Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Who's Canadian enough, take three

I'd like to start this post with some kudos for Stephen Harper and his government. No, really, I mean it. Despite the incredibly daunting task of removing 8700 some-odd Canadian citizens from Lebanon over the last couple of weeks, they came through. There were some snags (some would say a lot of snags) but despite repeated protests of "undeservingness" from the likes of Garth Turner and various right-wing talk show hosts, our government went to great lengths to make sure every Canadian who wanted to be removed from Lebanon was brought to Canada at the government's expense. It wasn't just the right thing to do; it was the only thing to do, given current Canadian policy on these matters. As I said in my last post on this subject, current policy doesn’t state that if you fail to take advantage of the right to live in Canada, you don't have the right to be evacuated from a war zone along with the Canadians who are just visiting. And as I'm sure most of us will agree, the middle of a humanitarian crisis is hardly the time to change a long-held policy.

Now that the immediate crisis has abated somewhat, though, Harper's government is thinking about reconsidering the rights that go along with Canadian citizenship. They're not, it should be said, thinking about dividing Canadians along the lines of immigrant citizens and non-immigrant citizens; they're saying that any Canadians, whether they were born in Canada or not, should have Canadian residency if they want to be evacuated from war zones at Canada's expense. On the face of things, this seems like a perfectly reasonable change--it favours those who have really "made a commitment to the country" over those who've "put other allegiances first." Nonetheless, I'd strongly encourage the government not to give in to the pressure to rethink the current policy. And in order to explain why I feel that way, I'd like to describe my own journey toward becoming a Canadian. This is important, I think, because there seems to be a popular notion that an immigrant's journey is simply "too damn easy," and many of the people making assertions about that don't have much first-hand knowledge of what goes into making a new Canadian.

It was 1993 when I first decided that I wanted to emigrate to Canada. I'd known for a while that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in the U.S., but it took a trip to Ottawa during the momentous federal election that occurred that year for me to stop looking across the ocean and start looking north. Unfortunately, I was a graduate student at the time, preparing for an academic career in a very narrow field in which there are usually no more than two or three jobs
world-wide in any given year. And while I really did want to come to Canada, I knew that realistically I had to go where the jobs were. To make a long story somewhat shorter, I happened to be ready to go on the job market during a year where one of the two available tenure-track jobs was in Edmonton, and I was fortunate enough to get it. Because the process of attaining permanent residency is so long and complicated, though, I initially came to Canada in 1997 on a temporary work permit. This permit allowed me to work here, but threw up a number of obstacles in my path at the same time. My U.S. credit history wasn't recognized, for example, so I couldn't buy a house or even qualify for a credit card. To get a bank account, I had to get a letter from the chair of my department detailing my salary and the fact that he intended to keep me on. I was required to get a Canadian driver's license, but because I wasn't a permanent resident, it had to be renewed yearly rather than every five years. And finally, I also needed to renew my work permit each year.

Because of these bureaucratic tangles, I was especially eager to apply for permanent residency. I spent a few months getting the extensive paperwork together and finally sent in my application that fall. I was a bit nervous, though, because of Canada's rigorous points system. To obtain permanent residency, immigrants have to qualify as skilled workers, which means coming up with at least 67 points awarded for factors such as educational background, work experience in fields Canada needs workers in, age (young people are drastically favoured), ability in one or both of Canada’s official languages, et cetera. In my case, I had a Ph.D., a tenure-track academic job in Canada, I was twenty-seven years old, I spoke English natively and some French as well--and yet I still only barely made it over the top because I was straight out of graduate school and had no real experience in my chosen field. Definitely a bit nervewracking.

