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2015 Annual Letter

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing–wax—
Of cabbages—and kings…“

Well, not exactly kings, but most definitely queens, at least one Queen in particular. “And the heirs, mustn’t forget the heirs,” adds a sand-encrusted Carpenter.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear a constitutional challenge from three permanent residents who were eligible—and wanted—to become citizens except for one small detail. They were unwilling to swear to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her Heirs and Successors.” Swear allegiance to Canada? Sure. A queen? Not so much.

Born in a country that staged a revolution to rid itself of monarchical rule, I admit I was sympathetic to the plight of the wannabe-Canucks.

This next part may seem a bit odd. I swear it’s the truth, as reported in The Globe and Mail, a well-respected newspaper. The reason the highest court in the land gave for not hearing the case?  “The oath doesn’t really matter.”

That was a paraphrase. Here is the Court’s actual wording, “the reference to the Queen is symbolic of our form of government and the unwritten constitutional principle of democracy.” While not stressed in the newspaper, one has to assume that emphasis was put on the word symbolic. The Court went on to clarify that requiring new citizens to swear the oath verbatim is acceptable because they have the opportunity to publicly disavow the pledge afterwards.

So, according to the Canadian Supreme Court, professing an oath of allegiance isn’t that important because Canadians understand it’s just a bunch of words. A looser interpretation might be that you can cross your fingers and wink when taking the oath, and that’s okay. As Chris put it, you can pinky swear.

This story resonated with me because—after some trials and tribulations—I was finally in line to become a Canuck. Unlike Philip Nolan, doomed to roam the seas as a stateless entity, it appears I am on my way to amassing passports like others collect Pokemon cards. No, I’m not renouncing US citizenship.

I submitted my application in the summer of 2014 and was patiently waiting out the expected two-year processing time. This spring, I was summoned to a final interview and assessment. Owing to my advanced years, the Government had already kindly exempted me from any written exam on the history and policies of this great country. Yay, procrastination! Apparently, geezers up here aren’t expected to know stuff. Plus, we won’t be around that much longer anyway. What was left was to demonstrate I could speak English well enough to fit in with the locals. Chris drilled me to throw in an eh at the end of every third sentence. For good measure, I made sure not to mention the cultural significance of the Plains of Abraham as being the agricultural fields where Timmy Horton harvests maple trees and coffee beans.

The interview was going well. I was even able to remember and explain why—way back in 2010—I had spent a weekend in San Francisco. The path seemed clear. Knowing that citizenship ceremonies occur monthly, Chris had tasked me to see if I could cut down on the two-year process without being deported.

Ever bribed a government official? Neither have I. In the kindest, most deferential manner, I politely asked my interrogator if there was some way to take part in the Canada Day swearing-in ceremony. July 1st was only a few months away. Not wanting to sound underhanded, I framed it as, “My wife, a native-born Canadian, would be ecstatic if she could see her husband sworn in on Canada’s birthday.”

Fortunately, the officer didn’t take my query as an illicit request for preferential treatment. He figured there just might be a way. It turns out that Canada Day is, indeed, special; Immigration Canada is always looking for diverse photo ops. I let him know that I was A-OK with being racially/nationally profiled and pointed out that a bald, aging American might be just the ticket to round out the multicultural group of proud new citizens.

A few weeks later, the fateful notice arrived; I had been invited to take part in the swearing-in ceremony on July 1st at Fort Langley, a mere fifty kilometers from where we live.

At first, it seemed like one last attempt to mess with the Yank. Why should we have to drive all the way to Fort Langley very early in the morning on a national holiday when another concurrent ceremony was literally within walking distance? However, suspicion turned to gratitude when we arrived. Not only is Fort Langley a beautiful site, its history links our neighbouring countries.

The British built Fort Langley largely as an insurance policy against American expansionism. There was concern that British Fort Vancouver, across from Portland, Oregon, on the north side of the Columbia River, would be lost to the US if the treaty divided the two territories at the 49th Parallel. Fort Langley was intentionally built on the south side of the Fraser River so Great Britain could solidify its claim to land all the way down to that latitude and not be forced further north. The same treaty that established our mutual border also defined the tiny, peninsular outlier, Point Roberts.

The ceremony was amazing, complete with aboriginal drummers, a wonderful hereditary Chief who sang a welcoming song, and dignitaries sporting historical costumes. The biggest surprise came during the actual oath, when we were allowed to replace swear with affirm. Take that, Supreme Deity(ies). Canada’s Court backs down in making folks swear to you, while upholding the Queen’s sovereignty.

Chris wasn’t initially upset when—immediately after the ceremony—I explained to our group of friends that I wasn’t really sure I meant all that stuff about fidelity to the Queen. She became perturbed when I proclaimed the same thing to our waitress at lunch. And vexed might be the best term to describe her mood when she heard me make the same disclaimer to the pump at the gas station. (Hey, somebody might have been listening.)

What better way to celebrate one’s citizenship than helping to overthrow the government? (Chris says I may be exaggerating.) Not only was I now eligible to vote in our national election this fall, but I also offered to be an official at one of the polling stations. With my newbie status and limited linguistic skill—still haven’t mastered that eh—my supervisor assigned me to the Stanley Park Lawn Bowling Club, a small polling station just a short walk from home.

I got up early that day, donned my election whites, and headed to the clubhouse. Located in Stanley Park and bordered on one side by water, relatively few people cast their ballots at that location. Spent a leisurely ninety minutes verifying the odd voter who showed up, interspersed with disqualifying the curious raccoons who tried to get past us—fairly easy as their masks made them look suspicious. Aerial attacks usually uncover holes in a defense, and so the herons and seagulls were initially harder to shoosh away! Even more troublesome were the squirrels, who kept trying to sneak in and steal ballots to cache away for future elections.

By mid-morning, wildlife quelled, I was whisked away to a different and much busier poll, located in the gym at the downtown YMCA. Was it wrong to ask people to submit their ballots from the free-throw line? Fortunately, I was wearing court shoes that day so was able to join in when we tired of the voting and decided to play some hoops. Don’t know if it was the full-court press or the general dissatisfaction with the status quo, but at the end of the day we had a new federal government.

This year’s card features a seasonal photo of The Don. In the early seventies, my Mother and Father found this gallant fellow on a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, and succumbed to his resemblance to Don Quixote. Immediately dubbed The Don, he shipped out to Richmond, VA, to quarter with his new family. After Richmond, this steadfast knight spent a tour guarding the outskirts of Atlanta. Fulfilling his own manifest destiny, he journeyed west to his sentry post in Southern California. Chris (well, maybe not as enthusiastically) and I were pleased to welcome him to Canada earlier this year. Aside from some oxidation, The Don seems to coping with whatever new duties and northern windmills come his way. Despite the odd patch of rust, he appears to enjoy the festive season, and we hope you do, too.

Wishing you and yours the very best for 2016.


copyright 2015 by Todd Strong


Copyright © Todd Strong

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This web site was last updated on December 21, 2019.