Showing posts with label citizenship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label citizenship. Show all posts


u.s. iraq war resisters are still in canada. call on justin trudeau to let them stay.

Remember the war resisters I used to blog about all the time? It may surprise you to learn that many are still in Canada. And are still fighting to stay.

For these men and women, it's as if the recent change of government never happened. Of course I realize that a handful of people from the US are not Justin Trudeau's top priority. Still, they are people of peace and conscience. They make Canada a better country. Accepting them makes Canada a better country. Their cause is just, and the help they need can be so easily provided.

* * * *

Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has made a decent start at reversing some of the immense damage wrought by Stephen Harper's Conservatives over the past decade. While the Liberals certainly will not rewind everything that needs undoing, Trudeau has taken (or announced he will take) some good first steps.

A November 2015 editorial in the Toronto Star noted three examples:
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould rang down the curtain ... on the Harper government’s unwarranted and unlawful attempt to prevent devout Muslim women from wearing face-coverings such as the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.

The Federal Court of Appeal rightly found the Muslim-phobic ban to be illegal, a violation of the Citizenship Act, which allows for the greatest possible religious freedom in administering the oath of citizenship. But the Tories, undeterred, decided to ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal on the case. Wisely, Wilson-Raybould has now withdrawn that request.

The Liberal government has also asked the Federal Court to suspend proceedings in cases involving stripping people of citizenship, as Ottawa consults on a new policy.
In January 2016, CBC reported on some other issues that are in progress:
Among the measures expected to be dealt with through new legislation:
- Repealing the Conservatives' Bill C-24, which allows the government to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens who are convicted of terrorism-related offences.

- Repealing two other Conservative laws that the Liberals argue weaken the rights of trade unions. They are Bill C-377, which requires unions to disclose how they spend members' dues, as well as Bill C-525, which makes it harder for unions to organize in federally-regulated workplaces.

- Introducing parliamentary oversight for Canada's national security agencies, though the commitment to repeal parts of the previous government's anti-terrorism law, Bill C-51, is expected to come later.
Trudeau has said he will withdraw Canada's CF-18 fighter jets by the end of March from the US-led bombing missions in Iraq and Syria.

It's not all good news. Trudeau continued Harper's policies when he stood by the Conservatives' $15 billion agreement with Saudi Arabia's brutal dictatorship, selling it military equipment. I expected no different. The West doesn't stand up to Saudi Arabia, and Canada isn't about to go it alone.

But for the war resisters, the reversal that would be extremely easy. Trudeau can and should take a quick, multi-pronged approach: rescind Operational Bulletin 202 that singles out US war resisters for deportation, cease any deportation proceedings against US war resisters, implement a provision that would allow them to apply for permanent resident status, and discontinue litigation that defends the decisions and policies of the previous government. For an extra helping of justice, the Liberal Government could allow those war resisters who were deported or forced out to apply for permanent residence status, too.

Please take a few minute to write to your MP about this important issue. You can use handy backgrounder.

It is well past time to Let Them Stay.


votepopup: voter education at the library

On the long list of anti-democratic policies the majority Harper Government has enacted, the Orwellian-named Fair Elections Act ranks near the top. More properly called a voter suppression law, the Act effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of Canadians.

The Council of Canadians has taken the issue to court, including an ongoing Charter Challenge, but those won't affect the upcoming election. That means there's only one way to lessen the effects: voter education. 

Last night at the Malton Library, we contributed to that effort, with #VotePopUp, a voter education program for new Canadians. 

Some weeks ago, I learned that one of our libraries had hosted this program, and jumped onboard. I worked with an amazing community organizer, who has a bit of funding from Samara Canada and Elections Canada, and copious amounts of know-how through the Peel Poverty Action Group and her own nonprofit, Building Up Our Communities.

I promoted the program through various community organizations in Malton, and by chance it was scheduled on the same night as a newcomer ESL class, known here as LINC: Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada. These programs have been hit hard by Conservative and Liberal budget cuts (do you see a pattern here?), but thanks to dedicated teachers and social workers, they survive.

So last night, 39 adults crowded into a room in the Malton Community Centre to talk about voting. 

Why vote? Am I eligible to vote? Where do I vote? What ID do I need? How do I mark the ballot? ... and a few dozen similar questions were answered. Many of the students have voted in their original countries and are very keen to do so in Canada. Many of their original countries make voting much easier; others, more difficult. 

The program is completely nonpartisan, of course. By another excellent coincidence, there is an all-candidates meeting in Malton tonight, the night following the program. We were able to distribute flyers and explain what would happen at that meeting.

The presenter had prepared a mock ballot, and students chose the issue most important to them: jobs, transit, education, healthcare, and so on. Jobs won by a landslide. Using that, I was able to demonstrate how this would tie in with an all-candidates meeting: "What will your party do to bring more jobs to my community?" 

The library is the perfect place for a program like this. Our customers can use free, public computers to register to vote or look up their polling station. They can ask experts for free (and friendly!) help. They can use their library cards as a piece of voting ID. The public library is all about democracy and levelling the grossly unfair playing field. Voter education is naturally a piece of that picture.


the harper government's vision of canada, in our passports and in our wallets

Some years ago, I analyzed the "Discover Canada", the most recent guide for immigrants studying for the Canadian citizenship exam. I compared the booklet to the previous citizenship guide, "A Look At Canada", and found within its pages the Harper Government's vision of Canada.

Later, we learned that the citizenship exam itself uses a significantly higher reading level than past exams, and functions as a barrier for many newcomers who wish to become citizens: "jason kenney gets his wish: the anglicising of canadian citizenship".

More recently, columnist Heather Mallick analyzed the new Canadian passport. Unsurprisingly, she found the Harper Government's fingerprints all over it. Mallick:
Canada is increasingly becoming unrecognizable to me. I don’t mean this just in an abstract sense, when I read about shameful things like Ottawa trying to avoid taking in refugees who have been tortured, because they require extra medical care. Foreigners who wake up weeping, with bone chips floating around their spinal cords, I hear you, Stephen Harper, these people are costly.

No, I mean Canada is literally foreign. Alert reader Martin Foster had emailed me about the details of our new passport, and I hadn’t believed him. But he is right.

The passport, good for 10 years and packed with security features so novel they’ll be useless by 2015, is now being mailed out. But which nation issued it? It is a distant country of which I know little. It is Harperlandia.

