Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Nice Little Reminder!

Ahh, when I see CRAP like this in the news, I am reminded of why I am living in Canada, and why I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to move to a country that accepts my spouse and me as equals.

Reminder about the graphic below (published May 9, 2012)--even the in states that allow "gay" marriage or any sort of recognition of relationships, the rights are limited to that state's laws. The relationship recognition does not extend to any Federal laws such as immigration.

North Carolina, and so many other states' voters, including my own fellow Michiganders, have reminded us all that the tyranny of the majority is alive and well in the United States.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So. . . I'm Not Crazy

Every once in a while we receive a wonderful gift--someone graciously confirms that you are not paranoid, not a whiner, and not losing your mind. For example, recently in hockey, I had been feeling victimized by someone else in my group who never passed the puck to me and, in fact, would even steal the puck from me when she was on my own team. I fussed and fumed about this, sometimes out loud, sometimes to myself, and after a while, I just stopped complaining because I didn’t want to look like a whiner. Then I started to wonder if I was just imagining these on-ice injustices. But, in a conversation with another player recently, I learned that the particular gal who seemed to me to be a puck hog was quite often not invited to various pick-up sessions and not invited to play on tournament teams for that very reason. At first I wondered if the joy I felt at gleaning this information was only due to some selfish Schadenfreude. But, no, the happiness was really a sense of relief that I had NOT been imagining this “mistreatment.”

Since I’ve moved to Canada, my biggest gripe has been the silently condoned anti-Americanism that comes through so often in conversations and in the Canadian media. My Canadian friends have assured me that I am too personally affected by such comments and stereotypes, and have stopped short at saying that I am exaggerating at the very least, or even imagining this hurtful phenomena. I tell them that so many of their generalizations of Americans are not true, and when I can sense a slight bit of animosity showing through in comments about Americans, my insistences that Americans don’t feel any such loathing towards Canadians are met with immediate refutations, assurances that, no, no, Canadians don’t dislike Americans—I, again, am taking it all too personally.

But, fortunately for my sanity, I recently had one of those moments where my supposed paranoia was proven to be, at least a little bit, based in reality. In late January, a Yahoo! news story titled “Is Anti-Canadianism the new ‘Anti-Americanism’?” The article was about a separate article in Slate magazine concerned with Americans, who previously held no ill will towards Canadians, suddenly voicing negative opinions towards the Canadian nation mainly due to disagreements between the two countries about the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. I didn’t find either of these articles, in themselves, to be too earth-shattering, but what did snag my attention were the online comments at the end of the Yahoo! article.

“William’s” comment stated, “As a Canadian I am sorry that our friends in the U.S. have included us in their countries to hate.” This prompted 23 replies by the time I viewed the comments. Some of the replies:

“Kristina:” I am a Canaidan living in the US. I have never seen American hating on Canadians whereas I see Canadians hating on Americans constantly. My husband endured a horrible childhood because he was an American in Canada.

“James T.” Kristina, you’re right, I’m a Canadian living here in the States for two years on a job, and do not see the same level of hate for Canadians that buffoons (like on this chat thread) have for Americans.

“ambereyes:” Thank you James and Kristina. I am from the States and I moved to Canada when I was 29. We learned in school that Canada was our “friendly neighbor to the North.” But I don’t see that. I hear slanderous comments about Americans almost every day. The interesting thing is that when people fire off racist comments about any other race, someone will step up and say that is not appropriate, but when the rant is against Americans, it seems completely acceptable and rational and nobody steps in (at least I have not seen it in 11 years). . . .but it still hurts.

“Don’t Hurt ‘em:” I agree Kristina :) Discrimination against Americans is the last form of socially acceptable bigotry in Canada. . . .We Americans still love you. We don’t really care that much. I was just curious why a country like Canada, which considers itself so friendly, diverse, and welcoming has such rampant anti-Americanism. Anyway . . .Google: “Before You Flee to Canada, Can We Talk?”

