me again

Allan keeps telling me I'm supposed to post my Globe And Mail essay. I did update the link, but it's timed out, and now you can only read it with a subscription.

So, ok. By special request, and because Allan made dinner tonight, here it is.
Cross a border, adjust a mind-set

by Laura Kaminker

A number of months ago, my partner and I moved to the Toronto area from New York City. Unlike many immigrants who come to Canada in search of economic opportunity, we came seeking something more abstract: a healthy democracy.

We didn't leave because of George W. Bush, although his placement in the White House by the Supreme Court gave our feelings sudden, irreversible clarity. No, the Bush-Cheney White House was just one last, very large, straw on a pile that had been building since the Reagan era. After years of frustration with the country's rightward drift, we decided we'd had enough. We were tired of feeling so alienated. We wanted to live in a society with values more like our own.

I began researching how to emigrate to Canada in the summer of 2003. I learned we'd be applying for permanent resident status, in the "skilled worker" category. The application process took about 18 months and cost more than $2,500 (U.S.). We listed every place we'd ever lived, every job we'd ever held, every organization we'd ever belonged to. We assembled sheaves of documents: high-school diplomas, university transcripts, birth certificates, affidavits of common-law partnership, proof of employment, medical records. We were fingerprinted and checked by the FBI. We were poked and prodded by an ancient doctor whose hand shook when he tried to draw blood. We traipsed to the bank for certified cheques and to photo shops for pictures.

And we saved money. We cancelled a dream vacation (no small thing for me -- I live to travel) and saved and saved to attain the required "proof of funds," and to build a cushion should employment be harder to find than we hoped.

We filed our applications in March, 2004. I then spent the summer working to elect John Kerry, despite our plans to leave no matter who won the election.

We checked the mailbox daily, as we wrapped up our lives in New York. Finally, on May 11, 2005, the envelope arrived -- "Important Notice: The processing of your application for permanent residence in Canada is complete. We require your passports before we can issue your immigrant visas . . ."

We found a place to live, arranged the move, said many goodbyes. On Aug. 30, we drove the world's fullest minivan, our two dogs nestled among the boxes, through New York state farmland. Hearts pounding and eyes welling with tears, we crossed the border.

We left behind a large, affordable apartment, great jobs, good friends and nearby family. Waiting for us in Canada was a rented house and a small band of well-wishers we met through my blog (wemovetocanada.blogspot.com). We clutched our résumés, our faith in ourselves and our sense of adventure.

What would we find? Other than Tim Hortons and Don Cherry, the new coins and the new spellings -- would it all be pretty much the same?

We knew life in Canada would be different, if only for how we see the United States: foreign wars for profit; unchecked poverty and its twin, rampant violence; increasing government intrusion into citizens' personal lives; media controlled by the government, and a government controlled by religious fanatics; a corrupt, antiquated election system.

But contrary to what some Canadian cynics say, Canada is not only defined as "not the United States." Its identity is more subtle than that of the U.S., but then, it's a more subtle country. Canada doesn't go around thumping its chest declaring itself The Greatest Nation on the Face of the Earth. Canada speaks more quietly.

I think when Canada speaks, it uses "we" more often than "I." One might sum up the difference between the U.S. and Canada as individualism vs. community. Of course, both countries have both, but there is an unmistakable difference in emphasis.

The most obvious example of this is national health insurance. Ensuring that every person has access to basic health care requires some sacrifice from everyone -- and that's a trade-off most Canadians willingly accept. Despite whatever problems the system may have, the vast majority of Canadians agree that everyone must contribute toward this greater good.

I also see this emphasis on community in the mundane dealings of daily life.

Where I live, in the Peel region of Ontario, there is a robust recycling program. Learning its many rules and regulations took some time. As our recyclables grew and our weekly garbage output shrank, I marvelled at how a true recycling program could work.

The New York City recycling rules can fit on a small pamphlet -- and recycling is a disgrace. If New York tried to institute the Peel guidelines, there would be a revolt. The mayor and the city council would be run out of town. Too inconvenient, too confusing, too many rules, I can't be bothered.

Then there are the GO trains. They are clean, comfortable, and the service, albeit infrequent, is reliable. But no one takes your ticket! American friends are amazed when I tell them that Ontarians ride on an honour system. As one visitor to my blog said, "I couldn't even contemplate not punching my ticket. What if they checked me and I hadn't done it! Also, if people started abusing it and riding for free then eventually they wouldn't be able to have the GO train at all or they would have to reduce the service!"

