Turning Canadian

This announcement is one of the happiest individual moments of my life: I can reveal the big secret I’ve been hiding for nearly a year. I am now officially and legally a Canadian citizen. Let me tell you all “aboot” it 🙂

I have always identified myself as half-Canadian* to people who’ve asked – everyone says it helps explain my obsessive love of hockey. My mother was born a Canadian though she has long since become a US Citizen. My father is an American. Me? I was born right here in the good ole’ USA. From the viewpoint of the US government, I am an American Citizen through and through. And indeed, I have a US Passport, I have voted here, I live here, and I even pay my taxes here. And at the Olympics, I will report I’m for Team USA. Though this year I was mostly conflicted.

When I was growing up, the USA took a very dim view of dual nationals to the point of not recognizing them in most cases. Sometime before I was 28, I had the opportunity to elect to become a Canadian citizen. Sadly, I just didn’t know it at the time.

I continued to identify myself as half-Canadian when asked, which was a state of mind more than a legal condition. About 20 years ago, I checked into becoming a Canadian citizen, but the process was onerous as all hell. The document was nearly as detailed and as long as the US Government’s official security clearance document: encyclopaedic. I guess the idea is to keep most people from even from trying. It worked because mentally I wasn’t up to the challenge. I don’t know that if I had to go through the full, long process I’d ever have the mental fortitude.

Some five or ten years ago (give or take) I had emailed my cousin John who was in the Canadian government with their trade commission. He told me there was a small grace period, but I blew it. I missed it and there was no hope for me and there wasn’t much he could do to help at that point. It was too bad because by then the US began being a bit more lenient in accepting dual nationals. You no longer were required to give up US Citizenship if you claimed another by right of birth. That meant I could claim Canadian citizenship without losing my US citizenship.
Let’s go back to early last year. My friend Maury brought this to my attention when she saw this video on YouTube . (It’s a really funny video, so check it out.)

A new law amending the Citizenship Act came into effect on April 17, 2009. The new law gives Canadian citizenship to certain people who lost it and to others who are recognized as citizens for the first time. It also protects the value of citizenship by limiting citizenship by descent to one generation outside Canada. The previous law required people born in the second or subsequent generations outside Canada to submit an application to retain (keep) their citizenship, and to either live in Canada for one year or prove a substantial connection to Canada before their 28th birthday. If they did not do either of these things, they would have lost their citizenship, sometimes without even knowing. The old law was criticized for being complicated, confusing, and leading to uncertainty for many people about their citizenship status. The new law simplifies rules by eliminating this requirement.

This clause only allowed about 100,000 additional people Canadian citizenship if they wanted it. It so happens I fell into this group of 100,000 people. (So does Maury). It’s not automatic and you must apply to resume your citizenship.

I immediately got all the paperwork, got some photos taken – and let me tell you those special photos were the hardest part to find down here in Florida. The documentation required was hefty, but I did it all and it wasn’t quite as overwhelming as the full application. I spent a few hundred dollars on international couriers and expedited delivery. Within three weeks I had submitted my application and kept this all to myself lest I jinx it. Only two people knew: Mom had to know because she had lots of old documents that I needed such as birth certificates and such. And of course Maury knew, because she’s the one who told me.

After Thanksgiving, about seven months later, I got the first word. The application was initially rejected because the Quebec birth certificate my mother supplied was the old style and they wanted the new style. Seriously. It’s the same information but on a different form. Four weeks and a couple hundred dollars later, I got the new one. Which is surprisingly similar to the old one but with a different seal. I re-submitted it. And waited. It’s important to note, they require the original documents and not copies.

Some four months later, I was checking online to find the status of my application and it didn’t show they received the new documents even though my tracking information showed they did. I felt stuck in limbo. In frustration, I sent a polite fax to the local consulate after they happened to be at a recent NHL Panthers game, and I spoke to them. In the letter I explained the situation. They called me a few days later and told me that there are so many applications now that the wait can easily extend to two or more years. However, they were very nice and helpful, and they gave me a number to call because the one on the website only works from within Canada.

I called today (4 March as this is written). Today is also Mom’s birthday, I was told my application was approved. I am embarrassed to admit, I was so happy I started to cry, though the lady on the phone thought it was very nice that I was so emotional over it. I called Mom at work from work something I have never done except in the direst of emergencies, told her, started to break up again, and hung up because I was too embarrassed to try and talk.

So, as I said when I started this story, I am now legally a Canadian citizen: a dual national, fully recognized by both countries. I know it’s Mom’s birthday, but I think I got the best present. She’s happy too. She’s the only one who knew the day it happened. Everyone else has to wait until I get my certificate, which is when you will all see this post as a blog entry. (My Canadian relatives will also get emails.)

Will I get a Canadian passport? I want one, so maybe one day. But not right now as I’m not sure I’ve got the patience to go through with that again. I am still an American and don’t need one, though some of the places I travel it’d probably be more comfortable to use. For now, I will continue to travel on an American passport. More importantly, American law requires all US Citizens to use their American passport when either entering or leaving the USA.

Will I move to Canada? Not now and not even soon. When I retire, it’s certainly an option. Right now, my home, my job, and many of my friends are all here. Leaving for anywhere else would be hard. Besides, I still want to retire to London one day. On the other hand, Sarah Palin is allegedly running for president in 2012….

Will I vote in Canada? I’m not sure. First, it would be unfair for me to vote in any election where I wasn’t properly informed. I’d like to fix that, so I suppose I should resume my subscription to MacLean’s magazine (think Canadian Newsweek) so I can at least hone up on local politics. Honestly, I am still not quite sure if I can vote as a Canadian living abroad since I only lived in Canada for about a year when I was a small boy and wasn’t technically a citizen at that time. I am receiving much conflicting information on this topic from various Canadian government websites.

I like hockey, curling, maple syrup, and I like the cold too. But I like BBQ and American football too, and I hate poutine. I know both national anthems from memory. I knew French but it’s become worthless because I’ve not spoken it regularly in decades. I am an American and I am a Canadian. And I’m not conflicted about it in the least.

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