A New Country, an Old Country

Photo with our Citizenship Certificates
2 Brand New Cana­di­ans

You will always remem­ber this day.” said Judge Anne-Marie Kaines. A tall and impres­sive fig­ure of author­i­ty, she talked about the tra­di­tion that Cana­di­ans have of vol­un­teerism, of sac­ri­fice and car­ing for oth­ers, whether we know them or they are strangers. She invoked Ter­ry Fox, whose stat­ue was only a few hun­dred meters away from us in the plaza in front of the entrance to BC Place. “You can’t just expect to ‘plug-in’ to health care and pen­sions and all the oth­er ben­e­fits of Cana­di­an life. That’s sim­ply unsus­tain­able.” Besides pay­ing our tax­es, she made it clear that we need­ed to find some­thing, some cause or char­i­ty to con­tribute to.

In the 7 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed that char­i­ty, such as the almost dai­ly occur­rence of a Walk for Hunger or Walk for Breast Can­cer Sur­vivors or Hos­pi­tal Lot­tery or Telethon, is front and cen­tre in Cana­da. It is telling that per­haps the most uni­ver­sal­ly admired fig­ure in recent Cana­di­an his­to­ry is a boy who died while attempt­ing to tra­verse the coun­try on 1 foot, hav­ing lost his oth­er to the dis­ease he was essen­tial­ly doing fund-rais­ing to cure. Fox, as the Judge also not­ed, had a tremen­dous world­wide impact, and we should look upon his feat as some­thing that any of us should aspire to as well.

I’m glad that in Cana­da, char­i­ty is not the large­ly the province of Reli­gion, as it often is in the US. Yes­ter­day, Ann Rom­ney, when asked why her hus­band Mitt refused to release more than 2 years tax returns as part of the polit­i­cal cam­paign, said “…we’ve giv­en all our peo­ple need to know and under­stand about our finan­cial sit­u­a­tion and about how — you know, how we live our life.” and added that he eager­ly gave 10% of his income to ‘The Church’ as proof that he was a good per­son. Actu­al­ly, for me, that would be proof that he’s mere­ly a church­go­er (which means noth­ing moral­ly and may even be a strike against him, in my opin­ion), and pos­si­bly a homo­phobe, giv­en the Mor­mon Church’s recent activ­i­ties (they fund­ed the sup­port­ers of the noto­ri­ous Cal­i­for­nia Propo­si­tion 8 that took away the rights of gay peo­ple to mar­ry).

I also think that sec­u­lar char­i­ty is also relat­ed to a side of what I’ve often noticed in the Cana­da vs. US dif­fer­ences (which become hard­er to find, the longer I live here): Cana­di­ans are more apt to see them­selves as part of a com­mu­ni­ty than those in the US. We see the bleed­ing over the bor­der of the worst of Amer­i­can ‘cow­boy’ cul­ture (and firearms) and are, with due cause, con­cerned.

A few days before the shoot­ings last night in Auro­ra, CO, there had been a mas­sacre involv­ing gun-play in Toron­to. Our news cov­er­ing that inci­dent was main­ly a seri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about how we could have antic­i­pat­ed such a tragedy or bet­ter yet, stopped it from hap­pen­ing in the first place. Giv­ing teens a rea­son to inte­grate into the com­mu­ni­ty was about the clos­est one could get to a con­sen­sus. Near­ly every com­men­ta­tor ridiculed Toronto’s May­or, Rob Ford, who idi­ot­i­cal­ly insist­ed that stricter penal­ties on gun vio­lence are the answer (since it’s obvi­ous that teenage gang-mem­bers are dri­ven by log­ic and long-range think­ing and would cer­tain­ly change their behav­iour if they knew that if they got caught, tried and con­vict­ed, it would get put them in jail for a longer sen­tence. Yes, that was sar­casm, Mr. May­or.)

The fact that Toron­to­ni­ans (and Cana­di­ans) have done a lot of soul-search­ing and con­sid­er the shoot­ings in that city to be a crime against us all and against our mul­ti­cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ty, stands in stark con­trast to US spokes­peo­ple and politi­cians (with the notable excep­tion of New York City May­or Michael Bloomberg) resort­ing to emp­ty words about prayers for the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies (Again, the knee-jerk reac­tion of Amer­i­cans to invoke reli­gion galls me). In the cov­er­age of the Auro­ra shoot­ings, I can’t help but see how dif­fer­ent the reac­tion of these two coun­tries are to these some­what sim­i­lar tragedies. It’s worth not­ing, how­ev­er, that even with the tox­ic influx of ille­gal firearms from our south­ern bor­der, there were  200 peo­ple killed by guns in all of Cana­da this past year, where in the US that num­ber is 9,484. (If it were the same ratio to the pop­u­la­tion, the US total would then be clos­er to 2,000.)