This is not, shall we say, an American attitude. If the New York City subway ran on an honour system, the system would go bankrupt in a week. Naturally some New Yorkers would pay a fare even if they weren't forced to, and I'm sure some of my Mississauga neighbours would gladly sneak a free ride.

Where I'm from, diligent honour-system riders would be derided as fools and chumps. Where I am, a dishonest rider is seen as hurting the greater good.

That accent on the greater good, for me, defines Canada. Here's what one Canadian said in my blog: "When it snows and nobody's been out to shovel yet, so you're walking on that bit of trampled snow in the middle of the sidewalk, and you see somebody coming towards you, you'll step aside to let them have the path, and they'll do the same thing. Snow, self-effacement, and consideration of others' needs -- that's Canada right there, for me."

As we near the end of our first Canadian winter, those are words to warm my heart.

Laura Kaminker lives in Port Credit, Ont.
I continue to get emails from Americans who are in Canada for the same reasons, others who are in the application process, and Canadian well-wishers. It's really nice.


Miche said...

I found your blog through that article. I enjoyed the article tremendously! (And I now have the added bonus of enjoying your blog!) Glad you're enjoying Canada!

Nicole said...

This is really lovely Laura.

It's funny. . . back in 1992 when I was about to graduate from college I was seriously thinking about going to Canada because I was so unhappy about how I saw things going in the US. I understand why you were thinking about it even before Bush II

Anonymous said...

Brilliant piece. Thiis the first real writing of yours other than your blog I've gotten to see. Obviously gifted. And the way in which you managed to impart many of the feelings John and I have also experienced as we completed the immigration process is fascinating as well. Very nicely done.


laura k said...

Thank you (all) so much.

Miche, thank you for your welcome - and welcome to wmtc!

Matt, you are too kind. I will come back to look at your praise on days when I feel like I can't write a decent sentence.

barefoot hiker said...

Very nice indeed. Succinct and yet sincere, it manages to be personal without being rambling, like a good conversation on the road to a destination rather than a jaunt.

Relatedly, I see by the Globe this morning that the finalization of the practical sealing of the border. Shortly, US citizens will need proof of citizenship (passport, effectively) to return to the US from Canada, and Canadians will need to carry passports to enter the US. The casual crossing of the border that's existed since the Revolution is about to pass into history. Even as Europe becomes more "one" place, the US moves more and more into splended isolation, even from the neighbours, the cousins, the grandchildren. The phrase that springs to mind harkens back to Ann Rule's description of Ted Bundy from her book of the same name: The Deliberate Stranger. Given the reluctance of Americans to carry documentation, I wonder... is it the policy to keep the world out, or Americans in?

laura k said...

Thank you, LP! There's nothing like a strict word limit to clarify one's thoughts.

The casual crossing of the border that's existed since the Revolution is about to pass into history.

I agree that it's a sad and unnecessary change, but it's not necessarily permanent. The openness may not be passing into history. Although it's undoubtedly going on a long hiatus.

Daniel wbc said...

Great essay and lone primate has already said what I thought: "Succinct and yet sincere, it manages to be personal without being rambling ..."

As half of an American same-sex couple applying for permanent residency in Canada, I have been trying to write an essay like yours for months. I am both thankful and jealous!

Thankful because I've already printed your essay for one acquaintance and will soon point it out to many more. Jealous because I wish I could calm my feelings of alienation and anger at the U.S. long enough to say something coherent and not just sound like a blithering wack-job. (And, yes, these feelings started long before W ... say, around 1981.)

The only aspect that I would want to add to your essay for me and my husband is that our marriage is recognized in Canada and not in the U.S. and I'm tired of us being used as cheap and easy political fodder. (If I'm going to be cheap and easy, I want it to be for something much more fun and positive than getting Republicans elected.)

laura k said...

Daniel wbc, thank you so much, you are so sweet.

You might find - as I did - that your feelings calm once you're over here. I am so much more at peace now - now that I feel like I belong.

Here's to your future in Canada!

Wrye said...

Well, you do belong. Daniel too. You can have a sane conversation about the merits of Michael Moore here, for instance.

