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Citizen Judd I am Canadian, but what does that mean? By Neville Judd Four years ago, the Vancouver Art Gallery invited people to consider a simple question: What does being Canadian mean to you? Visitors were asked to write their answers graffiti-style on a gallery wall. Many of the responses came from children, who expressed happy thoughts about scenery, fresh air and hockey. Adults wrote about high taxes, dumb politicians and hockey. "Not being American" seemed to be a common sentiment among all ages, though expressed in different ways. For example: "We're better at hockey than Americans"; "There are no guns here"; and, my favourite, "9.84 seconds, eh!" — a reference to Donovan Bailey's 100-metre gold-medal winning time at the Atlanta Olympics that year. As a landed immigrant at the time, I felt a mix of relief at not having to think of something profound, yet disappointment because even if I could I was ineligible to answer. I was British. After years of paying taxes without the right to vote, not being Canadian bothered me for the first time. My accent was fading with every deliberately shortened vowel. My t's had become d's and I seemed to be speaking a dialect more in common with Brisbane, Queensland than Bromley, Kent. It was clear that no amount of Watney's Red Barrel and Monty Python re-runs would bring it back. Becoming a Canadian citizen was the answer. The process turned out to be as loaded as the VAG's question. I came to Canada on a whim. It was 1986, and for three months, burdened by backpacks and boyish good looks, my friend Ian and I had bused the length of America's West Coast and were denied service in bars from La Jolla, Calif., to Shasta, Ore. Even a detour to Las Vegas proved fruitless, with the added insult that we were denied the chance to gamble away our holiday budget. Nineteen is a difficult age in most U.S. states. Legally, I could have been driving a tractor for four years in Oregon but it would be another two before alcohol passed my lips. We found relief thanks to a conversation overheard in Seattle's Greyhound bus depot. Several kids barely out of high school were heading for Vancouver and a festival called Expo. The added attraction? British Columbia's more relaxed legal drinking age — 19. The place was British, two hours away, and had a festival. It would have been rude not to go. How I ended up dancing with an inflatable pig at the Gibsons Legion the following Saturday night is less straightforward. The Sunshine Coast would sound pleasant to anyone more used to names like Skegness and Bognor. For me, it had the added attraction of free accommodation with relatives I barely knew but always promised to look up. My visit that weekend coincided with one of the year's biggest events in the peninsula's social calendar: The Gibsons Pigs' Rugby Club Dance. Never one to turn down an invitation, I went with my cousin, an honourary Pig. I wasn't expecting much for my $3 ticket. However, I danced to a live band that sounded better with every beer (funny how that is), made a lot of friends, and met someone who I would end up writing to, phoning, sending cringingly sappy cassettes to and, five years later, eloping with. Immigration Canada places a lot of store by love, or at least marriage. Every year, this country accepts immigrants from more than 150 countries — not just China — as several people told me when I applied for landed immigrant status. In the labyrinthine immigration process, potential candidates score points based on, among other things, health, occupation and marital status. While a fully fit brain surgeon blows an obese journalist off the points scale, an obese journalist married to a Canadian turns that scale on its head. Unbeknownst to me that night in Royal Canadian Legion Branch 109, I was smoothing my immigration path with lines like: "Since we both don't smoke, perhaps we should kiss," and "Fancy another beer?" That's not to say immigration was easy. Canada requires would-be immigrants to submit applications outside of Canada. For many who plan to live in B.C., that means a trip to the Canadian consulate in Seattle, and an uncertain wait. We opted to live in London and began immigration proceedings in 1991, the same year Gérard Dépardieu and Andie McDowell scared applicants the world over in the movie Green Card. I parted with £300 to get the ball rolling, supplying professional and medical references, and filling out forms with vital information like where my parents were born and the full names and birth dates of my siblings. For another £100 I was treated to a "full" medical by a Wimpole Street doctor (the closest doctor for 200 miles on an "approved" list). It took five minutes and comprised the following three statements: "Blow into this. Cough. You're fine." We watched Green Card but the interview at the Canadian embassy in Grosvenor Square was a let-down. No interrogation about my girlfriend's favourite ice cream; just an hour of paperwork that left no doubt about the next step — marriage. The following month, we flew to Vancouver, got married in a Victoria bed and breakfast, mailed the licence to the Canadian embassy in London and flew to Australia to go backpacking while the staff in Grosvenor Square processed my application for landed immigrant status. Three months later, my visa was forwarded to me at a Brisbane motel. As a landed immigrant, I was free to return to Canada on a one-way ticket. Simple, really. Although landed immigrant status allowed me to look for work without fear of deportation, it didn't make work easier to find. I shredded paper for the Bank of Montreal, processed RRSP