The passport contains 22 visual watermarks portraying the essence, the uniqueness of Harperlandia. There are, by my count, 98 images of males, six of females. There are various landscapes, from the north, the Prairies and Newfoundland, plus Niagara Falls. There are football players and hockey players, a warship, three war memorials, the RCMP and a soldier. But there is no image of Toronto or Vancouver and no aboriginal Canadian. Apparently only one Canadian verging on our lifetime (Terry Fox) has ever distinguished himself.

According to the government, we are white guys, rural, warlike and sporty, but not literate. Our landscapes are bleak, our buildings drab, our statuary undistinguished. These are not propellant images. In most, we are either stationary or plodding.
Many Canadians will never see the citizenship guide, and many do not have a passport, or may not look closely at the one they have. But almost every Canadian will have the opportunity - in fact, daily opportunities - to see the new look of Canada, each time they take out their wallet.

When I first moved to Canada, I loved the difference between Canada's currency and the US's. Not only is Canadian currency large and colourful in the European tradition, but it wasn't adorned with the stoic images of dead male leaders. Imagine, money that boasted of aboriginal artwork, and children playing hockey and skating on a frozen pond! I thought it was wonderfully Canadian. So doesn't it figure that the new polymer bank notes issued by the Bank of Canada feature a monument to none other than Vimy Ridge, the bloodbath we are told transformed the British North American colonies into Canada. (Much more on that subject coming soon.)

Apparently the Bank of Canada considered more modern symbols of Canada - and found broad public support for them - then rejected them.
The Bank of Canada considered celebrating gay marriages, black hockey players, and turban-wearing RCMP officers on its new plastic bank notes — but eventually nixed them all in favour of the more traditional images of a train, a ship and a monument.

Internal documents show that focus groups and a Bank of Canada team reviewed a series of currency images intended in part to reflect the diversity of Canada’s population, particularly the country’s varied ethnic character.

Images that were considered included a Chinese dragon parade, the swearing in of a new citizen, Toronto’s annual Caribbean festival, children of different ethnic backgrounds playing hockey or building a snowman, and a person in a wheelchair playing basketball.

The image catalogue was drawn up in 2008 by The Strategic Counsel, a market research firm hired for $476,000 to help the Bank decide how to illustrate its new series of polymer $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. The first note, the $100, began circulating in November 2011.

Drawing on focus-group discussions and workshops with Canadians in six cities, the consultant found strong support for themes of “diversity, inclusiveness, acceptance of others/multiculturalism.” Eventually, 41 image ideas covering several themes were tested and given scores.

Among the highest-rated images were those of children of different ethnic backgrounds building a snowman; faces of individuals from different cultures celebrating Canada Day; an image of a hand of many colours; and children of different ethnic backgrounds playing hockey. These selections were then presented by the Bank of Canada team to officials at Finance Canada for further vetting.

Many images proposed at the start of the process did not make the cut. Rejected were illustrations of a gay marriage, an RCMP officer wearing a turban, and “hockey with a twist … with a black player.”

The reasons for early rejection are not clear in the heavily censored documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The images that were finally approved for the reverses of the five new bills — the last two denominations, the $5 and $10, are being released later this year — lack reference to Canada’s diversity of ethnicity, culture and colour.
In a future post, I will look at the rewriting of Canadian history that lies at the heart of Canadian Conservative project, as I write about at two books on that subject: What We Talk About When We Talk About War by Noah Richler and Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift.

For now, please enjoy this lighter take on the new citizenship guide by the good folks at This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Thanks to Dharma Seeker for the video and to Rachel A for the Mallick piece.


immigration lawyers to jason kenney: your attempt to intimidate us is "reprehensible" and "we will not succumb"

This story is a bit dated, but many people may have missed it.

You may recall that a few months back, Conrad Black, a convicted felon who renounced his Canadian citizenship, received a temporary resident permit from the CIC. This allowed Black to enter and live in Canada despite his prison record; indeed, the permit was arranged while Black was still scrubbing toilets in a Florida pen.

Many people were appalled by this spectacle of double standard and hypocrisy. After all, Kenney deports US war resisters - who face imprisonment for refusing to kill innocent people - and claims they are criminals, although they have not been tried or convicted of any crime, but he lays out a red carpet for an actual felon, convicted of criminal fraud and obstruction of justice.

What's more, we were supposed to believe that Canada's illustrious Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who opens and closes the Canadian border according to his own politics and whims, had nothing to do with this decision - that the CIC was simply following its usual procedures.

Among the incredulous was Guidy Mamann, an immigration lawyer.
Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said Ottawa is supposed to take into account whether a temporary resident permit applicant has demonstrated the ability to live outside prison without reoffending.

“How on earth do you prove that a guy has rehabilitated when he hasn’t even finished his sentence?” he said.

Mr. Mamann said he’s not saying Lord Black doesn’t deserve to be allowed back into Canada, only that if he had a client facing the same challenge, “I wouldn’t even have taken money from him.”

He said he thinks it’s unlikely the Conservative government had no role in the decision.

“The idea that the minister didn’t wink or nod in favour of this thing is impossible to imagine.”
This criticism was apparently too much for Kenney, a typically thin-skinned bully. He pursued a formal complaint against Mamann, seeking to have him investigated for a violation of the Law Society of Upper Canada's code of conduct.
“The idea that the minister didn’t wink or nod in favour of this thing is impossible to imagine,” Mr. Mamann said in comments published at the time.

Kasra Nejatian, a staffer in Mr. Kenney’s office, specifically mentioned this quote in the May, 2012 complaint he filed with the Law Society of Upper Canada, a self-governing organization for Ontario lawyers.

Mr. Nejatian charged in his letter to the law society that Mr. Mamann was quoted in media “as implying corruption or malfeasance by our office in our dealing with matters related to Conrad Black.”

The law society answered the complaint in July by saying it found insufficient evidence to warrant an investigation into Mr. Mamann. It closed the file.

A lawyer for the law society told the Kenney staffer in a reply letter, provided to The Globe by Mr. Mamann, that his allegations offered no evidence of “conduct unbecoming a barrister or solicitor.”

