Two hundred years after his ancestors fled here from Virginia out of loyalty to King George III, Canadian lawmaker John Godfrey would like his family lands back, thank you very much, which he says in his case include a mansion called Carter’s Grove near Williamsburg and 790 acres of land.
And following a trail blazed by U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., in their defense of Cubans whose property was lost to Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, Godfrey wants to use the full weight of Canada’s courts and federal bureaucracy to make it happen.
In a parody of the Helms-Burton law that uses U.S. courts to sanction anyone who benefits from property expropriated when Castro came to power, Godfrey’s “American Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act” would mobilize the Canadian government against companies or individuals “trafficking” in land seized during the American Revolution.
Visas would be revoked, permits denied and penalties imposed on the Canadian holdings of businesses or individuals who own property such as Carter’s Grove (attention: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).
That could include a big chunk of the eastern seaboard, Godfrey said, since as many as 100,000 people skipped north to what would become Canada rather than defy the Crown. He estimated that perhaps 3 million Canadians today are descendants of Loyalists from Britain’s American colonies. Like those who fled Cuba in the wake of Castro’s revolution, their families simply had political differences with those who stayed on to fight.
Applying Helms-Burton’s logic to the situation, he said, Canada’s course is obvious.
“There is interest in reclaiming some land south of here,” Godfrey said. “There had been American citizens with a different point of view, and they were chased out of town.”
Despite provisions in the 1783 Treaty of Paris promising reparations to families that remained loyal during the Revolution, “not one claim was paid. … We had to leave. Like all the Cuban Americans, we had to get out. We are the contras of our time.”
Godfrey, whose mother is descended from Carter Burwell, was joined at a news conference by fellow Liberal Party member Peter Milliken, who hopes to reclaim land in New York’s Mohawk Valley. They spoke before a backdrop of cannon and red-coated soldiers at Fort York, built in 1793 as a defense against the United States and ready, Godfrey said, to be put back into service if necessary.
The two lawmakers are only half joking. The idea has little future when Parliament convenes this fall, and Godfrey’s claim is tenuous nonetheless: According to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Carter’s Grove remained in the Burwell family until it was sold in the 1800s.
Their intent is more to demonstrate what Canadians view as the absurdity of the Helms-Burton legislation, which swiftly passed Congress after Cuba downed two small planes flown by Florida-based exiles in February. President Clinton signed the bill into law but has delayed enforcement of some of its provisions.
Condemned by Canada, Mexico and the European Union, the Helms-Burton Act allows U.S. courts to punish companies for their business activities in Cuba - an idea particularly nettlesome to the Canadians, who still have trading ties with the island. Indeed, it was a Canadian mining firm, Sherritt International Corp., whose executives were first put on a State Department blacklist of individuals who can be denied entry to the United States because their company holds expropriated property in Cuba.