GTA family calls for investigation after passport office denied Palestine as birthplace

A Canadian woman who was mistakenly told she couldn’t list Palestine as her birth country on her Canadian passport, has received an apology from Passport Canada. Faiza Amin speaks with her family about their calls for the government to investigate.

Staff members from Immigration Minister Marc Miller’s office have privately apologized to a 90-year-old woman after staff mistakenly told her she was not allowed to have Palestine listed as her country of birth on her Canadian passport, that’s according to her family.

The family, who is based in the GTA, spoke with CityNews but asked to not have their last names published due to safety reasons.

“For her, it’s been traumatizing from start to finish. It’s been a systemic failure within Passport Canada that resulted in multiple Passport Canada agents denying her rights to have Palestine be written on her passport,” the woman’s granddaughter, Blair, explained.

Blair said her grandmother Marie visited a Kitchener passport office to submit her renewal application at the end of January. The agent reviewed her application and even confirmed her country’s birthplace as Palestine before it was submitted with no issues.

Three weeks later, Marie received a voicemail advising her she could not list Palestine as her birth country. In an audio recording provided by Blair to CityNews, an individual who identified themselves as calling on behalf of Passport Services Canada, advised Marie that the new passport being issued to her, per policy, will read “no country of birth.”

The following two days, Marie spoke with Passport Canada agents, and advised them she had Palestine previously listed on her previous Canadian passports. Blair provided three of Marie’s previous Canadian passports to CityNews, each one listed her birthplace as El Bassa, Palestine.

Marie advised the agents that her renewal application contained the same information as her previous passport that was set to expire, despite this, the family said her requests to list Palestine on her passport was still denied by several agents. In one case, Bassel, Marie’s son, said she was told she could put Israel instead.

“Agent after agent failed to give proper instructions and proper directions, and just denied her existence,” Bassel said. “Turning 90 years old, surviving the Nakba and now being told you’re no longer Palestinian, you’re now Israeli or of no country, was completely void of any sort of human compassion or understanding of any of these agents.”

That’s when Blair took to TikTok and posted two back-to-back videos detailing her grandmother’s experiences getting her passport renewed. “In Canada, you’re not allowed to be from Palestine anymore, they’re erasing the Palestinian identity,” Blair explained.

The videos garnered over six million views, and even got the attention of Canada’s Immigration Minister.

Miller took to X, formerly Twitter, to “correct recent claims” on social media regarding the selection of Palestine as the country of birth on the Canadian passport.

“There have been no recent changes to the country list available in the Canadian passport application form,” Miller wrote.

He also added that any applicant born before May 14, 1948, can list Palestine as their country of birth.

Blair called the tweet “irresponsible and disingenuous.”

Despite Marie, who was born in 1934, meeting those requirements and following government protocols, her family said, the government’s own policies were not upheld.

“It may be the standing policy, but clearly no one is following that policy,” Bassel said. “There needs to be some real reviews of the staffing and the education there, or this policy needs to be reviewed.”

One day after the Minister’s tweet, Blair told CityNews that staff from Miller’s office called her grandmother and apologized for the mistake in providing incorrect information.

Marie explained to the agents that the experience was traumatizing. She was told that although staff are trained, more information and education will be provided internally.

“She said it’s like they’re trying to erase us, as if we’ve never existed,” Blair said. “To be watching the genocide of her people, the Palestinians, on her TV day in and day out and then be confronted by Government of Canada officials telling her that Palestine doesn’t exist essentially, it is a form of cultural genocide.”

During that call, Blair said an agent advised Marie that she would be getting a new passport that would include Palestine as her birth country.

“It was only because of the international community forcing them to change it, that they quietly and secretly fixed it behind the scenes and called her to apologize,” Blair said.

Government’s response as family calls for an investigation

CityNews asked Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) if employees followed proper protocol when instructing Marie that she could not put Palestine as her birth country on her passport.

A spokesperson provided a statement, with the same information Minister Miller mentioned in his social media post and offered no response as to how the matter was handled.

“Due to privacy legislation, we cannot comment on individual cases,” spokesperson Matthew Krupovich wrote. “The Government of Canada regularly communicates guidelines and procedures to staff to maintain consistency and appropriate application across our offices.”

The family is asking for a public apology, an investigation into how Marie’s case was handled, and for a review into current policies and training. When asked if there would be an investigation, IRCC told CityNews due to privacy legislation, the government cannot comment further.

“There’s a lack of sensitivity with government employees and officials that just have no concept of the impact of their words with, especially, these marginalized communities and especially in these times,” Bassel said.

CityNews asked IRCC if there are any other cases where Canadians were told they couldn’t add Palestine to their passport, but the spokesperson did not provide a response to that question.

Blair says this is the first time Marie, who has lived in Canada for over 50 years, was denied listing Palestine as her birthplace. But she said she believes that this issue isn’t a unique problem to just her grandmother.

“She’s heard of some of her friends having the same issues and you can see in my TikTok post, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people who have had the same issue. So, it’s not sufficient that Minister Marc Miller denies that this ever happened and then quietly fixes my grandmother’s passport behind the scenes.”

Marie and her husband immigrated to Canada in 1971, settling in Oakville after initially moving to Scarborough. Before they met in Lebanon, both were forced to flee Palestine during the Nakba, which translates to “catastrophe” in Arabic.

In 1947, the United Nations put forward a plan that would partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. According to the UN, the Arab world rejected the plan arguing it violated the UN Charter. The State of Israel was proclaimed independent one year later.

The UN notes that violence broke out, with attacks launched against Palestinian villages, which forced thousands to flee. It’s estimated that the Arab-Israeli War forced the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians.

Marie and her family fled to neighbouring countries, including to Lebanon, where she met her husband. The two also lived in Baghdad, Libya, Malta, and Ireland. Bassel said he and his four siblings were born in different countries, detailing the struggles his parents faced in establishing a new life for the family.

“As refugees, no country wanted them, they were living on United Nations passports,” said Bassel. “How is it to be a person of no country for so many years and have no country want you, that’s a tough question to answer.”

Bassel said that Canada welcomed the family in.

On March 18, he wants the federal government to invite his mother to Parliament as the NDP’s motion that, among other things, calls for an immediate ceasefire and release of all hostages, is set to be debated.

“Support the motion on March 18 and invite my mother,” Bassel said. “Give her a personal apology and let her watch the vote.”

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