I was 8 years old when I officially became a Canadian citizen. For our family, moving from Mexico, Canada was a land of opportunity. Literally. It was an opportunity for a quality of life that was not accessible to us in Mexico. My parents, as with most immigrants, were hard working. I remember my dad working full time during the day and evenings until 2 am. He would go weeks, months, with 3-4 hours of sleep a night. For my mom, the experience was similar (I have five siblings, so you can imagine that parenting alone was a full time job, never mind her actual full time work).
Canada has been very good to us. My dad in particular never tired of emphasizing the enormous abundance we were blessed with in Canada. Simple things like food, medical help, safety, and security were constantly acknowledged. Every time I complained about anything I was reminded how fortunate we were and how much worse things could be. We made numerous trips to Mexico to visit family, generally once or twice a year and the contrast in quality of life was stunning (at least in the areas we visited. I’m sure there are regions in Mexico where life is as grand as anywhere else). I lament, but am also thankful, that my children have only known abundance and blessing and not seen what life is like for most people in the world.
When I hear annual reports about Canada being the best country in the world in terms of quality of life, I believe it. I’ve been fortunate to visit numerous countries in the past decade. Canada is home and I rarely return without a sense of gratitude for what this country has provided for me and my family.
I’ve grown a bit irritated with Canada over the past several months, however. My sister lost her Citizenship card a few years ago and, when she was getting a Canadian passport, had to fill out a request for another card. That’s when things turned silly. As only an obtuse and dense bureaucracy like Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) can generate, problems started arising quickly. CIC required documentation, which my sister dutifully sent in over a period of years. Then, to her amazement, she received a letter in early summer, 2012, stating that she was no longer a Canadian citizen because she was unable to provide a record that my dad’s parents had been married. WTF??
As a result, she went from a voting Canadian to…a landed immigrant. She can apply to be a Canadian citizen again, but the process will take years and thousands of dollars.
Worse, my dad, who just turned 70, received his citizen rejection letter last month. He has voted in every election, town, provincial, and national since he had the privilege to do so. His work, as a truck driver, requires numerous trips into the US. In one swoop, his identity as a Canadian and related privileges are removed…by some fine individual in some nameless office that never directly interacts with humans but instead follows arcane rules that even a moment of common sense should override. He is devastated and facing an uncertain future.
From interactions with lawyers and others in immigration field, a disturbing picture is emerging: immigration laws and enforcement are as much at the whim of a bureaucratic official making random decisions as they are in a clearly defined set of laws. One lawyer mentioned a case where siblings received opposite rulings on the same case because it was handled by two different individuals.
I’m angry. Upset. Ashamed by how my country (so far at least, I’m waiting for my rejection letter) can treat its citizens without regard for the human dimension of their decisions. The pain and stress that I see my 70 year old father experiencing, at the hands of the Canadian government, after having spent more of his life in Canada than in his birth country, is inexcusable. And equally inexcusable is the dark, vapid, unknowable entity that is Citizenship and Immigration Canada. It is one thing to be subject to an injustice. It is far worse to have no clear course to seek its correction.