Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius


Faux Canadians

It is somewhat startling to see the Canadian government --- the Conservative government, if I may correct myself --- grumble about having to evacuate 8,000 Canadian citizens from Beruit at a cost of $85 million. (If you happen to be wondering, that works out to almost $11,000 per refugee. Didn't they consult with Ryanair? Perhaps they could have bought a cruise liner?)

Now instead of our good government patting itself on the back on a job well done for having taken innocent Canadians out of harm's way (or, perhaps more pointedly, sending the bill directly to Jerusalem for having forced that particularly useless war) it is now wringing its hands about how the majority of the 8,000 rescued "Canadian citizens" holding two passports have since returned to Lebanon.

Not missing a beat, the Canadian press has spiked newspapers with tear jerking (or chest thumping) phrases like "citizens of convienience," "divided loyalties," and "accidental citizens." Word has it that there are nearly four million of these semi-Canadians in the wild, not counting those Canadian-born fence sitters who have applied for a second (or more) passport abroad, who are using and abusing Canada and its good will.

From one angle, it seems like a rational reaction by cost conscious citizens spotting fiscal waste. People were abusing the government purse overseas and, ergo, the best answer is to redefine what it means to be Canadian. To be a bearer of that skinny blue passport, one has to pay the price, beyond the exorbitant $87 fee: real Canadians, the argument goes, live in the Great White North, have wet dreams about the Queen, and, above all, contribute to the system through taxes. From another angle, all this reeks of repackaged xenophobia. Could the clich├ęs and stereotypes supposedly buried a generation ago be re-emerging? Does "Canadian passport holders abroad" really mean "new Canadians" (and not retirees in Orlando)? Are "immigrants with passports," really a different shade of Canadian as one's sister-in-law who has Irish grandparents and a EU passport? Worse still, are "second generation immigrants" really different from their neighbours whose parents came from Holland in the sixties?

The drivel on restricting the rights of Canadians living abroad comes (one might hazard to assume) from small time, greasy followers of Stockwell Day who you wanted to bitch slap in Poli Sci 101 (clones of this type can be found here, here, and here). It is enough to make one think that Canada is beginning to act more like the conservative reincarnates of Switzerland or Austria than, well, like Canada.

What's worse, for those of us more internationally minded, all of this seems to have been rehearsed somewhere before. Globalization, the breakdown of borders and frontiers, and multiple identities were repeated so often during the flighty '90s that even I considered speaking up against it (out of boredom, I admit, but alas, my nemisis, Naomi Klein, beat me to it). While globalization does seems so 1990s, fear and terror are the call words of a brave new decade. To its credit, Canada was still the same country on September 12th, 2001 and endured nothing less than four years of holding Homeland Security hyperbole at bay. But it is not difficult to imagine in the current political clime how issues of "security" will be tacked onto the evacuation of 8,000 refugees from Lebanon and more reason to take a sledgehammer to the foundations of Canadian citizenship law.

So as a true believer of (most) things liberal and, therefore, an adherent to the idea that borders and finite nationalities are a dumb idea, blindly following the sheep on the idea of "Canadian or nothin"' seems like a particularily bad idea. But just what does citizenship mean? Part of it is about a kindred feeling for the place where you are from, kind of like a marriage certificate from the patria. But another part of it is about acknowledging a truth that people are raised in one part of the world, work in another and, perhaps, if they are lucky, retire in southern lattitudes. Assuming that the 50,000 Canadian living in Lebanon were, indeed, Lebanese-Canadians holding both passports, these people aquired the right to be Canadian legitimately through jus sanguinis (through a parent), jus soli (being born on Canadian soil) or through naturalization. In other words, all of these Canadians gained their citizenship through long-honoured traditions and customs.

Falling back on the common creed of the '90s, where multiculturalism was a badge of honour summing up what Canada was about, there is indeed much is to made for the case that more can be gained from mixed loyalties than single loyalties. A few months ago, on a plane from Milan to Toronto, I found myself cramped into the cheapseats of an Alitalia Airbus that had connected with a flight from Tehran. Not unlike travelling in European train compartments, it was inevitable that some sort of conversation would arise. Beside me was an academic, teaching biology in Ontario, in front of me was a contractor who lived in Toronto and worked in Iran. I was frankly amazed at the cross section of of Canadians on that plane and their ties with a country half a world away. Diaspora thus takes on a whole new meaning of those that come to Canada and those that leave as hybrid, hyphenated Canadians.

On a practical level, is the government naive enough to believe that if it forced people to choose one passport over another it would resolve its invented problem? For many countries, like Lebanon, emigrants and returnees are a lifeblood, economically and demographically. In other words, they will do everything in their power to facilitate their that citizens can have two nationalities. More importantly, if people are forced to choose, they would choose to be Canadian and still live abroad, asking for the goodwill of the Canadian government when need be. What the Ministry of Foreign Affairs likely knows (but is afraid to say) is that the same situation that arose in Lebanon would have existed, with dual citizenship or without.

All of this leads me to believe that something else is amok. Perhaps, after settling into their new digs in Ottawa, the Conservatives, to paraphrase Cindy Lauper, are letting their true colours shine on through. Perhaps to the enlightened Members of Parliament from beyond the Ontario-Manitoba frontier, the concept of humanitarian relief strikes a hollow chord. Or was it that the refugees did not look Canadian enough? Did some look too Arab for some Conservative members' tastes?

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Blogger Gary said...

Very interesting blog and good post.

I really hope some of our newly powerful theo-cons starting letting their tongues slip soon. I'd love to hear what they really think about welfare moms, immigrants from colourfully-skinned places, Bill Graham's male partner etc.

Apparently there are about 70 born-agains in the Harper canoe. He's keeping them at the paddles and with their heads down so far.

If I wasn't a follower of Dawkins line of thinking, I'd almost pray for it!

Tuesday, 26 September, 2006  
Blogger David said...

As ever, a great post. Thank you for sharing.

Tuesday, 26 September, 2006  

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