In addition to my worries over the points, I also had to be concerned about money. The non-refundable application fee is $550 for each of the principal applicant and any accompanying family member over the age of 22, and once the application is processed, they require an additional $490 from each immigrant in the form of a "right of permanent residence fee." There are also hidden worries in terms of qualifying for residency medically (you’re out of luck if you have any serious or costly medical conditions), the list of the names and addresses of every organization you’ve ever been a member of that you have to make and let the government comb through, and being fingerprinted by the police in every country you’ve ever lived in and allowing all of those governments to do a lengthy background check. For me the whole process took only a little over a year, but due to stricter requirements that were put in place a few years ago, it can now take up to three or four years. And I was also very lucky in that my employer helped me out both financially and in terms of moral support. When I think about the many people who go through all that without the benefit of a secure job, and usually with much fewer financial resources, much less of an education, and much poorer language skills, I can't help but be impressed with their tenacity.

After receiving permanent residency, I was required to wait three additional years before I could apply for citizenship. Because I travel quite a bit for work, however, and because every day spent outside of Canada counted against my residency requirement, I had to wait much longer. I not only had to submit to yet another lengthy background check, I also had to justify every single trip I'd ever taken outside of Canada, with a detailed assessment of the specific dates I'd been gone and my reasons for being out of the country. I finally had all my paperwork ducks in a row a few years later, and sent in my application (along with yet another application fee). After about six months, though, my application was returned because there had been some errors in my residency calculation and I was being asked to correct them and resubmit the application from the beginning. I did so, and another few months after that, I was finally sent the study guide for the citizenship exam in the mail.

Next came the studying. Despite my clear advantages both linguistically and in terms of educational background, there was still an awful lot in that guide that I didn't know, and I did have to spend quite a bit of time preparing. All together, it had been just shy of two years before I was informed that they were ready for me to take the test. (I lucked out here, too, by the way--if you're not a native speaker of one of Canada's two official languages, you get called in during this time for an interview, during which you have to prove sufficient proficiency in one of those languages. This can prolong the process.) I detailed that experience in an old post, but to sum up: I passed the exam, waited another month or so, and finally received Canadian citizenship in September of last year.

At this point, I think it would be difficult to say that I haven't proven my loyalty to Canada. I've paid my dues (literally and figuratively), and I've jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops they required of me. I've held a full-time job in Canada for nine years, paying Canadian taxes all the while. I've participated avidly in Canadian society (I hold a position in my political party of choice, and I've worked on five campaigns, four of which were before I was allowed to vote), and I shout from the rooftops to anyone who will listen about how thrilled I am to be living in a country I can respect. I even swore a loyalty oath to Queen and country. But the fact is, I still have an academic career to think about--one in which we all have to go where the jobs are. And if one of the top U.S. universities in my field made me an offer I couldn't refuse, I'd have to give it a lot of thought. I'd rather stay in Canada, of course, but depending on the offer, it would be an awfully hard decision.

Let's imagine, then, that I did get offered my dream job somewhere in an American "blue state" I could bear living in, and I reluctantly went back to the U.S. to pursue my career aspirations. And let's imagine that a few years after I had done this, the U.S. became a terrible war zone in which cities were being bombed daily and the countryside was plagued with a lack of edible food and potable water. Under those circumstances, I'd absolutely want to chuck my career out the window and come back and rebuild what was left of my life in Canada. And I ask you, would the few years I'd spent back in my country of birth really negate the huge commitments I've made to Canada by this point? Enough that you'd want to tell me that I didn't quite count as Canadian enough for the country I spent all those years in to spend taxpayer money to save my life? Honestly? People say that dual citizens should appeal to their other country of citizenship to bail them out, but in such a dire situation the U.S. would be facing bigger problems than how to get me to Canada. And for anyone who wants to claim that my situation is different--that not every dual citizen has the extenuating circumstances I've described--I can only say this: you're right, it is different. The difference, though, is that I have a ready-made audience and the ability to tell my personal story to get my point across, while the Canadian citizens that got bailed out of Lebanon are nameless, faceless masses that people can project any generalizations they want onto.

