Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Journey to Canadianness (Canadianity?)

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for a couple weeks now. Time to get it up.

Okay, so this story starts last year. Well, actually it starts in the spring of 2000 when I was offered a job in Canada, my birthday that year when I actually entered Canada as an immigrant, and the following year (it says in my papers but I can’t be bothered to look it up now) when I ‘landed’ as they say, becoming a ‘landed immigrant’ as they used to day (now they say ‘permanent resident’). And a couple years ago, when I started thinking about it seriously. And last year, finally, when I took the plunge and started getting pictures taken and finding all my documents and looking up the actual procedures.

So there’s all kinds of paperwork. You have to have pictures taken, not quite like passport pictures, but anywhere that does passport pictures should be able to do them, pay the fee, fill out the application and supply copies of all your documents. These include but are not limited to:
  • Your record of landing
  • Your passport at the time of landing
  • Any passports during the previous 5-year reporting period
  • Any Permanent Resident cards issued during that period
  • Two pieces of government-issued ID, one of which must bear a photograph (it’s never clear whether your current passport and PR card are sufficient, so I submitted my drivers license and my Manitoba health card, which together are acceptable)
  • Proof of language proficiency (in either English or French). As a native speaker of English born in, and until moving to Canada resident in, the USA, I assumed this wouldn’t be a problem. The typical case is that you pass a TOEFL or something. The easiest was to submit a diploma from an institution of higher learning (or something like that) completed in an English speaking institution from an English speaking nation. My PhD from UCLA sufficed.
  • Many signatures and things attesting that everything was true and complete, that I had never been ordered out of Canada, that I had in the last 5 years not been incarcerated or convicted of a felony anywhere, and so on.
  • You pay on line and get a PDF receipt, which you submit with everything else.
There’s a thing on the website that tells you how long it currently takes to complete the process, or maybe it was 12 months to process the application and schedule you for your exam. If the second, they were pretty darn close. Because I submitted all my documents the week of The Election. That Election. I would have anyway, but whatever.

Then (it says explicitly) you won’t hear anything until they need something else. So some office in Vancouver or somewhere checks your application, and a few months later, they send something telling you to get fingerprints done.

The last time I needed fingerprints, I was told to go to the RCMP, who told me they don’t do fingerprints for background checks anymore, and that I should go to City Hall, or the Public Safety Building, or whatever they called it, and have the Winnipeg Police Service do it. Which I did, and they did, and all was happy. But in the meantime, the Winnipeg Police Services has moved, and only do it by appointment a couple days a week, or seriously for like an hour on Thursdays for walk-ins.

So I went with the Commissionaires. I’m not 100% certain who the Commissionaires are, but they do background checks and fingerprinting for these kinds of things. So anyway, last winter sometime, because there was still snow on the ground, I went in and did my fingerprints, which were magically transmitted to wherever they needed to be transmitted to (again in Vancouver, as I recall).

Then, of course, you don’t hear anything until they need something. So skip ahead to November 9th or something like that (interestingly enough, almost exactly 12 months from filing), when I get a letter telling me to appear on Monday, 11 December, at an ungodly hour of the morning (8:15) downtown, in some building I’d never heard of, to do the citizenship exam, and be sure to read the little book which has everything I need to know about Canada for the exam. Except the names of the Prime Minister and Governor General, and the opposition parties and their leaders at both the federal and provincial levels. Which several practice exams asked about, but didn’t come up on the actual exam, presumably because it wasn’t in the little book.*

So I’ve read the little book carefully a couple of times, and done dozens of practice exams on the internet. And I’m fine. So I take time last week (after my last class) to do a little more prep, read the little book again, do a couple more practice exams, and watch curling on TV. I spend more time than I should have thinking about booking a room downtown, figuring it has to be easier than driving up at said ungodly hour of the morning, deciding driving was probably good enough or worst case the bus (just in case, bought a bus card‐which they spell Peggo, but seem to pronounce ‘paygo’, in a weird case of capitulating to the raising-before-velars crowd—to avoid the whole thing, I just called it a bus card and didn’t have a problem) and most of the weekend anxiously looking at the weather forecast, which was for 5cm of snow Sunday evening, and more overnight (it said <1cm 4am="" 5cm="" almost="" another="" anywhere="" basically="" could="" every="" from="" hour="" mean="" nbsp="" new="" no="" p="" snow="" to="" until="" which="">
I went to bed right after the curling final (which ended a little after 9pm), did my usual read a comic book, do a crossword puzzle, play some game or other, watch some YouTube, take my insulin, and try to go to sleep routine, having set the alarm for 5:45am, which meant I could do my usual check Facebook, check Twitter, crawl out of bed for coffee routine, and still have time to check the weather and decide not to drive in and hike to the bus stop, or call a cab, or whatever. Woke up at 5, and couldn’t get back to sleep, because typical. So by 5:30 I was up and about, looking out the windows to see not really 4cm of (new) snow on the ground. Which is not really a problem to drive through, since I live on a fairly major highway and everything will have been plowed and sanded, or at least driven over by dozens of semi trucks overnight, all the way downtown.