The Ontario governing body also said it had to ensure Mr. Mamann’s right to freedom of expression “is not overridden by what might be characterized as a minor regulatory contravention.”
Shortly thereafter, more than 80 immigration lawyers wrote this open letter to Kenney. The text was published in the Globe and Mail.
Dear Mr. Kenney:

We, the undersigned, all members of the Ontario Bar, agree with the statement of Guidy Mamann when he asserted that it was not credible that the decision taken in relation to the Conrad Black Temporary Resident Permit was made without any input from yourself. Given the high degree of control which you exercise over your department, we do not believe that you did not give your consent, either express or tacit, in relation to the request.

The use by an official of your office, of the Law Society of Upper Canada complaint process, in order to try to silence a critic for his opinion was rightly rejected by the Law Society. However, if you believe that our statement violates the Law Society of Upper Canada Rules please feel free to report us to the Law Society.

We find the attempt by you and your officials to muzzle freedom of expression to be reprehensible. We will not succumb. [See signatories here.]
"We find the attempt by you and your officials to muzzle freedom of expression to be reprehensible. We will not succumb." Words to live by, eh?


and the jason kenney award goes to... jason kenney (updated)

Have you all seen this petition? The Honourable [sic] Jason Kenney asks us to sign a petition thanking none other than Jason Kenney. Macleans found it amusing, and the National Post has the Twitter talk.

But it took Dan Murphy, cartoonist with The Province, to really do it justice. Please watch and share!

Note: To see this video, please click here. The auto-play was too annoying!

Also, my recent Kenney-related post is running at The Mark.

Also also, this cartoon at the Hamilton Spectator.

Also also also, Tabitha Southey: Cabinet minister is a thankless job – unless you’re Jason Kenney.


jason kenney gets his wish: the anglicising of canadian citizenship

new cover

In some of the best work I've ever done for this blog, I compared "Discover Canada," the Harper Government's new Citizenship Guide, to its predecessor, "A Look at Canada," which was published by several Liberal governments. The results were eye-opening. Based on my analysis of the booklets, I concluded that Stephen Harper's and Jason Kenney's vision of Canada was:
A country that: does not value peace and tolerance; measures its history by armed conflict; does not encourage its citizens to work for social justice; is not concerned with protecting the environment; reveres the monarchy; is mostly Christian; warns immigrants to tame their savage ways; and emphasizes obedience to authority.

If you haven't read that post, or have only read the shorter versions published at The Mark and Straight Goods, and at the risk of self-tooting, I recommend it. Many more subtle points were lost for space considerations - and now some of those are producing results.

"Discover Canada" does more than illuminate the Harper Government's vision of Canada. For many immigrants, it creates a barrier to citizenship - an intentional barrier, and an unnecessary one.

A cultural history test

Immigrants from North America or from Commonwealth countries have a distinct advantage: they will have more general knowledge of the history and culture that is included in the citizenship test. We absorb that background knowledge without even realizing it. For example, before moving to Canada, I had never heard of Vimy Ridge and knew very little about the War of 1812, but when I heard and read about those events in Canada, I had background context in which to place them. I could easily grasp their general shape and outline, because they're also part of the history of my country of origin. But if I were from Afghanistan or Vietnam, would I be able to answer questions about Vimy Ridge? Many immigrants are finding that they can't.

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, the numbers of applicants who fail their citizenship test is climbing, and among certain groups, it is skyrocketing.
Across the board, the failure rate jumped from less than 4 per cent in 2009 to nearly 15 per cent last year. Nearly half of the Afghan-born immigrants vying to become Canadians last year, for example, failed; that’s compared to only 21 per cent in 2009. Meanwhile, fewer than 2 per cent of immigrants born in Australia, England and the United States failed last year.

A de facto advanced language test

The citizenship guide's content has changed, but so has its structure. Another significant difference between the new "Discover Canada" and its predecessors is the new guide's more advanced reading level. A higher reading level means more complicated sentence structures, more advanced vocabulary, more implied knowledge (assumptions not overtly stated), and usually a smaller font. This change can be summed up in one word: exclusion.

Citizenship for me and thee, but not for ???? or ?ீ or b?n

Most Permanent Residents of Canada who have lived in the country long enough to be eligible for citizenship can speak, understand, and read either English or French very well. But do they understand it well enough to read a complex nonfiction book? (Does every Canadian-born Canadian read at that level?) Why should that advanced reading level be a requirement, and why should it be a barrier to citizenship? Apparently now it is.
Critics say the test functions as a de facto language test, driving many immigrant-service groups to offer citizenship classes in addition to language classes, with a heavy emphasis on grasping Canadian names and vocabulary likely to come up on the test.

The Vietnamese Association in Toronto is one of several groups that launched citizenship programs after fail rates skyrocketed. “The classes are a response to the need of the community,” said settlement worker Phuong (Patricia) Do, who runs the classes.

For people born in Vietnam, test fail rates went from 14.8 per cent in 2005 to 41.2 per cent last year. Ms. Do argues that higher language standards are the greatest barrier to getting questions right on the test and reading the guidebook sent to applicants.

“They may have family responsibility such as taking care of the children, or getting a job to share their costs of living, and do not have a chance to learn English as much as they like,” Ms. Do said, adding that many immigrants feel they can communicate in daily life but the test requires a higher proficiency.

Lien Le took the test in April in part because she feels citizenship, rather than permanent residency, will allow her to integrate into Canadian life as her two-year-old Canadian daughter grows up. Ms. Le, who worked as a biology teacher in Vietnam, has recently finished a Canadian college nursing program.

“I want to engage, be involved in society because my daughter was born here … so I want to get my citizenship as soon as possible,” said Ms. Le, who came from Ho Chi Minh City in 2007 when her husband’s application to sponsor her move to Canada was accepted.

She’s still awaiting her test results. “Even though I studied hard, I found the test really, really tough,” she said, noting many questions weren’t straightforward and required critical thinking. She said many of her friends, who work long hours at labour jobs, are unable to dedicate time to studying and face extensive language barriers.

“I have a college diploma, I have experience with writing tests with multiple-choice questions, so I know what should be the best answer,” she said. “But for those that … don’t even have a high-school diploma, how can they pass the test?”

By Order of Her Majesty

In my earlier post, I noted that "Discover Canada" contains ten times as many references to the Queen as the older "A Look at Canada," along with the three pictures of Queen Elizabeth II, the lyrics to "God Save the Queen" (why? this is not the Canadian national anthem), several references to the monarchy, and much emphasis on "the original immigrants" from England, Scotland, and France.