I’m deter­mined, now that I’m a vot­ing Cana­di­an, to vote for a can­di­date who is pro gun con­trol, since such a dec­la­ra­tion here is not polit­i­cal sui­cide. I’ll also sup­port any­one who shares that Cana­di­an acknowl­edge­ment of ‘The Com­mon Good’, which is not only what ini­tial­ly attract­ed me to this coun­try, but was called out as a nation­al char­ac­ter­is­tic in my Oath of Cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­mo­ny two days ago.

Canadian Citizenship

Maple Leaf If there was ever some­thing that was going to get me updat­ing this blog again, it would have to be some­thing like this. In less from 24 hours from now, Pam and I will be Cana­di­an cit­i­zens.

We have been request­ed to appear at about 8AM tomor­row morn­ing at the Immi­gra­tion offices in Yale­town where I took the test for cit­i­zen­ship about 2 months ago (I guess this means I passed.) The instruc­tions includ­ed what we need­ed to bring in with us (all pre­vi­ous doc­u­ments used in the cit­i­zen­ship appli­ca­tion we made, any  pass­ports — can­celled or not, our card that shows we are per­ma­nent res­i­dents and a few oth­er doc­u­ments. Option­al­ly, we  can bring a ‘holy book’ of our choos­ing. Not plan­ning on doing that. We can also choose whether we swear or affirm our cit­i­zen­ship. I don’t believe that there is a legal dif­fer­ence as to which one choos­es, but I sup­pose ‘swear­ing’ alle­giance to the Queen of Eng­land is some­thing that some (par­tic­u­lar­ly Amer­i­cans) are not as keen to do as affirm­ing. I haven’t decid­ed whether I’ll be a swear­er or an affirmer, but I’m lean­ing toward affir­ma­tion, all the same. Swear­ing just sounds too reli­gious for my taste. I’ll see if I can post some pho­tos of the cer­e­mo­ny (one of Pam’s friends is com­ing to be a wit­ness, of which I’m glad and thank­ful).

Thoughts that come to mind about this upcom­ing event: relief that our sta­tus will final­ly be set­tled once and for all. There’ll be no more wor­ries about renew­ing Res­i­den­cy Sta­tus doc­u­ments. I also feel excit­ed that I’ll be able to vote, both in the local and fed­er­al elec­tions. In fact, I’m think­ing that I may vol­un­teer some time work­ing on a cam­paign again, which is some­thing I did before we left the US. I guess, you can take the boy out of the Coun­try, but you can’t take Pol­i­tics out of the boy.

Final­ly, I have a sense of clo­sure and a lit­tle pride, that the past 7 years (last week, on the 14th,  it was 7 years to the day that we arrived here with noth­ing but the our lap­tops on our backs) have meant some­thing, and that I’ll now be able, with­out equiv­o­ca­tion, to call myself a Cana­di­an. Ever since the 2000 US elec­tion, I’ve felt embar­rassed and even ashamed to call myself an Amer­i­can, a label that I didn’t achieve, but was born into. To be a born white and Amer­i­can in the last or cur­rent cen­tu­ry, is to be priv­i­leged. Not hav­ing cho­sen or even worked for that priv­i­lege, I’ve late­ly felt more than a lit­tle uncom­fort­able with hav­ing it. Whether it’s White Man’s Guilt or Blame-Amer­i­ca-First or what­ev­er the peo­ple on Fox and Friends call it, I nev­er want to have to cringe again when I see some­one in a for­eign coun­try act like a jerk and just keep my head down, hop­ing that they don’t hold it against the rest of us as well. Nope,  just us Cana­di­ans at this table.

I also like Cana­da, if not Mr. Harper’s Cana­da (and I’ll work hard to help us return to the Cana­da we could be, not his greedy and envi­ron­men­tal­ly malfeasant petro-theoc­ra­cy with noth­ing but mon­ey and pow­er on his mind). I like the Cana­da of Lester Pear­son, Pierre Trudeau, Ter­ry Fox,  Glenn Gould, Frank Gehry, William Shat­ner, Moshe Safdie, Guy Lal­ib­erté,  Nathan Fil­lion, Kiefer (and Don­ald) Suther­land, Dou­glas Cou­p­land, Mar­shall McLuhan, Stephen Pinker, David Suzu­ki, John Kric­falusi, John Byrne, Cory Doc­torow and Mar­garet Atwood…yes, that’s a coun­try I want to be con­sid­ered a cit­i­zen of, even if I wasn’t born there.

Final­ly, I think it is bet­ter to choose one’s coun­try rather than sim­ply wear it, like a red, white and blue birth­mark. Many in my fam­i­ly were immi­grants who became cit­i­zens of a coun­try they weren’t born in,  and now, I’m one as well. Tomor­row, I’ll have the papers to prove it.