W. Shedd said...

LP - The rest of the world has required carrying passports to cross international borders for many, many, many years. Most countries require traveling citizens to carry their passport just to travel WITHIN their borders! You can't buy train tickets without a passport in much of Europe, Asia, and the CIS, for example.

In fact, most of the world is rather shocked that very few US citizens have passports.

laura k said...

In fact, most of the world is rather shocked that very few US citizens have passports.

They shouldn't be, given that most US citizens don't give a crap about the rest of the world.

The ubiquity of passports at other borders doesn't change the fact that the US and Canada have had a special relationship - an open one - and that is now changing, or has changed. Many of us find that sad and unnecessary.

Hannah said...

Hey, my boyfriend and I have just been to Toronto to see the Barenaked Ladies at the Air Canada Centre! We both loved the city even though we weren't there that long. We live in England (UK) and when we got home from Canada we looked at what you have to do to move out there. We definately wouldn't rule it out in the future! I love the fact that Canadians are proud to be Canadian- I don't know what being English is really.... political correctness has gone mad too! We also love the clean streets and the fact that people actually care about the environment they live in. Reading your blog has made me even more interested in Canada! Thanks! Hannah :-D

laura k said...

Hi! So glad you liked Canada and Toronto.

We also love the clean streets and the fact that people actually care about the environment they live in.

Canadians all think Toronto is dirty, but I agree with you. Compared to cities outside Canada, Toronto is spotless!

I love the fact that Canadians are proud to be Canadian- I don't know what being English is really.... political correctness has gone mad too!

I'm not sure what you mean by this, but Canada, especially the major cities, is very multicutural. It's part of what makes Canadians proud of Canada. If so-called political correctness bothers you, you might look into Canada a little more deeply.

Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy.

Hannah said...

What I meant by-

"I love the fact that Canadians are proud to be Canadian- I don't know what being English is really.... political correctness has gone mad too!"

We are multicultural in England, which is a good thing BUT I don't think we have our OWN culture much anymore.... some schools won't do nativity plays for example because it would offend other cultures! But its part of our culture! I don't think it would offend different cultures, someone has just decided that! Do you know what I mean? Canadians welcome other cultures BUT are proud of their own, thats what I'm trying to say.


laura k said...

It's the same here, except in Canada it's taken one step further. The multiculturalism is Canadian culture. Canadian culture is seen as very multifaceted. It's not either/or.

some schools won't do nativity plays for example because it would offend other cultures! But its part of our culture!

Canadian schools are not allowed to do nativity plays. There is not supposed to be an "our" culture and a "their" culture. If you want nativity plays, you do that in your own church. If there can be nativity plays in school, what about Muslim, Hindi, Jewish, Sikh plays? It's not about not offending people - it's about inclusion.

I think you'll find Canada is much the same as England in this regard, but more so, because it's had more practice and more committment to it.

Hannah said...

Yea, I get what your saying.... and I admit I never thought of it that way...

"but more so, because it's had more practice and more committment to it"

I agree with this, I think we find it hard to look at things as "inclusion" and seem to look at it as being "offensive" instead. Probably because its a newer thing to do in England....I hope you get what I'm trying to say!

I don't know, this is just my view! But its interesting to hear what you have to say. Thanks


laura k said...

I do understand what you're saying, although I don't see things from the same point of view.

Canada has always been a multicultural country, founded by three different nations and actively encouraging immigration from all over the world. It hasn't always been acknowledged, and minorities haven't always had the same rights or visibility as the majority - but that's in the past.

There was a lengthy discussion about this topic here (be sure to read comments, too.

Thanks for your thoughts, too!

Hannah said...

Thanks I'll give it a read.

I'd just like to say one last thing, I think the media in England has alot to answer with regards to the issue of Us and Them. People need to be careful they don't get sucked into it all.


laura k said...

Hannah, thanks for your comments here and on the other thread. I appreciate your open-mindedness and willingness to discuss this. It's a rare trait and much to your credit!

I don't doubt that the media in the UK plays a huge role in this.

Rositta said...

I've just discovered your blog, I hope by this time you are not disillusioned with Toronto, it's not that great. I live here and see it from a different perspective. I am an immigrant and my husband is Greek/American, we feel that multiculturalism is not working any more. It is exclusionary rather than inclusionary and too much appeasement is required. Just my personal view...ciao

laura k said...