To place that in context, the Harper Government spent 28 million taxpayer dollars to celebrate the War of 1812, and another seven or eight million on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. By contrast, the Government snubbed the anniversary one of Canada's most shining achievements, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and is cutting the Interim Federal Health Program (with one tiny exception), which provided health care to refugees for the bargain price of 59 cents per Canadian citizen.

For further context, one could gather a laundry list of the well-documented anti-immigrant and anti-refugee statements that have emanated from Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism [sic!] Jason Kenney.

The Harper Government has only one use for brown immigrants: as props for publicity purposes. Kenney's CIC has all but halted immigration, throwing out a self-created backlog of 280,000 applications, and rewriting immigration standards to comply with supposed labour demands, although how they arrived at those demands was not disclosed to the public. The only immigration class growing under the Harper-Kenney regime is temporary workers - people with no rights and no access to permanent settlement.

Taken together, we can see that the "Discover Canada" guide is fulfilling the purpose for which it was designed: as a barrier for non-Anglo immigrants. Now that people of colour will soon constitute a majority in Canada's two largest cities, the Harper Government tries to provide an antidote to that trend.


People who chose Canada for their new home - who met all the many requirements for immigration - who have lived here for the requisite number of years - who are working, raising a family, participating in their community - and who are motivated enough to study for a citizenship exam - and who could pass an exam if it required a more basic reading level and emphasized present day Canada, rather than a narrow reading of Canada's British Commonwealth past - should be welcomed as citizens. Not excluded.


u.s. continues to target its own citizens at the border... which is 100 miles wide

This story --
A Montreal university student was detained at the U.S. border, held for several hours, interrogated, had his personal belongings searched and saw his computer confiscated for more than a week.

What caught the authorities’ attention? His doctoral research on Islamic studies, he says.

In a case that has attracted media attention in the U.S., Pascal Abidor has become embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle with the American government – and a poster child for civil-rights advocates defending the right to privacy and due process.

Mr. Abidor, a 28-year-old American and French dual citizen, was returning by train to Brooklyn in May, 2010, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent stopped him at the border in Champlain, N.Y. ...
-- reminded me of my own detention at the border, now 2-1/2 years ago, and the several "secondary inspections" and shorter detentions that followed. I ended up re-reading that post - "the gray area": in which i am detained, harassed and threatened at the border - and the discussion that followed. It brought back all my feelings from that day, especially how surreal it seemed, as if I were watching myself from a distance, which I've come to recognize as a response to fear. And yes, my fear, at least for a few moments - my hesitation at entering the interrogation room, how vulnerable and alone I felt.
The older man said, "Come with us." They led me through a door behind the waiting area and opened a door to what I can only describe as an interrogation room: a tiny, bare room, with a desk and three chairs. At this point my heart raced a bit.

This is it. This is the room you've seen and heard about. The little room. I have no ID, no phone, no anything. I'm alone. I'm powerless. I don't wish to sound overly dramatic, but it was unnerving.

I thought, I'm sure glad I'm wearing my white skin and my non-Muslim-sounding last name. I'd hate to be walking in here without those protective devices.

In addition, the only time I have ever sat alone with police in a room like that was the night I was raped. So I felt little triggers flashing in my brain, old triggers but real, and for a split-second I thought I might cry, or faint - not from the present situation, but from August, 1982. I breathed deeply, and it passed.

Most of my brain knew that everything would be fine. Another part knew that having done nothing wrong is no guarantee of anything.
The US's habit of targeting its own citizens at the border is on Glenn Greenwald's radar screen. (See original for links.)
One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

In an age of international travel — where large numbers of citizens, especially those involved in sensitive journalism and activism, frequently travel outside the country — this power renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment entirely illusory. By virtue of that amendment, if the government wants to search and seize the papers and effects of someone on U.S. soil, it must (with some exceptions) first convince a court that there is probable cause to believe that the objects to be searched relate to criminal activity and a search warrant must be obtained. But now, none of those obstacles — ones at the very heart of the design of the Constitution — hinders the U.S. government: now, they can just wait until you leave the country, and then, at will, search, seize and copy all of your electronic files on your return. That includes your emails, the websites you’ve visited, the online conversations you’ve had, the identities of those with whom you’ve communicated, your cell phone contacts, your credit card receipts, film you’ve taken, drafts of documents you’re writing, and anything else that you store electronically: which, these days, when it comes to privacy, means basically everything of worth.

This government abuse has received some recent attention in the context of WikiLeaks. Over the past couple of years, any American remotely associated with that group — or even those who have advocated on behalf of Bradley Manning — have been detained at the airport and had their laptops, cellphones and cameras seized: sometimes for months, sometimes forever. But this practice usually targets people having nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

A 2011 FOIA request from the ACLU revealed that just in the 18-month period beginning October 1, 2008, more than 6,600 people — roughly half of whom were American citizens — were subjected to electronic device searches at the border by DHS, all without a search warrant. Typifying the target of these invasive searches is Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old dual French-American citizen and an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student who was traveling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in 2011 when he was stopped at the border, questioned by DHS agents, handcuffed, taken off the train and kept in a holding cell for several hours before being released without charges; those DHS agents seized his laptop and returned it 11 days later when, the ACLU explains, “there was evidence that many of his personal files, including research, photos and chats with his girlfriend, had been searched.” That’s just one case of thousands, all without any oversight, transparency, legal checks, or any demonstration of wrongdoing.

But the case of Laura Poitras, an Oscar-and Emmy-nominated filmmaker and intrepid journalist, is perhaps the most extreme. In 2004 and 2005, Poitras spent many months in Iraq filming a documentary that, as The New York Times put it in its review, “exposed the emotional toll of occupation on Iraqis and American soldiers alike.” The film, “My Country, My Country,” focused on a Sunni physician and 2005 candidate for the Iraqi Congress as he did things like protest the imprisonment of a 9-year-old boy by the U.S. military. At the time Poitras made this film, Iraqi Sunnis formed the core of the anti-American insurgency and she spent substantial time filming and reporting on the epicenter of that resistance. Poitras’ film was released in 2006 and nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary. . . . [See original for more plus links.]
And of course, the "border", according to the US, is 161 kilometres (100 miles) wide. The ACLU points out that many USians are unaware that this happens, or else believe that it only effects potential illegal immigrants. My guess is the majority of USians still believe that their US citizenship protects them from such mistreatment - a myth that is now completely ridiculous, in light of the NDAA.
Many Americans and Washington policymakers believe that this is a problem confined to the San Diego-Tijuana border or the dusty sands of Arizona or Texas, but these powers stretch far inland across the United States.