No matter what people say, the facts remain: coming to Canada as an immigrant isn't at all easy, and attaining Canadian citizenship on top of that isn't exactly a cakewalk, either. In fact, just being an immigrant here can be difficult as well--you have to cope with cultural expectations that are different from what you're used to, and with practical problems like recognition of your foreign credentials and starting from zero on your credit rating. The people who go through all that don't do it because they're masochists with too much time on their hands; they do it because they care enough about this place to devote the necessary money, time and energy to earning the right to stay. And if for whatever reason some of them eventually decide that some other part of the world needs them more, that decision doesn't make them any less Canadian than those who stick around.

22 comments:

Beanie Baby said...

Wow. Twelve years? Did I read that right? congrats for sticking it out.

I'd heard some folks in the office speculating along the lines you discuss--that Canadians living in Lebanon don't "deserve" to be rescued--and I'm glad to have read such a coherent defense. Now I can do more than roll my eyes and walk away.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

BB,

A little over eight years when I got citizenship, actually, and just about nine now. And yeah, I've been known to say that the very best thing about Canadian citizenship (well, next to the right to vote) is the knowledge that the whole bureaucratic nightmare is finally behind me.

By the way, you bear some responsibility for this post--our discussion about the different ways of writing the political made me think: "well, why couldn't I write that post as a personal narrative? So thanks for that.

dietcoupon said...

As somebody just beginning the lovely heartwarming process of Canadian immigration, it's nice to see that not only am I not alone, but that eventually everything will be okay.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

dietcoupon,

Not only will everything be okay, but it really is worth it. Trust me!

Olaf said...

IP,

That's an interesting stor. However, could you really consider this as more than merely anecdotal (and hypothetical) evidence? Sure, that was your experience (along with an unlikely future experience); but I'm sure for others it was easier, or harder.

Your commitment to Canada and the particularities of your situation, while convincing in themselves, do not exactly refute the benefit of a policy change, let alone a debate on just these issues (which I'm sure you're not suggesting). I found reading this peice interesting but not exactly enlightening on the broader policy debate.

Do you think your experience can be universalized? Perhaps I'm missing something.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

oliphantb,

The indication of what I think about how universal my experience is can be found in the second-to-last paragraph, specifically the part where I talk about what makes my situation "different." You're right; some probably had an easier time of it than I did, though I'd guess that most have a much harder time (I had an awful lot of advantages that others don't have). But the fact is, the steps to becoming a Canadian citizen are enshrined in explicit policy statements, and nobody goes through all that crap of their own free will who just feels like becoming a "Canadian of convenience". And when (for example) a Lebanese-Canadian goes back to Lebanon to bring some of the benefits of Canadian life to his country of origin, all the years of commitments he's had to make to Canada along the way don't suddenly disappear into the ether.

Werner Patels said...

I had just written a similar post before chancing upon your post. Good post.

Here's mine:

http://www.wernerpatels.com/musings/2006/07/different_class.html

Radical said...

Thanks for posting that. My firsthand experience with the immigration system came thru sponsoring my husband (he's British). Spousal is far more "easy" than skilled worker, but it was far from a piece of cake. He will be eligible to apply for citizenship next year, and we're both looking forward to that.

Beanie Baby said...

:) Yes, well, I am inspirational. (j/k)

Adrian MacNair said...

Again, I would like to reiterate my stance that Americans should recieve favouritism in consideration for immigration and citizenship in Canada. That you had to go through the same process as someone born in a completely different world of values, religion, and language, is to me, ridiculous.

Pyesetz the Dog said...

Adrian:

As an American just beginning the process of immigrating to Canada, I think it is quite reasonable that there is no favoritism to Yanks. One of the dangers facing Canada that it will drown in the overbearing "culture" of its Southern neighbor, and thus ultimately fail in the goal of many Canadians to "not be Americans". Canadians tell me "it's different up here" but when I ask for specifics they have a hard time thinking of any, despite all the grant money the GC spews out to those trying to catalog the differences.