So, now I had my verification that I was not being overly-sensitive or imagining things. Then, I Googled the article suggested by “Don’t Hurt ‘em.” Wow, if I felt somewhat vindicated by the comments on the Yahoo! news story, the “Before You Flee. . .” article from the Washington Post, though written in 2004, really helped me to realize that I am not alone in feeling uncomfortable in my own American skin while living in Canada.

As the author, Nora Jacobson, of the “Before You Flee” article so articulately stated, “An American who attempts to correct a misconception or express even the mildest approval for the policies of U.S. institutions is likely to be dismissed as thin-skinned or offensive, and as demonstrating those scary nationalistic tendencies that threaten the world.”However, unlike Jacobson, who says she would not apply for Canadian citizenship because of the anti-Americanism she experienced, I have applied for citizenship.

I can only hope that by just being myself and by being honest, upfront, and conciliatory with those around me, I can help to disprove some of the unfair assumptions about Americans that lead to prejudice.

But one thing is for sure—I will no longer entertain the notion that I am paranoid or imagining things when I’m told the anti-Americanism in Canada is not as pervasive as it seems. It is very real. And, as “ambereyes” stated, it still hurts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Citizenship Application Update

For any of you who are interested in the process and the timeline of applying for citizenship, here is what has happened with my file so far.

We mailed the application and all supporting documents, including receipt of the paid fee on January 9. I sent this as registered mail, and I was able to see that the documents were received by CIC on January 13.

On Feb. 6, I received a letter dated Jauary 30 stating that Sarah and my applications were received. We also got a separate half-page letter reiterating the fact that if we cannot speak French or English on a functional level, we will not be able to become citizens. I thought this was especially interesting as I come from a country that has no official language or language requirements for citizenship. (And by the way, I think countries SHOULD require language competency for citizenship). With this confirmation letter, we also received the 70-page Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens. This is our study guide for the Citizenship test. I thought the picture of Team Canada Men's Hockey with their gold medals from the 2010 Olympics on the back cover was an interesting touch.

I do have this study guide on my Blackberry as it is available as an app. In addition, I have saved the PDF version on my computer. But, I am not sure about studying from a digital version. So, since we really need at least two copies of the guide (one for each of us so we can make our own highlights and notes), I went to the CIC site to request additional copies. Requesting additional copies was a very easy process. They have a link to a form where you can request up to 50 copies (!) at no charge and the form is e-mailable. I requested a couple of extra so I can have one in my work bag and one at home and a couple for Sarah.

Yesterday I received another letter from the CIC, and this letter was regarding a problem with my application. The application asked for my name exactly as it is shown on my Immigration document. This I provided, which was my full first, middle, and last name. The next question was a request for a different name to appear on the citizenship certificate, subject to approval by CIC. Well, I filled out this section and requested first, middle initial, and last name. This is what generated the letter stating that in order for my citizenship certificate to show anything other than my full name as on my other documents, I would have to provide a provincial or national identification card that shows my name as such. Much to my dismay, my full middle name appears on all of my government documents. I called CIC today, and they said that I will now have to write a letter stating that it is fine to show my full name, including full middle name, on the citizenship certificate otherwise my application will stay in a suspended status. If I would have known this would cause a problem, I would not have made a special request at the time of application. Hopefully any of you who are going to apply for citizenship will heed this warning!

With a little luck, that will be the last hiccup in the citizenship process!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Back on the Emotional Rollercoaster--Momentarily

Back in December, there were reports that former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien had been sending communications to supporters of the Liberal party warning them that Harper's Conservative government was secretly planning to repeal same-sex marriage. This was dismissed as propaganda and posturing, and I took no notice.

Then, suddenly, earlier this week, the news was that the Canadian Department of Justice lawyer had told a couple who was married in Canada but never resided in Canada that their marriage was invalid as it wasn't recognized in their home jurisdictions (Florida and United Kingdom). I soon had friends contacting me, asking me how this affected Sarah and my marriage.

At first, I went into panic mode, and for the first time in several years, I could feel the anxiety about the security and permanence of my relationship building up again. I thought about it for a while--I wasn't sure what to think. After all, at the time Sarah and I were married in Windsor in 2006, we were landed immigrants but not yet permanent residents. We were still living in Michigan at that time, so I had no idea, if this recent court decision declaring same-sex marriages of non-residents invalid would affect us.