To calculate what proportion of the U.S. population is affected by these powers, the ACLU created a map and spreadsheet showing the population and population centers that lie within 100 miles of any “external boundary” of the United States.

The population estimates were calculated by examining the most recent US census numbers for all counties within 100 miles of these borders. Using numbers from the Population Distribution Branch of the US Census Bureau, we were able to estimate both the total number and a state-by-state population breakdown. The custom map was created with help from a map expert at World Sites Atlas.

What we found is that fully TWO-THIRDS of the United States’ population lives within this Constitution-free or Constitution-lite Zone. That’s 197.4 million people who live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders.

Nine of the top 10 largest metropolitan areas as determined by the 2000 census, fall within the Constitution-free Zone. (The only exception is #9, Dallas-Fort Worth.) Some states are considered to lie completely within the zone: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The spread of border-search powers inland is part of a broad expansion of border powers with the potential to affect the lives of ordinary Americans who have never left their own country.

It coincides with the development of numerous border technologies, including watch list and database systems such as the Automated Targeting System (ATS) traveler risk assessment program, identity and tracking systems such as electronic (RFID) passports, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), and intrusive technological schemes such as the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBINet) or “virtual border fence” and unmanned aerial vehicles (aka “drone aircraft”).

This illegitimate expansion of the extraordinary powers of agents at the border is also part of a general trend we have seen over the past 8 years of an untrammeled, heedless expansion of police and national security powers without regard to the effect on innocent Americans.

This trend is also typical of the Bush Administration’s dragnet approach to law enforcement and national security. Instead of intelligent, competent, targeted efforts to stop terrorism, illegal immigration, and other crimes, what we have been seeing in area after area is an approach that turns us all into suspects. This approach seeks to sift through the entire U.S. population in the hopes of encountering the rare individual whom the authorities have a legitimate interest in.
I highly recommend the ACLU's Fact Sheet on U.S. "Constitution Free Zone". "U.S. Constitution Free Zone"... an oxymoron?

Thanks to Alex L. and S. Cheung for the stories.


jason kenney kills dream of canadian immigration for 280,000 people

Anyone who follows Canadian immigration had to see this coming, although I admit I didn't think they'd do it in one fell swoop. Just as they have done with refugee claimants, the Harper GovernmentTM created a backlog of immigration applicants... then they got rid of it.
More than 280,000 people who have been waiting years for a decision on their immigration files could be soon be chopped from the list as the federal government moves to streamline its immigration practices.

It’s a decision some immigration lawyers are calling a betrayal by the government that they say is changing the rules too late in the game.

“These people have had the rug pulled out from underneath them,” said Montreal-based lawyer David Chalk.

“The government of Canada invited people who had certain qualifications to apply, these people invested time energy and hope."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada said it’s coping with half a decade of application backlogs by focusing efforts on skilled immigrants who can immediately fill holes in the country’s labour market.

The change was proposed in the federal budget, presented by the Conservative government Thursday.

If approved, the department will close files of potential immigrants who applied under the Federal Skilled Worker Program before Feb. 27, 2008 if an immigration officer did not made a decision on their case by the end of March.

The move is expected to affect around 280,000 people, including the applicants and their dependants.
This will please the anti-immigration crowd, but it won't help Canada. For better or worse, Canada was built by immigrants, and continues to be. The only reason Canada has population growth or economic growth is because of immigrants. Imagine that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration doesn't believe that.


memo to jason kenney: that's not how multiculturalism works

Another take on Jason Kenney's bigotry, by Andrew Potter of the Ottawa Citizen.
It would be a lot easier to debate the tough cases of Canadian multiculturalism if people understood how the system actually works. That includes everyone from taxi drivers and barbers to those who spend their time trolling the comment boards of political blogs or loitering around the virtual water-coolers of social media. It includes radio and television hosts, editorialists and pundits. And it also includes the Citizenship and Immigration minister himself, Jason Kenney, who last week announced that henceforward, anyone who takes the oath of citizenship must do so unveiled and uncovered.

Announcing the new policy in Montreal, Kenney said that it is "a matter of pure principle, which lies at the heart of our identity and values with respect to openness and equality." The citizenship ceremony, he went on, "defines who we are as Canadians including our mutual responsibilities to one another and a shared commitment to values that are rooted in our history."

For conservatives, a Canadian immigration minister using words like "we" and "our" and making forceful references to "shared values" is like the scene in A Fish Called Wanda where Kevin Kline seduces Jamie Lee Curtis with his cannonball Italian: you could hear the moans of ecstasy of the right-wing pundits from Tofino to Torbay.

For the rest of us, it is another lost opportunity for our leaders to educate Canadians about how their country functions, what holds it together, and how we can think about how to reasonably accommodate newcomers. Because here's the plain truth: Canadians don't have shared values. We never have, and we never will. But that's not a problem, because the ongoing cohesion of Canadian society is not seriously threatened by deep pluralism. If it was, we would never have got past the sectarian, linguistic, and cultural divides of the 19th century.
Read it here. Thanks to pogge.


citizenship ceremonies now include islamophobia

Last week I learned citizenship ceremonies now include militarism. This week I learn they also include Islamophobia. I'm grateful I became a citizen before this hateful bullshit started.
Face veils banned for citizenship oaths

The government is placing a ban on face coverings such as niqabs for people swearing their oath of citizenship, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Monday.

The ban takes effect immediately.

As a result, Muslim women will have to remove their niqabs or any other face-covering garments, such as burkas, before they can recite the oath of citizenship to become Canadians. Citizenship judges will be directed to enforce the rules at ceremonies over which they preside.

It's a "public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly," he said, calling it "frankly, bizarre" that women were allowed to wear face veils while they swear their citizenship oaths.

Kenney said he doesn't accept that it's a religious obligation to wear the veil, explaining that when Muslim women perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required by their faith, they are required not to cover their faces.

"It's a cultural tradition, which I think reflects a certain view about women that we don't accept in Canada. We want women to be full and equal members of Canadian society and certainly when they're taking the citizenship oath, that's the right place to start," Kenney said in an interview on CBC News Network.