Adrian MacNair said...

I don't define myself by what I am not. Therefore, I do not compare myself to Americans. I know very well what it means to be Canadian, and I have expressed such feelings many times on my blog. It is unfortunate that other Canadians seem to think we do not have a culture to speak of. What is certain is that if we continue to be ethnically and culturally diluted by the Chinese, we will not have a culture to speak of anymore.

As for American immigrants, I would give strong favouritism for their immigration for many, many reasons:

1. They already speak the language, which makes employment, education, or socialization and integration a real possibility. Almost no other nation but Americans integrate when they immigrate here.

2. Americans have a very close historical similarity, being cut from the same British cloth. We are practically related, removed by a mere few hundred years.

3. Our geopolitical views and democratic values are closely aligned, which means an easier integration into our society.

4. We share much of the same culture and media, the same kind of school system and historical readings, and similar political and judicial processes. This makes American immigration a far more attractive candidate than say, a fisherman from Viet Nam.

5. Lastly, I would say that Americans consider Canada a strong ally both in trade and in inherent worldview (neo-cons in power notwithstanding). It would be wise to allow Americans to immigate over say, an immigrant from a poor country that is likely to slowly filter in six hundred of his closest relatives.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Adrian,

The main reason why I don't think Americans should be given an easier time of it is the reason why all those things are required of us immigrants in the first place. I mean, Canada isn't doing all this so as to make our lives miserable; they're doing those things to make sure the immigrants we get are a) not criminals, and b) people who can contribute in a positive way to Canadian society. Since Americans are people, too, there's no reason why they shouldn't have to be checked out in the same ways. I hated having to do all that crap for immigration and citizenship, but I absolutely understand why it was required.

ADHR said...

IP, what do you think about permanent residents? It's at least as brutal a process as getting citizenship. (I've done the latter, and my wife has done the former.) Should permanent residents be due similar consideration as is due citizens?

Adrien, you could say exactly the same things about the British. And many French. Not to mention that individual Americans may not share the qualities that you attribute to Americans as a whole (fallacy of division), thus legitimating the process of individual evaluation.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

ADHR,

Permanent residency (the first step of the process I described in this post) is actually much harder to get than citizenship, and that's honestly as it should be. There would be no practical purpose of putting up as many hoops for citizenship as there are for permanent residency, because anyone who goes for citizenship has already been through all the permanent residency hoops.

And that's the main reason why my answer to your question is that I think the way Canada treats permanent residents is fair. For the most part they get the same rights as citizens, but there are a few exceptions such as voting and the right to live abroad that I think make total sense to reserve for citizens.

As for evacuation, while I was initially unhappy to hear that Canada's decision was not to evacuate Canadian permanent residents from Lebanon, that initial outrage was mitigated when I heard that they were willing to evacuate family members of citizens.

Jen said...

Thank you for the personal narrative, IP. Every story counts.

Adrian,

I'd just like to refute a bit what you said about the (perceived) similarities between Canadians and Americans, and the reasons why similarity makes things easier, but doesn't always make them better...

1. They already speak the language

Let's make it very clear - most Americans speak one of Canada's two official languages. And I have to take issue with your idea of 'integration'. Do you mean cultural integration? If so, then you misunderstand Canada's multiculturalist outlook.

2. Americans have a very close historical similarity, being cut from the same British cloth. We are practically related, removed by a mere few hundred years.

American history and Canadian history follow rather distinct paths, not forgetting the American Revolution, and throwing in, just for a start: Canada's bicultural (at least) past and present, America's peculiar sense of Manifest Destiny lacking in that same sense in Canada, Canada's self-definition first as a proud member of the British Empire then with our own distinct vision of our place in the world, Canada's early entry into WWI and WWII because of our ties to the Empire and subsequently our identification with our European connection, not to mention our not-only-historical aversion to unification with and cultural overtaking by the U.S., and I could go on. Adn will, if you ask me.

