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.

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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.