Complaints from citizenship court judges

A directive posted on the department's website says if candidates aren't seen taking the oath, officials are to explain that they must be seen reciting it, and that they can't become Canadian citizens without it. They can return for the next citizenship ceremony, but "the opportunity to return to take the oath at another citizenship ceremony applies only once," the directive says.

Women who choose not to remove their face coverings can remain permanent residents, Kenney told CBC's Evan Solomon, host of Power & Politics. The citizenship oath is the last step before going from permanent residency to citizenship. Permanent residents can live in Canada but can't vote or run for office.

Kenney said he's had complaints from MPs and citizenship court judges that it's hard to tell whether people with their faces covered are actually reciting the oath of citizenship, which he says is a requirement to become Canadian. Wladyslaw Lizon, a Conservative MP from Mississauga, Ont., brought it to his attention, Kenney says. [emphasis added]

. . .

"I thought it was absurd from beginning to end," said Julia Williams, the human rights and civil liberties officer for CAIR-Can.

She said Kenney's argument that Islam does not require women to wear the niqab defies their charter rights.

"In Canada we also have religious freedom which is enshrined in the charter, and so long as she is not harming someone by her actions, she should be allowed to dress as she sees fit," Williams said.

"I can't think of anything more damaging to women's equality and women's rights than removing their freedom of choice. So I think it was an easy political point to score and at the expense of a vulnerable group of women."
My response so far, sent to my MP with a copy to Jason Kenney. More will follow.
Mr. Lizon:

I am a constituent in your riding, and I was deeply disappointed to see your name linked with bigotry and intolerance. A news story about the new ban on the wearing of niqabs in citizenship ceremonies said that you suggested this change to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney.

There is no rational reason to force a woman to reveal more of herself than she is comfortable doing, or to force someone to violate religious precepts, in order to become a Canadian citizen. You may not like the niqab, Mr. Kenney may not like the niqab – I may not like the niqab. But our preferences are irrelevant. Canadians are supposed to enjoy freedom of religion and freedom of expression. A Muslim woman who wears a niqab has the same rights as a Jewish man who wears a yarmulke or a Catholic woman who wears a crucifix.

The only reason to ban the wearing of niqabs at a citizenship ceremony is bigotry. It is exactly that kind of bigotry that leads to incidents like the one that took place in the Sheridan Centre mall last summer. Mr. Kenney’s new regulation is a signal to intolerant people that such bigotry is accepted in Canada, and that Muslims in particular may be targetted for hatred.

As you well know, Canada is a multicultural country founded by immigrants. Immigrants and their descendants form the core of the Canadian population. Exclusion based on religious or cultural practices has no place in Canada – and certainly not at a citizenship ceremony.

I became a Canadian citizen in June of 2010. I’m glad this ban was not in place at the time. I would have been ashamed to participate in my own ceremony.


Laura Kaminker, etc.


the militarization of canadian life continues: citizenship ceremonies now include soldiers

I mentioned this yesterday in my post about the Canadian Peace Alliance's Peace & Prosperity not War & Austerity campaign, but it deserves special emphasis.

In April 2010, I wrote about the Conservative government's new citizenship guide. This is a booklet sent to all residents of Canada who have applied for Canadian citizenship, to help them prepare for the citizenship exam. You can read the full version here, or a more condensed version at The Mark. My conclusion:
This, in brief, is Stephen Harper's, Jason Kenney's and the Conservative Government's Canada. A country that: does not value peace and tolerance; measures its history by armed conflict; does not encourage its citizens to work for social justice; is not concerned with protecting the environment; reveres the monarchy; is mostly Christian; warns immigrants to tame their savage ways; and emphasizes obedience to authority.
Since then, the Harper Conservatives have taken another step in their attempt to reshape the image of Canada in their vision. Citizenship ceremonies are now required to include a speaker from the military, whose "sacrifices" will be acknowledged at the ceremony.
The Conservative government is strengthening the symbolic power of the military in public life by having a member of the Canadian Forces play a prominent role in citizenship ceremonies.

In an operational bulletin issued earlier this year, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration said highlighting the service of members of the armed forces is a way to underline to every new Canadian the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship.

The bulletin, which describes military service as one of the highest expressions of citizenship, states that members of the military should be seated on the main platform with the citizenship judge, that they can stand in the receiving line congratulating new citizens and that they may give a two- to three-minute speech. Where possible, the bulletin says the preference is for veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

The increased prominence of the military at these ceremonies is in keeping with other gestures made by Stephen Harper’s government. The new citizenship handbook, Discover Canada, for example, which was introduced by Minister Jason Kenney in 2009, placed much more emphasis on Canadian military history than the preceding guide.

Michael Fellman, a professor emeritus of history at Simon Fraser University, said it’s part of a gradual militarization of Canadian culture under the Conservatives.

“The Tories are in a long-range campaign to change Canadian values and make them more conservative,” Prof. Fellman said. “This is a way to show that the military is at the core of the meaning of citizenship.

“It’s an attempt to imbue new citizens with awareness of the military, and the military means a whole host of other things, sacrifice for freedom and all that stuff and it rallies people around these very chauvinistic values. It’s not the Canada I prefer to think about.”

Mr. Kenney’s office did not respond to an interview request.
I understand that many people believe that military service is an expression of patriotism. But there are many ways to express one's love or gratitude for one's new country. Why is a soldier addressing new citizens, rather than, say, a social worker? Or a peace activist - a volunteer from a local food bank - an ESL teacher?

The citizenship ceremony should be as free from politics as possible. One could argue that the concept of citizenship is itself political. Certainly the questions chosen for the citizenship exam are biased towards a particular reading of history. But those biases speak to larger questions of identity, the nation-state, and how official histories are constructed. Within that larger framework, however, becoming a Canadian citizen should be politically neutral. For the Harper government, the citizenship ceremony becomes another opportunity for indoctrination.

The inclusion of a military presence at the citizenship ceremony is also another example of the Harper government's politicization of the military, aligning the war in Afghanistan and the military in general with the Conservative party. I've heard from plenty of former Canadian reservists who do not vote Conservative and who despise this. In the US, the military is so overtly political that it took me a while to understand that this was not always the case in Canada. If Stephen Harper is on a quest to Americanize Canada, using the military as a political prop is an effective tool.

