Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Yes, no, no

Some quick thoughts this morning, prompted by a quick glance or two at The Globe and Mail...

Maher Arar has endorsed the report on the events leading to his deportation to Syria for torture, and recommending more oversight for the RCMP who, to the nation's shame, were instrumental in getting him there. "We live in a great country," said Arar. Truly, can there be any finer words, or a greater reward, than to know that your country hasn't just swept an inconvenient truth under the rug, but has acted on it, admitted its error, and put changes in the works? Can anything make you feel better about home than to know that human beings really do matter, and that the country has stood by its principles and stood by the people?


The Ontario Muncipal Board has approved the expansion of a private school in the Annex. Some of the local residents are upset. Apparently, the school caters to some 400 boys and they don't like the buses and traffic in "their" neighbourhood. This, despite the fact that Royal St. George's College has existed there for over 40 years (how many of the residents of the Annex bitching about it can say that, I wonder?).

This is kind of thing that really gets on my nerves about these people. We're not talking about a rendering plant or a missile factory or something here. We're talking about a school. It seems the the late, sainted Jane Jacobs, no less, opposed the expansion and suggested that sometimes institutions grow too large for their neighbourhoods and should move out. Who gets to decide this? What if the same people decide an institution's gotten too ethnic for their liking? After all, why stop at unsightly buses? Maybe you don't like seeing people in veils or yarmukles either.

The school and the people it serves have the same right to enjoyment of property and use of the neighbourhood as anyone else. The people and the Province of Ontario — to whom the neighbourhood really belongs — have made that clear. And if you don't like it, hey, it's a free country. Move. And take your speed bumps with you.


Murray Mollard of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association complains that new laws on voter ID go too far. It seems that having to produce a government photo ID or two pieces of approved ID that establish name and residency is asking too much of a voter. Canadians move around a lot, he says. Some people don't have drivers licences. Students and the homeless might be disenfranchised.

Clearly his heart's in the right place, but my God, is this some thin gruel. Producing a driver's licence in this day and age does not exactly qualify as a hardship or a disenfranchisement; virtually anyone can get one. And for those who can't, every province (as far as I know) offers a government ID card for just such eventualities.

If you move around, you better believe you'd better get your driver's licence in order... not to mention getting right with your bank, employer, creditors, and so on. Obviously, people manage this on a daily basis. If you happen to move during the one week (out of an average of 200-250 or so) in which a federal election falls and can't manage it, you probably have more on your mind than voting anyway. Showing up with your photo ID portion of your licence and your new temporary slip would probably suffice anyway. As for the homeless, how would they wind up on the voter's roll in the first place? Where would enumerators go to find them?

I agree that some people are bound to slip between the cracks. But voting is a right, not an obligation. And allow me to be blunt: it's possible to disenfranchise yourself. Given the electoral shenanegans we've seen going on just south of the border, I'm all for tightening the bolts a little. You need more ID just to open a savings account for your nine-year-old than this legislation asks for to decide the governance of an entire nation. If that means showing up with nothing more than just about everyone always have in his or her wallet anywhere, anytime, I'm fine with that.

P.S. Notice that neither a driver's licence nor proof of residency actually establishes the elector is even a citizen, though; anyone who's been in the country six weeks could produce this "proof". Amazing that citizenship is regarded that cheaply on such a practical matter in a land currently having bowel cramps over the fact that a prospective prime minister happens to have a second citizenship, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The lie that Canada told

Canada disappoints me sometimes.

Does that sounds arrogant to you? Well, a country full of immigrants, founded upon their labour and sustained by their industry, presuming to divide the wheat from the chaff by calling for Stephane Dion to give up his French citizenship sounds arrogant to me.