Thinking about it a bit more, I realized that Sarah and I have been living together in Canada as permanent residents for over three years, making us common law spouses in Canada regardless. That made me feel a bit better, but I still didn't like the idea that my treasured marriage certificate was meaningless.

The next day, the Conservatives started rapidly backpedaling after a tidal wave of backlash from the gay community. The Justice Minister and the Prime Minister both said that they had no intention of invalidating same-sex marriages, and Harper said, as he has said for many years now, that he considers the gay-marriage debate settled, and I do believe him. Now, whether his other ministers and appointees feel the same way. . .I'm not so confident.

As much as I feel a bit better about the situation now that the Conservative government is saying that they are going to find a way to ensure that all same-sex marriages performed in Canada are valid in Canada, that brief moment of panic reminded me of the stress and anxiety I left behind when I moved from Michigan. Some of the nasty Republican presidential candidates' campaign commercials that happen to come across my TV here from US television stations also remind me of an entire element of stress I no longer have in my life.

However, whether Harper says the same-sex debate is closed in Canada, it clearly isn't or this whole topic wouldn't even be in the news now. Only time will tell what the actual implications are. But, there are two things I know for sure--1) Perhaps when Liberals like Chretien express a concern, they shouldn't be so readily dismissed as Chicken Littles, and 2) A government's recognition of civil rights is never guaranteed, and those rights can disappear at any time. It's a very slippery slope. As one of my favorite sayings goes, "Ignore your rights and they'll go away."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Application is in the Mail!

This past Monday, January 9, I mailed in Sarah's and my Canadian citizenship applications! What a relief to have that off in the mail. We had planned to send it in as soon as we were eligible, which was back in November, but we needed more time to gather the $200 per-person fee, so we waited until after the holidays.

The application process was relatively simple. All of the information you need to apply can be found on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

They provide a checklist that you must include with your application so that you will be sure to include everything required.

Based on my experience going through the application process, here are some tips I have for others who will apply for citizenship.

1) Filling out the application--The application cannot be saved once you fill out the online PDF form. Be very sure the information is accurate before you print it and especially before you close it. If you find a mistake later, you will need to redo the entire application. Also, note that the instructions for the application require you to fill in many fields exactly as they appear on your immigration documents (record of landing, etc.).

2) Paying the fees--If you plan to pay the fees through a bank, as I did, instead of online by credit card, be sure to request the official receipt from the CIC. This will take a couple of weeks to arrive in the mail, so plan accordingly. Also, once you go to the bank to pay the fee, be sure to bring the receipt with you and also a printout of the instructions for paying through a financial institution which are hard to find on the site but can be found when you click here and scroll down just a bit. When I went to the bank to pay, I specifically asked to speak with a teller who had processed a citizenship application fee before.

3) Citizenship photos--As the instruction guide clearly states, citizenship photos are NOT the same as passport photos. I would suggest going to a reputable photographer who also does passport photos, but be sure to bring the CIC instructions for the photos to the photographer so he or she can see the exact dimensions. You may even want to ask if the photographer has done citizenship photos in the past. Ask the photographer to double check the requirements on the document and be sure the photos are correctly done. If the photos do not meet the specifications of the CIC, you will need to have them redone. Depending on where you go to get the photos done, they will cost about $10-$15. You are responsible for providing the information on the back of the photos, but most photographers will stamp the backs of the photos with their information and the date the photos were taken.

4) Residency calculator--The CIC provides an online residency calculator so you can be sure you actually meet your residency requirement before applying. The best thing about the residency calculator is that you can save it and update it. You can even save multiple residency calculators so that you maintain separate records for everyone in your family. If you have moved to Canada and are a permanent resident and ever think you may apply for citizenship, you should start using the residency calculator immediately to track your days outside of the country. It will be a lot easier to track these days as you go than to try to enter in three years' worth of trips all at once. I didn't know that the online calculator existed until about a year ago, so up until that time, I was using a paper calendar to track every trip Sarah and I took out of the country since we moved to Canada. You will then print and attach the residency calculator to your application.