3. Our geopolitical views and democratic values are closely aligned, which means an easier integration into our society.

In what ways are out geopolitical views closely alligned? I would also argue that, although we both happen to be democracies, we have not only a much different perspective of what principles that democracy should enshrine, but even just completely different ways that our democracies are run. And once again, even talk of 'integration' is seen differently in Canada.

4. We share much of the same culture and media, the same kind of school system and historical readings, and similar political and judicial processes.

First of all, we share parts of the same culture and media. But Canadian media and culture, let's just take television for example, is very different, and comes at the world from different perspectives. As to the same school systems, I can't speak to that authoritatively, but I know that at least in what we teach, and likely how we teach, it is miles apart. For example, what do Americans know of the Red River Rebellion, and what do Canadians know of the Alamo? Not to mention the different points of view that reside behind each incident, and how they're taught in schools.

For a good summary of the massive differences in our political and judicial processes, I urge you to take a look at How Canadians Govern Themselves. There's a comparative section in the middle for the differences across the border.

This makes American immigration a far more attractive candidate than say, a fisherman from Viet Nam.

Even if the none of the above detailing of culture and background were true, even if all that separated Canada and the U.S. was a border, then there would still be nothing that would prefer an American over a Vietnamese, because Canada values diversity. Diversity of culture, diversity of thought. We're not perfect at working with it all yet, but then again, no one is, and we're trying our damnedest.

5. Lastly, I would say that Americans consider Canada a strong ally both in trade and in inherent worldview (neo-cons in power notwithstanding). It would be wise to allow Americans to immigate over say, an immigrant from a poor country that is likely to slowly filter in six hundred of his closest relatives.

This statement I have been chewing over and chewing over, and I just can't see the connection. Perhaps you could expand on that reasoning, because I don't see it at all.


Overall, I think that the differences between Canada and the U.S. can be summed up like this: that the U.S. world-view seems to be more black and white, whereas Canada, thankfully, sees more shades of grey.

(Sorry for the massive post!!)

Adrian MacNair said...

jen,

And I have to take issue with your idea of 'integration'. Do you mean cultural integration? If so, then you misunderstand Canada's multiculturalist outlook.

What other kind of integration is there? When an individuals or group comes to Canada, forms their own societies, their own stores, their own trade system, their own laws and rules and regulations, and use Canada only for the benefits of our free health care... what do you call them? These isolationists serve to divide us, as does the very definition of "multiculturalism".

Your second point about the diffences between Canada and the United States fail to address how my point that Americans will integrate more easily than, say, Chinese, is wrong.

In what ways are out geopolitical views closely alligned?

Like it or not, where America fails, so do we. Where they succeed, we rea the benefits. A strong American economy certainly benefits us by proxy, as we are their top trading partner. When the U.S. is bogged down in crazy wars like Iraq, we suffer by the same token, even though we are not at war with them. We are so closely tied to Americans that the very strike of 9/11 sent shockwaves through Canada as well.

And once again, even talk of 'integration' is seen differently in Canada.

You've got it right there, and Canada has it wrong. The U.S. forces, to a certain extent, a melting pot theory that immigrants comes to become Americans. Whereas in Canada we see the racist divisions of "communities" and immigrants of one nation forming strong colonies that rebuff attempts to bring them to some benefit of Canada, other than the taxes they pay.

Your fourth point, again, miss mine. I am not trying to say Canadians and Americans are the same, only that they will, unlike 99% of the rest of the world, integrate. And that's all I really care about here. I don't need the Vietnamese all clustering in their communities, living here for 30 years, and yet still unable to speak to me if we somehow, unimaginably, need to communicate.