payments for the Royal Bank, worked for a moving company and sold popcorn. I also sold the odd column to the Vancouver Sun. One of them was about missing English beer, which prompted a recruiting call from the Vancouver Morris Dancers. It also provoked an angry letter to the editor, suggesting that if I missed English beer that much, I should bugger off back to England. Tired of scraping a living, I buggered off back to England. The Morris men would have to wait. I paid Immigration Canada $200 for a returning resident’s permit, which guaranteed that my landed status would not be revoked in my absence overseas for up to two years. Two years later, almost to the day, I returned. When I looked into applying for citizenship in 1997, soon after my epiphany at the Vancouver Art Gallery, I discovered I didn't qualify. Applicants must have lived in Canada for three of the previous four years. Somehow, I'd contrived to live in Canada in 1992, ’93, ’96 and ’97-four out of the last six years, but not three of the last four. Not so simple, really. Little more than 50 years ago, Canadians were regarded as British subjects living in Canada, not Canadian citizens. Paul Martin, Sr., a cabinet minister in France at the end of World War II, was so moved by the sight of thousands of Canadian graves that he crusaded to establish a separate citizenship. On Jan. 1, 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act established a separate Canadian identity, a passport and new rights for Canadian women. I wouldn't have known these facts but for a booklet called A Look At Canada, part of an information package that Immigration Canada mailed to me last year. It came in response to my application for citizenship and confirmed that I was finally eligible, that my $200 cheque (a processing fee) hadn't bounced and my criminal past — an unpaid poll tax bill of £16.23 — hadn't caught up with me. All I had to do now was sit a citizenship exam and answer a few questions based on my knowledge of Canada. It had to be a cinch. "Just answer John A. Macdonald to everything and you'll pass," a Canadian friend told me. "Forget the test, flush your passport and claim refugee status," said another. When the booklet arrived I hastily turned to the sample exam at the back just to confirm that Sir John A. Macdonald would indeed be the correct answer to every question. I was disappointed. The following is typical of the 197 questions: 31. When did the British North America Act come into effect? 121. Which products from southern Ontario are one of Canada's key exports? 124. What products are produced in the Niagara Peninsula? I studied A Look At Canada, reading its 30 pages several times until I not only knew that 1867, cars and auto parts and fruit crops handily answered the above, I could recite "O, Canada" better than Bryan Adams. In August, I received a "Notice to Appear," at Immigration Canada's offices on Hornby and Davie. Taking my seat between Mr. and Mrs. Romanova of Burnaby (formerly of Russia) in a pine-panelled room fronted by an adjudicator on a podium, I took a deep breath and tried to remember who the Acadians were, the six responsibilities of citizenship, the name of B.C.'s lieutenant governor… Just like school, the 100 or so assembled were told not to turn over test sheets until instructed. We were also informed the test would consist of 20 multiple-choice questions — a hint that booking two hours off work might have been overly cautious. Question 1: Which mountain range divides B.C. and Alberta. Noting the absence of Sir John A. Macdonald as an answer I picked the Rockies over the Laurentians, the Appalachians and the Coast range. I never did get to display my knowledge of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Canadian Shield or the inner workings of the federal government. The most taxing question was: "Who is the leader of the federal opposition?" But for the spat over Preston Manning's U-turn on accepting Stornaway as his official residence as leader of the opposition I might have picked Lucien Bouchard. The other two choices were Alexa McDonough and Jean Charest. Of the four choices, only two are still leaders of federal parties. Oops! Four minutes after I turned over the test paper I rose to join the growing lineup to hand in completed copies. Two months later, on Oct. 27, in the same building, I swore allegiance to her Majesty and promised to observe faithfully the laws of Canada. I was joined by new Canadians from Iran, Russia, Yugoslavia, Macau, Italy, Ethiopia, England (I wasn't the token Brit), Taiwan, China, South Africa, the Philippines and Mexico. Citizenship Judge Patrick Reid told us that we should take our responsibilities as new Canadians seriously and represent our chosen country with pride. Then he told us to take the rest of the day off. I took my wife's family out to dinner and my mother-in-law gave me a card. "Canada did something right today," she wrote. I'm still not certain what being Canadian means. Those who fought, died and inspired the Citizenship Act probably knew what it meant better than most. As a new Canadian I qualify to bitch about taxes and politicians but also bear the responsibility of being accountable for them. I can influence how my two children are schooled and be heard when it comes to changes made in my community. Yes, I'm still half British but I fully expect to develop difficulties pronouncing words like Worcestershire and Leicester. And for two weeks every four years, when the Winter Olympics roll round, I'll put the memory of Eddie the Eagle to rest and join the collective grief over Canada's failure to win hockey gold. It's what being Canadian is all about.