Actually, I love it here. I'm not disillusioned - but I didn't have many illusions in the first place.

I am an immigrant and my husband is Greek/American, we feel that multiculturalism is not working any more.

What would you prefer?

frozen tundra said...

Hi Laura-

I must admit I stumbled onto your blog by complete accident while checking out joyofsox! I'm actually a dual US-Canadian citizen who was US born but grew up in Toronto from age 4-20. I guess I'm in the reverse situation from you and your readers in that I moved to Boston to go to college and ended up staying here in the US.

It was amazing to read your posts/experiences because having lived in the US first you almost have the complete opposite perspective as myself. I think I was nodding my head pretty much the whole time...

Just as an example: when I got to Boston I was not at all upset by the fact that Red Sox tickets were impossible to get because I couldn't get over the joy of being able to get tickets to watch the Bruins play the Leafs! (I guess initally there's a lot of truth to "the grass is greener on the other side") but you should know I lost plenty of sleep during both World Series (04 and 07)!

I think Canada is just so unknown to many native Americans, I remember getting asked if we all lived in igloos and stuff when I first got to college =) Your blog is a fantastic resource for anyone thinking of moving there, it also reminds me of why I miss home once in a while! Keep up the excellent writing!

ps I have yet to meet someone from the US who's visited Toronto and not raved about how clean the city was!


(a grateful & proud American/Canadian)

laura k said...

Pete, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Actually, wtmc has a lot of readers in your position - Canadians living in the US, for whom wmtc might be a link to Canada.

Speaking of igloos, our friends Nick and Mason (of the blog Life Without Borders), moved here to Toronto from Denver. They have two dogs, and at their going-away party, someone asked them how the dogs would adjust to pulling sleds.

I still can't believe that, but it happened.

Thanks again for your lovely comment. GO RED SOX! :)

ErinOrtlund said...

I enjoy reading about your journey here. In contrast, our family falls into the "accidental Canadian" category--we got here because of a job, not because of any intent. But I find the country does suit me in many ways, and feels much saner than the US. There is much to love and admire about Canada.

Charles Starks said...

My spouse and I moved to Toronto from NYC a year and a half ago for a job. Reading about what others have gone through to get in makes me feel really lucky that our application was a breeze, thanks to my spouse's employer.

It's also interesting to see others' perspectives on Canada, but I have trouble relating. To be honest, I don't see much difference between Americans and Canadians, or between life here and that in the states. Canada certainly has America's me-first materialism, inane rightwing politics/media and civic impoverishment in spades. And the left is nearly as marginalized here in public discourse as in the states. The divisions in the country between east and west, and Quebec and everyone else, seem to dangerously inhibit rational debate.

Of course I understand that my taxes aren't going to pay for foreign wars and bank bailouts, and that healthcare is guaranteed, and that same-sex marriage is legal. And I'm very very happy about that. But more and more, I look at Canadians and I see the same small-minded conservatism that I see in Americans.

Are these differences simply accidents of history and the result of Canada being a small country population-wise? Or is there still life in "peace, order and good government"?

Sanjo said...

planetcs has a good comment. Please don't attack me for this, I've received extremely vicious comments for expressing this ("Canadians are polite" indeed), but I just don't understand why anyone would come to Canada.

laura k said...

I don't attack anybody. But if you don't understand why anyone would come to Canada, you either know very little about how much of the world lives, or lack empathy, or both.

Sanjo said...

Well, I suppose I was thinking more of why someone would choose Canada over say, US, UK, Scandinavia, Australia, etc, or, why someone from those places might choose Canada. If that makes me a bad or stupid person then so be it. I don't know. Many people in Canada live in terrible conditions too... So, I just find it hard to brag Canada up much, especially lately.

laura k said...

It's easier to emigrate to Canada than the UK, which doesn't mean it's easy to emigrate to Canada, but much harder to the UK if you have no family there.

Scandanavian countries are closed to immigration except for "guest workers", low-wage, unskilled workers who enjoy few of the benefits of Scan. society - plus there's a huge language barrier.

I have no idea why you think Canada is a better place to live than Australia or the US. Since I emigrated here from the US, I can tell you that Canada is a much, much better place to live - if you are not rich.

There are also simple practical considerations, such as where my family is, my roots, what I do for a living, etc.