5) Read all instructions before beginning the process--The last thing anyone wants is for their application to be returned because something was not filled in or completed correctly. Read the instructions very carefully and more than once. Search the CIC site for more information on any part of the application that isn't clear to you.

I have checked the processing times for the application, and the CIC site says it is currently taking 19 months. However, others I have spoken with, including immigration consultants, believe that the time is actually much shorter.

As I continue to go through this process, I will provide updates here that will hopefully be helpful to others who will go through the Canadian citizenship application.

I have attempted to provide relevant links in this entry, but the government likes to reorganize their site often, so it may be that these links are outdated quickly. However, you should still be able to find all the information you need on the CIC website by searching or following the links.

Friday, December 30, 2011

When a Canadian is Not a Canadian

Ahhh, Canadian beers. They were my favorite before I even moved to Canada. I particularly like Moosehead. I remember the days when I could buy a six pack of Moosehead in Michigan for under $6 plus deposit.

Once I moved to Canada, I discovered many other Canadian beers that are not available in the USA and were just as good as Moosehead. I am particularly enamored with Sleeman Draught, Alexander Keith’s Red, and St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale.

One of the biggest surprises to me when I arrived in Canada was the apparent insignificance of Labatt Blue as a popular brew. In the US, Labatt markets itself as the beer of Canada, representing all things Canadian. But, at least in Southern Ontario, the standard Canadian beer that epitomizes all things Canadian is Molson.

Molson is fairly popular in Michigan, but Labatt was definitely the most prevalent Canadian beer there, both in advertising and in shelf space. I really don’t think any of my friends here regularly drink or buy Labatt.

Because my Canadian beer consumption in the US was limited to Labatt and Moosehead, I had never really tried Molson. In Canada, that’s sometimes the only option you have depending on the bar/restaurant/party, and I have to be honest, I find that it’s a good beer. But, in Canada, Molson is not “Molson”—it’s “Canadian.” I had a few issues trying to order beer here when I would ask for a Molson. The waiter or waitress would look at me with a furrowed brow and then, after a long pause say, “Oh, you mean Canadian?”

Ordering a beer I knew as “Molson” by calling it “Canadian” felt as unnatural as ordering sliced turkey in grams rather than pounds. To avoid embarrassment and confusion, I eventually started to adjust.

There was one rather humorous episode where I was at a soccer tournament with some friends. In our hotel room we had a case of Molson Canadian and Molson 67. Before leaving for our game, I asked one of my friends to put the Molson in the refrigerator. When we got back later in the afternoon, I was set for a cold one. However, none of the Molson Canadian was in the fridge. I said to my friend, “Hey, I thought you put the Molson in the fridge.” She insisted, “I did!” I looked again, but all that was in the fridge was the Molson 67. I replied, “No, I mean the regular Molson.” She looked confused, so I gestured at the case of Molson Canadian, and she said, “Ooooh, you wanted the Canadian in the fridge. I put the Molson in like you asked.” Still pointing at the case, I said, “This IS Molson!” She argued, “No, that’s not Molson--that’s CANADIAN!” In the end, I actually had to show her the labelling on the case to prove that “Canadian” was made by Molson!

I have recently come to a point where I can order a Canadian at the bar without feeling awkward and know I’m getting a Molson. I think that means that I’m getting to the point where I AM CANADIAN???

Then I visited my family in Michigan for US Thanksgiving. For dinner on Friday night, we went, of all places, to a French-Canadian themed restaurant. Sure enough, the only beer on draft was Canadian. As I had spent most of the day battling Black Friday crowds, I felt in the mood for a beer, so when the waitress came over, I asked for a Canadian. She gave me a confused look and began stammering. I realized what was happening and said, “Uh, I mean a Molson.” And you know what? That felt very awkward to me!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pure Discrimination

I spent a good portion of the month of November trying to convince my co-worker Kevin to take his annual pre-Christmas shopping trip to Michigan, over three hours away, rather than his usual one and a half hour trek to Buffalo, NY. I told him the Michiganders were very friendly, the deals were better, and the area nicer. Besides, I explained, he could get a quality hotel for a very reasonable price as the economy isn’t great in Michigan and they are doing everything they can to boost tourism.