A number of Canada's earliest prime ministers were not born in Canada. Several were born in the UK. At the time, there was no distinction in law between a Canadian and a Briton. But that's beside the point. We have, in our history, entrusted the stewardship of this country to people not even born here. Our Parliament, our legislatures, our city councils abound with people who have come here from elsewhere, many of whom must still possess the citizenship of the lands from which they've come, all without issue... as recently at the 1980s, John Turner was leader of the Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition, and, briefly, Prime Minister. John Turner was born in Richmond, England. But even this late in history, I don't recall anyone taking issue with this or questioning where Turner's heart might lie, not even in Quebec. I find it astounding that the same few weeks that have seen Canada embrace the Quebecois as a nation within a nation have also seen it, in virtually the same breath, throw ice water on that sentiment by shrieking with francophobia on learning Stephane Dion's mother bestowed her citizenship on her Canadian-born son.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all has to be the teapot from which this tempest flows. As I understand it, we have a conservative scribe from Alberta, Ezra Levant, to thank for saving Canada from its eventual conquest by French fifth columnists. Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suppose that Ezra Levant is Jewish. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's a guess. Can there be a nation on Earth that's been better-served by the broad acceptance of dual citizenship that's emerged in the past thirty or forty years than Israel? A land of four or five million people, cared for and aided by tens of millions abroad who feel they have a stake in the place. Is that what Ezra Levant fears? That Dion might feel for France what millions of Jews have felt for Israel? And if that would be wrong for him, isn't it therefore also wrong for them? Shouldn't they have to choose too? Because let's be honest — this is bigger than just Stephane Dion; we are, after all, hearing cries for Canada to conclude its policy of dual citizenship. But what of other lands? To the south of us, Michael Chertoff is Secretary of Homeland Defense, no less. Under Israeli law, Chertoff is an Israeli citizen. Does Ezra Levant lie awake a night, lashing in his own sweat in fear for the liberties of our American cousins, tormented by the thought that Chertoff's dual citizenship might undermine his ability to think and act in the best interests of the people of the United States? Call me jaded, but somehow, I doubt it.

And yet, it's perfectly fine for Ezra Levant to cast aspersions on Stephane Dion. And why? Because deep down, English Canada still really doesn't like, trust, or respect the French, here or abroad. Why mince words? It's just been made abundantly clear. Turner okay, Dion bad. The Quebec separatists whose jaws dropped a few weeks ago when Harper beat them at their own game must be rubbing their hands with glee that we've so quickly shown our true colours — Redcoats forever — as we treat Quebec in particular and a worldful of potential Canadian immigrant-hopefuls in general to the spectacle of millions (if the polls are to be believed) of Canadians demanding that a man who has dedicated the last ten years of his life to their service renounce his incidental but rightful citizenship in another country in order to demonstrate his loyalty to them. Yes, no less than The Toronto Star has made it plain that Stephane Dion, a French Canadian (in both senses), must abandon his birthright and heritage to assure us all that, as Prime Minister of Canada one day, he will not be unduly influenced by the President of France... because only then may we rest assured that he will comport himself as a true and loyal servant of the Queen of England.

Ladies and gentlemen... I give you the word absurd.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Recognition of Independence

Today, as it turns out, is the 75th anniversary of the passing of the Statute of Westminster (Dec. 11, 1931). This was an act of the British Parliament that recognized the "white" dominions (Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa at the time) as the peers of the United Kingdom. Effectively, this was date that Canada (et al.) took full control and responsibility for its own foreign policy, laws, and government. No longer could or would London legislate in any manner that applied to us (without our consent), nor could it any longer nullify our laws, or send us to war, or interfere or intercede in our negotiations with other lands. Not strictly analogous to the US Declaration of Independence, it might better be described as the Recognition of Independence. For each dominion, the price was the blood shed on battlefields of the Empire in the First World War, and demand afterward that that should mean something.

The day will pass in Canada without observation or recognition. I don't know if that will be the case elsewhere in the "white" Commonwealth, but I suspect as much. It's a real shame the low-key embarrassment felt in modern Commonwealth countries about our imperial past should rob us of an opportunity to feel pride in a very key moment in our development as independent nations on the world stage, particularly when that final acknowledgement came at such a cost to a whole generation.