Canada may be a difficult place to live in some respects, but it is still one of the better places on earth, relatively speaking.

For other answers, read more of this blog, I suppose.

No one said you were a bad person or stupid, but you might be a bit ignorant on this one subject. If you hold up Australia or the US as a better place to live than Canada, you are not thinking clearly about all three places.

Thanks for stopping by.

MilwaukeeanJingoist said...

It's funny... I've read a couple of your articles because I myself am interested in emigrating from the US to Canada. Unfortunately, I am not able to do this as rapidly as I would like because I am in high school. What you've said about Canada is exactly why I'd like to make the move north. A focus on the greater good an the community. I hate the US government, I hate US society, and interestingly enough, I am Conservative. I suppose there just must be some universal truths about Canada that have attracted us both...

Terri said...

Milwaukeean Jingoist,

If you are so offended by what you consider "socialized medicine," then Canada is not for you. Canadians understand the "we" is just as important as the "I."


NewYorker said...

Hello Laura:
Well, reading all of these comments make me bound and determined to move to Canada (Toronto)
Unfortunately for me I have been unemployed for 2 years here in the US since I have the audacity of being over 50, male and white (that last is said purely in a the-hardest-group-in-the-US-to-find-employment sense and NOT as racial commentary.
Finding a job in Canada will truly be daunting but I need to press on.
I moved from NYC (well, Queens) to Chicago and back to NYC (well, Queens again) and still have been extremely unsuccessful due, in part, to the reasons stated above.
I have often thought about Canada but it is only now that the desire has reached its peak.
In addition to needing a better quality of life, I am tired of feeling unsafe. Not in the getting-mugged-in-Central-Park-at-3AM-when-you-have-no-business-being-there-at-that-hour sort of way but in the very real being-a-bloody-target-for-every-radical-terrorist-group-in-the-world way!
I want to feel safe, get a job and have a relatively quiet life. And I want to do it the right way.
Some knucklehead at an Immigration Lawyer type place suggested I get a letter from someone stating that I supervised or managed several people. I have since dropped all correspondence with these fellows.
I have skills but not in a Managerial capacity. Any suggestions on how I can enter and live in that noble country would certainly be greatly appreciated.

laura k said...

New Yorker, best of luck. The rules have changed substantially since we applied so I hope you do qualify. Go to the CIC site and read everything you can. You can email me specific q's if you like - not in comments, please. Good luck!!

Jess said...


I just found you through The Canadian Weblog Awards - am thrilled to hear of more people that have some over!

I'm Jessica. I came over on a fiancee visa from Michigan in 2000. Am now a permanent resident here (US citizen) in Nova Scotia, and while I miss my family, I don't think I would move back...

laura k said...

Hi Jessica,

There are lots of former USians here in Canada. In 2006, 11,000 Americans emigrated to Canada, and that pace continues. Through blogging, we know dozens of people who have made the same move.

We have applied for Canadian citizenship and will never move back to the US.

Thanks for stopping by. Best of luck!

TBones said...

All so true... brought a little tear to my eye - damn we live in a GREAT country!

samielynn said...

I am looking into relocating my family to Canada. I am sick and tired of living in a country run and controlled not by the people but greedy companies that purchase political puppets to do there biding. In 2004 my 6yr old son was in a tragic auto accident and refused medical care that resulted in blindness and severe mental and physical handicaps. The resulting law suit made him a multimillionare. I now watch these doctors charge outrageous amounts for medical care he needs and deserves. All because they didn't do their jobs in the first place. With his finacial status and myself being his home healthcare provider how would it work? Any sugestions you could make would be wonderful. I have to get my children out of this selfish country. Candians are more caring and honest it seems. They are everything I have taught my children to be. The American dream has become a living nightmare and I just wanna wake up somewhere beautiful and fare. Please help if you can.

laura k said...

Samielynn, there is a lot of advice on this blog, beginning with the posts listed under "how to move to canada".

Go to the CIC website and read everything that applies to you, to find out if you are eligible to emigrate in any category. That is the place to start.

You can read all my "advice" posts (on the right), but keep in mind that we applied in 2003, and the process has changed considerably since then. Don't use my experience as your guide, read for yourself at the CIC website.

Canada is not utopia. We are fighting to keep what we have. But there's no doubt in my mind it's a better place.

Best of luck to you. Feel free to email me if you do decide to go ahead with it.