I do spend a lot of time promoting Michigan as a tourist destination. I am always gushing about the gorgeous lakeshore areas on the west side of the state, the beautiful wine country near Grand Traverse Bay, the friendliness and warmth of the people, and the great deals available for travel in an economy that relies heavily on tourism but is struggling because of the other reliance—the auto industry. Most Ontarians are now familiar with the Pure Michigan commercials on the radio and the billboards designed to attract their tourist dollars to a beautiful place just as short drive away.

My pride in my home state is something I have trouble hiding. I am constantly telling Canadians that there is so much more to Michigan than Detroit, and advising them to check out some of the other parts of the state when they are looking for a long-weekend getaway. The more I am away from Michigan, the more it becomes idealized in my mind, as is true with any relationship—absence makes the heart grow fonder.

But as with other relationships, my relationship with my beloved home state is currently going through a rocky period.

Lately, I have picked up a new hobby, which is making jewelry out of coins. I find this activity enjoyable and it’s a neat way to make personalized gifts for people. And a great way to make gifts for myself! To that end, I purchased a sterling silver issue of the Michigan quarter, and a silver coin bezel to mount it. I was so excited to have this cool piece of jewelry to wear around and show my Michigan pride.

The same day I wore my new pendant for the first time, I stumbled online across a great debate about
Michigan’s endangered status as the mitten state. Apparently, the Wisconsinites have decided that their state also looks like a mitten, and most Michiganders, like myself, are very offended. Wisconsin looks nothing like a mitten, but everyone has known for years that Michigan is THE mitten. After Wisconsin beat Michigan State for the Big 10 college football championship, this Wisconsin mitten comparison just got everyone in The True Mitten very heated.

So, I was looking at a Michigan news website, reading an article about the great mitten debate, and chuckling to myself at the foolishness of the Wisconsinites when links to other Michigan news stories on the side of the screen caught my eye:
“Michigan Senate Bans Domestic Partner Benefits” and “Governor Snyder Says He’ll Sign Domestic Partner Benefits Ban.”

At first I felt a fool because these tidbits took me quite by surprise. I had no idea that this type of legislation was still worming its way through the Republican Michigan legislature. I remember in 2004 when a snaky referendum took place and my fellow Michiganders voted to not only ban gay marriage, but to ban gay unions, and most maliciously, any “similar union for any purpose,” embedding this tyranny in the state constitution. With that referendum passed, thousands of gay employees of government institutions or institutions receiving government money lost their domestic partner benefits in an instant. I thought the whole thing had died, and I had even semi-forgiven my fellow Michiganders for passing such a foolish law in the first place. But, I guess that wasn’t the end of the battle for the Republicans, who felt the need to cement the discrimination further with more laws.

I sat stunned for a moment, and thought about all the hardships I went through in Michigan because I did not have the right to marry. I thought about gay friends who couldn’t have time off work to attend their partner’s family members’ funerals, my colleagues whose same sex partners were laid off and then were left without benefits. And I thought of all my straight colleagues who enjoyed these benefits. And I thought of all the people I knew in Michigan who voted for a ban on gay marriage and who voted in the Republicans who were still passing such bills. Then I thought of all the energy I’d spent trying to convince Canadians of what a great place Michigan is to visit.

Feeling frustrated and not knowing what else to do, I took off my beautiful new necklace and put it away, out of sight, out of mind. Apparently I could hide my pride.

This past July, New York became the sixth state in the US to allow gay marriages. The next time I feel like taking a shopping trip to the US to pick up stuff I can't get in Canada, I will likely take a short drive to the southeast instead of a longer drive to the west. Maybe some retail therapy in the Empire State will help ease some of the pain at the betrayal of Michigan’s Pure Discrimination.