You say that Canada "values" diversity. Does it? I think we value diversity to a certain extent, but how does "diversity" help us when Brampton becomes inundated with the same culture: sikh? How does it help when one city becomes a majority "minority"? How can it help to have the flood of Chinese we get every day in the exodus of that overpopulated nightmare? How can it help when each one of these "diverse" individuals go into their respected communities and ignore Canada? The fact is, it doesn't help until the second generation integrates. By then the lines of division have been drawn so strongly that even the second generation are still not Canadians, because they still identify with their parents isolationist attitudes.

This statement I have been chewing over and chewing over, and I just can't see the connection. Perhaps you could expand on that reasoning, because I don't see it at all.

I'm surprised. You would seem otherwise more intelligent than that. For instance: most Americans who immigrate here come from the First World mentality. They want to live in Canada either for work reasons, or because they like aspects of Canada, such as our wild natural resources, or our seasons. The immigrant from China knows only one thing: get the hell out of China. We don't need people who are running from China, looking for a place to crash. Because that person will just want to bring his immediate family, then his extended family, then his friends, his neighbours, his coworkers, the list goes on and on and on. What you get is an exodus of people all leaving China and forming isolationist colonies in Canada that serve no purpose to the average Canadian, no benefit to the average Canadian, and absolutely culturally dilute our overall sense of Canadiana. Chinese and Indians are, of course, the worst culprits at the moment, as they are in a very real way ethnically cleansing cities via immigration, to the point that the cities they invade are losing their base demographic and becoming replaced by a new "majority". The Chinese are doing the same thing in cities and countries throughout the world: just look at Tibet. I'm sure they value the Chinese "diversity".

In closing, I would rather have an immigrant from a nation that is looking for a change of scenery (Australians, Germans, Swedes) than a horde of impoverished people running for the most open border they can find (Canada).

ADHR said...

IP,

It may be a change over time, then. I became a citizen a good dozen years ago, when permanent residency did not yet exist, so the rules may have changed.

Certainly permanent residents should be somewhat restricted, as long as they are unwilling to become citizens. However, I find it odd that you're in favour of permanent residents not being evacuated. Consider that a PR must remain in Canada for a certain proportion of the year, or else lose their PR status. Then, a PR could be vacationing during the window they have in which to leave the country (or, indeed, could be briefly working in their home country), and become stranded, unable to leave, and consequently lose their PR status.

In short, I don't quite see why we would make such a stark difference between the levels of status, given that there is already a distinction between the two -- i.e., PRs cannot vote, serve in public office, or serve in the military. Why are PRs abroad not deserving of the same protection as citizens abroad?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

ADHR,

I'm not quite sure how you translated "my initial outrage was mitigated when I heard that they were willing to evacuate family members of citizens" to "I am in favour of permanent residents not being evacuated."

You asked "what about permanent residents," and I offered up the opinions I had about permanent residents that I thought might be relevant to my post. Please don't put words into my mouth that I didn't say.

Jen said...

Adrian,

I would like to suggest for, an interesting theory on multiculturalism, Bhikhu Parekh's Rethinking Multiculturalism: cultural diversity and political theory (Harvard, 2000), though I think it might just be wasted on you. Hopefully some others commenting here will find it a good and useful read.

Phugebrins said...

Adrian, if you think about it, US citizens do get 'favouritism' on the grounds you mention. The English exam should be a doddle, and the culture part of the citizenship tests accounts for the culture similarities.

Put another way, why should someone from the US who knows nothing about Canada and has lived with their head firmly in the sand be the 'favourite' over a Lebanese person who has spent most of their life with expat Canadians, surrounded by Canadian culture and has had as much contact with Canada as you can possibly get without actually living there?

Lone Primate said...

I entirely agree with you. I've been amazed over the past year or so to discover just what exactly is entailed in moving to Canada; it's utterly daunting. I have new respect for anyone who's done it. For a bunch of people who had to do nothing more than draw their first breath on Canadian soil to cast aspersions on the authenticity of the citizenship of those who've come here, and then gone elsewhere for whatever reason, is galling. I oppose the institution of a de facto two-tiered citizenship for this country.