by hunting and fishing on aboriginal land.
The first in a series of heart attacks struck in 2010 and because he had no health-care card his medical bills rose to about $130,000, he said.
Michelle Quigg, a lawyer with the Access Pro Bono Society of British Columbia, which helps people of limited means, said she began to help out after reading a news story about McGlaughlin in which he mused about declaring refugee status.
She helped him apply for citizenship, citing a “special and unusual hardship.”
“The … hardship in Donovan’s case is that he has no documents, which is very unusual,” said Quigg. “I mean most of us have birth certificates and all kinds of official documentation that Donovan didn’t have.”
Quigg said she also argued McGlaughlin’s health is poor, his children could lose their father, and if he was a foreign national, his common-law wife would have been able to sponsor him.
She learned the application was successful May 5.
“It’s really nice that we had a good result in this case,” she said.
Don Chapman, the founder of Lost Canadians, a group that identifies gaps in citizenship laws, said McGlaughlin shouldn’t have had to experience the ordeal and he may not be alone.
“Apparently, this is a problem in the First Nations community in Canada,” he said. “Donovan was just the one who put his head up above the sand.”
Kevin Menard, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, didn’t respond directly to McGlaughlin case, but said in an email the Conservative government has righted the historical wrong that created so-called Lost Canadians.
“We are proud to have strengthened the value of Canadian citizenship, and proud to have awarded it to a record number of people in 2014.”
McGlaughlin said he planned to celebrate his citizenship with friends and family, barbecuing salmon, steaks, ribs and moose meat, and enjoy some 12-year-old rum.
He has also vowed to help others.
“My name is among the names of citizens of this great country,” he said. “I plan not to waste that gift.”