For an in-depth look the politicizing of the Canadian military, see the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' Harper, the Military, and Wedge Politics (pdf), by Steven Staples.


peace & prosperity, not war & austerity: help the canadian peace alliance fight the harper military agenda

Amid the deluge of fundraising appeals that arrive via email and paper mail this time of year, the letter from the Canadian Peace Alliance stood out for me.

Under the "Canada First Defence Strategy," Harper plans to spend $480 billion on the military, open up eight new Canadian military bases, and showcase Canada's military in all aspects of Canadian life. Remember the citizenship guide that is now rife with references to the military but omits all referenc to Canada as a peaceful nation? (Short version here.) It's only gotten worse: citizenship ceremonies are now required to include a speaker from the military, telling new Canadians that military service is the highest form of citizenship. Thank [something] that wasn't in place when Allan and I became citizens. I don't know how I would have sat quietly through that.

Harper's military agenda can't be seen in a vacuum. While spending lavishly on fighter jets and new bases, this government is telling every other ministry to tighten their belts: the next federal budget will call for $11 billion in cuts to public services. The only increase in public spending? Prisons - although most of that will be dumped on the provinces - which will necessitate even more drastic cuts in social spending.

The Canadian Peace Alliance will work to oppose this in a far-reaching campaign: Peace & Prosperity NOT War & Austerity. They'll be reaching out to community groups across a broad spectrum of concerns - labour, social justice, environment, health, faith - to organize lobbying and street actions throughout the country, opposing the war and austerity Conservative agenda.

Here's what you can do:

1. Read and sign the Declaration: Peace & Prosperity NOT War & Austerity.

2. Share the online Declaration with your network.

3. Download the Declaration, print it, and bring it to your meeting or holiday party.

4. Order postcards for your contacts to read, sign and return to the Canadian Peace Alliance.

5. Donate to the Canadian Peace Alliance.

6. Write a letter to a newspaper opposing the Harper military agenda.

7. Download and print a window sign, and hang it in your window. Increase the visibility of peace.

8. Speak out at every opportunity.


kenney's canada: paralyzed woman to lose independence if caregivers are deported

Just another story of more undeserving immigrants trying to sneak into the promised land. This one is a particularly sneaky ploy. Here's how you do it.

First, emigrate to Canada, a process that takes a minimum of two years, often twice that or longer.

Then, live in Canada long enough to become a citizen, a minimum of three years.

Then have a car accident in order to become quadriplegic. Yay, free health care! That was easy!

Next, find two family members willing to uproot their lives and start over in a foreign country in order to be serve as your full-time caregivers. Can't you just see them high-fiving? "Whoo-hoo, we're scamming the system, taking care of our quadriplegic cousin!"

I suck at this satire stuff. Al Weisel, a/k/a Jon Swift, is sorely missed.

All I can say is: Really, Jason Kenney? Really?
A Toronto woman paralyzed from the chest down is worried she will be forced back into a nursing home if immigration officials go ahead with plans to deport her cousin and his wife, who she relies on for primary care.

Hallima Idan, 47, was left paralyzed after a car accident six years ago.

A wheelchair user with limited use of her arms, Idan requires around-the-clock care to help her eat, bathe and dress.

Idan, a Canadian citizen who immigrated from Guyana in 1997, spent months in hospital after the accident then stayed in a nursing home for about a month. Idan said her nursing home care was inadequate.

"It was so awful," she told CBC News. "They don't shower you, they don't give you nothing proper to eat. Nothing. If I stayed there any longer, I might commit suicide because I can't take it."

Idan said her husband was unwilling to care for her and "abandoned" her. Other family members stepped in to look after her as best they could but could not be with her the 24 hours a day that she required.

Idan's cousin, Mohamed Arpha, and his wife, Zarine, came to Canada in 2007 and began to provide full-time care for Idan in her Toronto apartment.

The couple applied for refugee protection on humanitarian and compassionate grounds but the application was rejected and they were ordered deported.

. . . .

Judith Pilowsky, a Toronto psychologist who specializes in treating people who have suffered acute trauma, wrote a letter in support of the Arphas staying in Canada for compassionate reasons.

In her letter, Pilowsky said if the Arphas are deported, "Ms. Idan is highly susceptible to a complete psychological breakdown from which she will not recover."

Unable to afford private home care, Idan fears she will have to a return to a nursing home if the Arphas are sent back to Guyana.

"I'd rather die than go back [to a care home]," she said.
This story raises several questions, among them: why was this woman's nursing home care so sub-standard? Is that the norm in Toronto-area long-term care facilities? Almost everyone speaks of nursing homes with dread: institutionalization, lack of privacy, lack of independence. Those issues are very real. But the quality of care can still be excellent. Is the woman (understandably) exaggerating because she dreads returning to a facility, or was the care really that bad?

On the main point, why is Canada in such a rush to deport her caregivers? I have read that applications to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds - referred to as "H&Cs" - used to be granted in about half of all cases, but that now, under Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's watch, the success rate has dropped to less than 20%. (I haven't been able to locate my source for this, but I'll continue to look.) Not for nothing NDP Immigration Critic Olivia Chow calls Kenney the Minister of Censorship and Deportation.

From the government's point of view, what could be more desirable than family caregivers? Unless, of course, the government is hostile to immigration.


pulitzer-prize winning u.s. journalist comes out as undocumented immigrant

There's an excellent and eye-opening story in today's New York Times Magazine. Jose Antonio Vargas was born in the Philippines, and came to the United States at age 12. He has lived the American dream, fighting for a quality education, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, working very hard and applying his considerable talents in all the right ways. And still, to this day, he cannot obtain US citizenship, and is at risk for deportation.

Vargas shows tremendous courage. He's taken a huge risk to bring his story to light in an attempt to change the insane system. The Obama Administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years. Any one of those stories could be this one.
One August morning nearly two decades ago, my mother woke me and put me in a cab. She handed me a jacket. “Baka malamig doon” were among the few words she said. (“It might be cold there.”) When I arrived at the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino International Airport with her, my aunt and a family friend, I was introduced to a man I’d never seen. They told me he was my uncle. He held my hand as I boarded an airplane for the first time. It was 1993, and I was 12.

My mother wanted to give me a better life, so she sent me thousands of miles away to live with her parents in America — my grandfather (Lolo in Tagalog) and grandmother (Lola). After I arrived in Mountain View, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area, I entered sixth grade and quickly grew to love my new home, family and culture. I discovered a passion for language, though it was hard to learn the difference between formal English and American slang. One of my early memories is of a freckled kid in middle school asking me, “What’s up?” I replied, “The sky,” and he and a couple of other kids laughed. I won the eighth-grade spelling bee by memorizing words I couldn’t properly pronounce. (The winning word was “indefatigable.”)