So I leave right about 7, figuring best case it would take me 30 minutes to get downtown and parked, worst an hour. Went to Starbucks. Went home to pick up my phone because I’d forgotten it and no way was I driving in the snow without my phone, and ended up hitting the road for real about 7:25.

Let me tell you 7:25am is apparently when the universe decides to go to work in the mornings, because where there was no traffic really at all at 7am, there was serious traffic. Took me about 10 minutes to get up to the next major highway crossing, then about 20 to get up to the one after that. And that was just traffic. There wasn’t a stall or a crash or a lane closure or anything all the way up.

Pull in to the parking lot adjacent to this building I’d never heard of at about 8:05, which all things considered isn’t bad time. Paid to park ‘for the day’ because that’s how this lot rolls, and got inside in plenty of time to sit for 15 minutes waiting for something to happen.

Which it did. Eventually, I think just ahead of 8:30, the 14 or so of us were herded into the testing room by a tall young man name Will, along with a dozen or so of my closest strangers, and spent about 10 minutes listening to Will explain to the assembled group what was going to happen, how to mark the form (you circle the letter of the correct response), watching Will check IDs and getting my exam form in its very official blue report folder and its pages all carefully encased in sheet protectors.

I took some of that time to try to place Will’s accent, which I’m still not sure about. His vowels weren’t quite local, and his dentals were sort of stoppy. He also used ‘okay’ as a tag a lot more than I think I’ve ever heard up here. If you don’t know what that mean, ignore it. My linguist friends are sure to appreciate. (Right?)

Will tells us to start, and about 2 minutes later I’m done. Being dutiful, I carefully checked my answers, reread the questions to make sure I’d read them right, and I raised my hand so Will’s helper (a young woman whose name I didn’t catch) could let Will know I was done. Will came over, checked that I’d filled in everything appropriately, and sent me back to the waiting room. At which point it was about 8:37.

Where I waited another 15 minutes or so. I assumed being the first one out, I’d be the first one called in for the interview, but I was second. So whatever.

A very nice not-as-young-as-Will-but-I’m-getting-to-an-age-where-everybody-looks-young man called Frank takes me into a little room and asks to verify all my documents and engages me in conversation to assess my English skills, because since last year having a document proving your language ability is not good enough anymore. As I said, I didn’t expect to have a problem, and I didn’t. Meanwhile Frank is checking my documents (you have to bring in all your originals).

Here’s the thing about passports. They don’t always stamp them, particularly when travelling by car into the US. One of the things in the paper work was to account for any absences from the country during the five year period the application covers. So Frank went through my most recent passport and found all four(?) of the stamps, which were helpfully on one page, and verified that I had in fact declared those absences from the country, along with a handful of others. So at least I didn’t have any documented absences that I hadn’t declared.

Frank and I had a nice chitchat about linguistics, sociology and criminology, how old my landing document was (because you don’t land anymore, you become a permanent resident). Frank asks how I thought the exam went. I say something like ‘okay, I guess’, and he tells me I got 20/20 on my exam, which obviously is a pass, and congratulations, at some point you’ll get a letter telling you to appear at a swearing-in ceremony, where you’ll do the oath with anywhere between 50 and 300 of your closest strangers, and get your citizenship document. I asked what the difference between ‘swearing’ and ‘affirming’ (the oath gives you the choice).** Frankwaits patiently for me to put all my stuff back in the poly enevelope and get out of his office so he can do it again with the next person.

So in one to three months, I’ll get a notice to appear one to two months thence, to swear (or affirm) in.

Will inform when hat happens.

*Just because I looked it up, the PM is Justin Trudeau of the federal Liberal party. The opposition parties are the Conservatives, whose leader is Andrew Scheer (that happened in the last couple months) and the New Democrats, whose leader is now Jagmeet Singh (which happened even more recently). I don’t think there are any Greens or independents in the House of Commons right now. The Progressive Conservatives (Brian Pallister) are in power in Manitoba, and the main opposition party is the NDP (but I have no idea who the NDP leader is. I know who the last one was, because he was Premier for a lot of my time here). The Liberals aren’t an ‘official party,’ because they don’t have enough seats (I think they have three right now, and you have to have five(?) or something like that to qualify for the good offices, I guess). There are two independents, one of whom was a federal cabinet minister for the Conservatives back when they were in power, so I don’t know what, if any, his relationship is to the local Progressive Conservatives (or for that matter the federal Conservatives, who aren’t Progressive Conservatives but are the result of a merger between the federal Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance Party (itself a merger of the Reform party—which was formed form a right-wing arm of the PCs—and certain PC defectors at the time), which was funny because when they merged, they briefly became the Conservative Reform-Alliance Party until the news satire shows got a hold of what their initials were.

None of which was on the exam, but is fun to talk about.

**The difference is whether or not what Frank described deftly as a ‘deity of faith’. You swear to a deity. You just affirm to whoever is in the room listening. Or something like that. I’m going to have to make a choice sometime, I guess, but then I’ll be swearing allegiance to a Queen and her heirs, so whatever.