The other day when I was filling out a government form I was reminded of the process I went through to become a permanent resident – and later a citizen – of Canada. Someone recently mentioned wanting a post from me about these experiences, so I thought today was a good time to talk about it.
It all started 11 years ago when I married my Canadian-born husband.
The first thing you need to know about the Canadian government is that they love forms. If you want to live here, expect to answer 3596 questions about your relationship, wedding, employment history, Hogwarts house*, previous address, past and current affiliations with any organization, and a thousand other questions whose answers should be neatly printed in blue or black ink. Just when you think you’ve answered the last of them, two more will wiggle out after it.
After you have the paperwork filled out, it’s time to start visiting medical, photography, and police offices that are always on the opposite sides of the city. No, you can’t condense your trips. No matter which one you pick first, your next stop will be at least an hour away from where you currently are and will need to have an appointment booked for an entirely different day.
Once they’ve determined that you’re not a criminal, do not have vampiric tendencies, and that you haven’t secretly carried any communicable diseases into a country you’re already living in, it’s time to send in your application and lots of money.
Don’t worry – the government did receive all of your paperwork, and everything is in perfect order.
While you’re waiting for this news, you also won’t be allowed to work, collect social assistance, go to school, or leave the country. If you are very lucky like I was, your family will be able to come visit you in Canada while you’re in limbo. Those visits will be like a cup of cold water on a hot day.
The government will slowly acknowledge that your application is in order months later. A year or more after that they will summon you to a small office where an official will have you sign some forms. He’ll stamp something and then tell you where the nearest Ontario Works office is in case you’re in need of it.
You are now allowed to get a job, go to school, or leave the country if you so wish. If you’re gone too long, though, your permanent residency will be revoked and you’ll have to start again from the beginning. Time spent away from Canada also won’t count towards the 1,460 days you’ll need to live here before applying for citizenship.
This part of the story won’t apply to every permanent resident or citizen. When I started signing up for stuff like my Ontario driver’s license, though, I noticed a difference between how I was treated and how people from other countries were treated. As an American, I was allowed to get a license without any tests other than a quick eye test to make sure I could see a basic number of things. People from many other countries had much more rigorous experiences. Some had to start at the beginning with driving classes, while others had to take tests to prove they were competent before they were given a license. There were several examples of this, and it bothered me for reasons I’ll explain in a little while.
Fast-forward about 1400 days: it is now time to apply for citizenship. The good news is that the application form for this one is much cheaper and simpler. They will basically want an updated picture of you, a small fee, and the assurance that you speak English or French. Oh, and there will be a test.
The funny thing about the test is that no one tells you how difficult it will be. You will study the Canadian history and government book they mail to you like you life depends on it, memorizing all kinds of dates, names, and events that will float up into your memory again years later.
None of this will be necessary. The test is written at a sixth grade level, and most of the questions are about as challenging as this one:
Q. What is the meaning of the Remembrance Day poppy?
A. Every remembrance day we remember how delicious poppies are in pies.
B. Our queen thinks they’re pretty.
C. To remember the sacrifice of Canadians who have served or died in war.
D. They’re the only flower that no one in Canada is allergic to, so everyone wears them when we gather in large groups and want to do something as a team.
Once again, this next part won’t apply to every new Canadian citizen. Those of us who are fluent in English have very different experiences when we hand in our tests. The clerks overseeing the testing room are supposed to ask you a series of questions when you turn in your test to ensure that you’re fluent in at least one of the official languages of the land. My clerk asked me if the weather in Ohio (the state I spent most of my childhood in) was similar to Ontario. When I smiled and said they were basically identical, she waved me off with a friendly goodbye.
The woman talking to the clerk next to me, meanwhile, was being asking very specific questions about where she lived and who she lived with. When her husband tried to say something as she struggled to talk, the clerk threatened to send them off to a judge for the spoken language portion of the exam if he interfered again.
While I completely agree that it’s a good idea for new citizens to understand at least one of the languages of their soon-to-be adopted country, it was odd to be bumped ahead in the process while she was asked so many extra questions.
I understand wanting to screen people carefully, but the process did not feel fair to me. I was scrutinized far less than other applicants for reasons that were 100% out of anyone’s control. I never chose to be born in the U.S. or to have English-speaking parents. It was all a gigantic roll of the egg and sperm dice.
But I digress.
The citizenship ceremony a few months later will be short and sweet. Mine was full of young families. Some of the new citizens were toddlers, so their parents had to carry them across the room to pick up their certificate of citizenship when their names were called.
And then you become a Canadian. For the rest of your life, you will get to tease Americans about that time we burned down the White House in 1814. Fun fact: that was the only time in U.S. history when the White House was attacked. Other fun fact: Canadians are extremely proud of this.
*This really only matters if you’re a Slytherin. Everyone else shouldn’t worry too much. 😉