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. “This is fake,” she whispered. “Don’t come back here again.”

Confused and scared, I pedaled home and confronted Lolo. I remember him sitting in the garage, cutting coupons. I dropped my bike and ran over to him, showing him the green card. “Peke ba ito?” I asked in Tagalog. (“Is this fake?”) My grandparents were naturalized American citizens — he worked as a security guard, she as a food server — and they had begun supporting my mother and me financially when I was 3, after my father’s wandering eye and inability to properly provide for us led to my parents’ separation. Lolo was a proud man, and I saw the shame on his face as he told me he purchased the card, along with other fake documents, for me. “Don’t show it to other people,” he warned.

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

Last year I read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the Dream Act, a nearly decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to legal permanent residency for young people who have been educated in this country. At the risk of deportation — the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years — they are speaking out. Their courage has inspired me.

There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.
Read it here: My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant. Many thanks to James for alerting me to this.


i have something in common with superman

Some months back, I learned I have something in common with Keith Richards: Keith wanted to be a librarian. Recently I've learned I have something in common with Superman, although the Man of Steel has gone a step farther than me.
Superman announces that he is going to give up his U.S. citizenship. Despite very literally being an alien immigrant, Superman has long been seen as a patriotic symbol of "truth, justice, and the American way," from his embrace of traditional American ideals to the iconic red and blue of his costume. What it means to stand for the "American way" is an increasingly complicated thing, however, both in the real world and in superhero comics, whose storylines have increasingly seemed to mirror current events and deal with moral and political complexities rather than simple black and white morality.

The key scene takes place in "The Incident," a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President's national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.

. . .

It doesn't seem that he's abandoning those values, however, only trying to implement them on a larger scale and divorce himself from the political complexities of nationalism. Superman also says that he believes he has been thinking "too small," that the world is "too connected" for him to limit himself with a purely national identity. As an alien born on another planet, after all, he "can't help but see the bigger picture."
I don't read comics, and I mainly know Superman as either George Reeves or Christopher Reeve. But eschewing nationalism for a broader, global perspective on justice, that I like.


gay rights back in citizenship guide. sort of.

Let it not be said that the Harper Government™ does not support equality! Why, there's an entire sentence about gay rights in the new version of the Citizenship Guide! And that's a full sentence more than when the guide was published. See?? Progress!!

(Thanks to West End Bob for alerting me to this.)


congratulations to two more new canadians!

Major congratulations are in order! Our friends and fellow expatriates "Gito and Mrtew" are now Canadian citizens! Or soon will be: they've passed their test and are scheduled to take their oath.

These guys have been through a lot to be together. Because Gito is not a US citizen, they couldn't live together in the US, since their relationship is not legally recognized. They stayed together through deportation and then the long wait of immigration. In Canada, they were able to get married, buy an adorable house in Windsor, and make their life together. Gito is now attending university.

We finally met in person for the first time a few years ago, and I'm sure we'll all see each other again. The Red Sox in Detroit are a great excuse to visit friends in Windsor. You can see Gito's amazing and unusual photography at eggfactory and Arte is Foto.

Becoming Canadian means a lot to me, and our journey from that first thought - "Maybe we should move to Canada... Could we? Should we?" - to the day we took our citizenship oath has, in many ways, defined our lives. But no matter how much Allan and I wanted to leave the US, we could have continued living in New York City. Gito and Mrtew, like our friends Tom and Emilio, didn't have that option. Tom and Emilio lived in constant fear of deportation; Gito and Mrtew were forced apart. It doesn't have to be that way. One day, it won't be. Until then, how many lives will be ruined?

Most of our old moving-to-Canada crew - a bunch of US couples who applied to emigrate to Canada within a few years of each other and found each other online - are now either Canadian citizens or soon will be. As each of us gets citizenship, we all celebrate. I feel a real bond between us all. They're like my extended family, Canadian edition.


congratulations from one new canadian to another

Nick, the very first person to find wmtc and ask me about moving to Canada, becomes a Canadian citizen today.

Nick's last appearance on wmtc was his It Gets Better video.

Congratulations, Nick! Canada is very lucky to have you.


harper government's new citizenship test proves one more barrier to immigrants

Remember the Harper Government's new Citizenship Guide? It's working.
Massive failure rates follow new, tougher Canadian citizenship tests

Failure rates for immigrants writing citizenship tests have soared since the spring, when tougher questions and revamped rules made it harder for newcomers to become Canadian.

The new test, introduced March 15, was based on a bulked-up citizenship guide released a year ago to give immigrants a richer picture of Canada’s history, culture, law and politics.

The 63-page guide, Discover Canada, replaced a slimmer volume dating from 1995 that had fewer facts to memorize. The failure rate for the old citizenship test, with questions drawn from the smaller guide, ranged between four and eight per cent.

Failure rates for the new test, however, rocketed to about 30 per cent when it was first introduced — prompting officials to revise the rules to avoid clogging the system with thousands of would-be Canadians who, because they had flunked, often had to plead their cases before busy citizenship judges.

A reworked test introduced Oct. 14 is helping to cut the national failure rate to about 20 per cent, still far higher than historic levels and making the exam-hall experience much more nerve-wracking for newcomers.

People who are Canadian by accident of birth are required to do nothing but obey the law and pay taxes. Those who choose to become Canadian - people who uproot their lives and families, spend many thousands of dollars, often forced to start their educations and careers completely over, all for the privilege of living in Canada - are made to jump through hoops meant prove knowledge and loyalty.

Yet Canada cannot survive without immigrants. The country's non-immigrant population growth is less than zero. And once people are here, it should be as easy as possible to become citizens. Don't we want to encourage immigrants to have a full stake in the country? To put down roots, to build a future, to vote?

The idiots commenting on the news stories about this - themselves likely the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants - crow about Canada finally getting a grip, cracking down. About people "milking the system", the horror of hyphenated identity. Most sound like they can only dream of having the skills, resiliency and tenacity to emigrate to another country. Or for that matter, to brush their own teeth.


today... (drumroll, please!)

I am voting! In Canada! For the first time!

Please can I vote in a federal election ASAP????

Torontonians: Why you should vote.