Iain Hunter: A Canadian identity crisis — again

Canadians seem to be going through another identity crisis these days — not the usual kind whipped up by the CBC on or about Canada Day, but one far more serious.

It’s not a crisis that can be mitigated once a year by people singing O Canada on Parliament Hill until they’re blue in the face and honouring the national mosaic by dancing, dressing up and consuming trans-oceanic cuisine.

article continues below

It’s born of a mixture of the national government’s fixation on past glories and old British symbols, the birth of a boy who might, or might not, one day be Canada’s king, republicans who refuse to swear allegiance to his great-granny, and the news that children of Canadians born abroad at the wrong time aren’t Canadians, especially if they are or were bastards.

To be a Canadian is a wonderful thing. A lot of folk from elsewhere around the world want to be Canadians, and not just those seeking asylum from homeland horrors.

But Canadian citizenship is regarded, given the peace, order and good government it bestows, and the comforts and frivolities it offers, as a privilege — which is why prospective immigrants are put through bewildering bureaucratic hoops and made to learn significant names and dates.

But the tie to Britannia’s apron string, though loosened, hasn’t been cut. This may puzzle a lot of Canadians not from “over ’ome” and gall people who consider themselves Québécois first, last and always; here, there and around the world.

It doesn’t seem to concern Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It certainly didn’t worry my mother.

“A British subject I was born and a British subject I will die,” she declared, bashing the cream jug on the kitchen counter and covering herself with its contents.

It was the time of the Suez crisis of 1956 when, under U.S. blackmail, Britain, France and Israel withdrew their invading forces and Canada’s foreign secretary, Lester Pearson, negotiated the face-saving UN peace-keeping force as an alternative.

My mother was moved to quote Sir John A. Macdonald to express her loyalty to the Mother Country. And then she sat down and wrote a letter to Pearson, beginning with: “You, sir, are a traitor.”

She would approve of Harper’s putting “Royal” before every military element except the Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit. She would approve the return of pips and crowns to denote rank. She probably would share the vicarious pride of some Canadians on the arrival of wee Prince Georgie.

She ceased to be a British subject except in heart in 1981 with all but a few other citizens of Commonwealth countries. She had also become used to being a Canadian citizen since 1947 when our first citizenship statute became law.

Jackie Scott thought she was a Canadian citizen, too. She was born out of wedlock in England in 1945 to a British mother and one of many Canadian soldiers fighting, as a National Defence pamphlet put it, “as citizens of Canada, not as merely British subjects.”

She had moved to Canada with her parents, and they married in 1948. But the law passed the year before limited citizenship for war children born out of wedlock to those born after 1947.

Scott arrived in this world two years too early to be the Canadian citizen she always assumed she was until the government disabused her in 2005 by denying her a citizenship certificate. Now she’s in court, a self-described “bastard” in the eyes of the law, trying to prove her right and possibly that of other “lost Canadians” to Canadian citizenship.

This prudish bureaucratic injustice could be erased easily by a government with compassion. But citizenship is regarded with strict exclusivity.

This month, the Ontario Supreme Court heard a case brought by three permanent residents of this country who object to having to take an oath to the Queen and her heirs and successors in order to get citizenship. Frankly, I see no reason why immigrants should be obliged to swear allegiance when the rest of us don’t have to.

I believe being Canadian should be as inclusive as possible, embracing sacred origins as tightly as presumed rights.

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist

Find out what's happening in your community.