How Pinterest is Crushing My Wedding (and Self-Esteem)

They used to say every girl dreams of a fairytale wedding. I’m not sure about that but I do currently feel the weight of the expectation that every girl must CREATE a fairytale wedding, whether she ever dreamed about it or not. As one of my colleagues warned me about wedding planning, “Once you get on that roller coaster you can’t get off.” And I am definitely riding a roller coaster made of paper lanterns and jumbo popsicle sticks, hastily stuck together with my newly-acquired glue gun.

Maybe I was once one of those girls. Maybe I once wanted a poofy dress and a string quartet and an aisle lined with rose petals (maybe I still do want a poofy dress, a string quartet, and an aisle lined with rose petals but perhaps I am too practical and too poor). Who doesn’t want to imagine a major event without also having to imagine the financial, familial, and time restrictions that will influence the big day? But who can afford that dream when it comes to their own life? Practically nobody.

Which is why, Once Upon A Time, if you were not rich enough to hire a wedding decorator or rent out a spendy venue, you rolled out some plastic runners, threw up some balloons and streamers in your “wedding colours”, and called it a day. I certainly went to a lot of weddings like that in my youth, and I had a great time. NOW, however, Martha Stewart, Pinterest, and craft stores everywhere have conspired to convince less-wealthy women that they CAN have their fairytale wedding after all, and furthermore that it is EASY and CHEAP, so long as they are prepared to MAKE EVERY DAMN THING THEMSELVES.

After visiting at least seven separate stores (Michael’s, dollar stores, Costco, shops in Chinatown, etc.) and spending so many dollars on paper lanterns, LED tea lights, and various wedding-related bric-a-brac, I’m beginning to seriously question how “easy and cheap” DIY wedding decor really is. Looking at the “DIY” page of my wedding Pinterest (yes, I had one) makes me want to cry. Apparently I compiled it in a simpler, more innocent time. A time when I thought perhaps I would learn to make macarons (an incredibly complicated piece of baking I’ve never attempted once, never mind enough times to feed a bunch of people). A time when I thought I was going to cut literally thousands of leaves out of coloured felt and thread them into festive garlands, or make my own lanterns out of mason jars and good intentions.

Sigh. I had no idea how incredibly bad at planning I am until I had to plan a wedding. And I had no idea how much my crafting skills fell short of what is considered a “simple, pretty wedding” nowadays until I tried to make even the most straight-forward of Pinterest-inspired dreams a reality.

One of the pieces of advice I’ve been getting since I got engaged is to make my wedding “my own”, as if my fiancé, the dozens of people attending, and the family and friends whose time and resources are being generously donated help throw one lavish party, have nothing to do with it. This wedding is far from being “my own”. The photos I’ve pinned on Pinterest are not my own, the crafting ideas are not my own, and the images I carry in my head of what I wish my wedding could look like are not my own. They’re part of some kind of wedding stencil that floats around in the ether, waiting to lay itself on top of all new couples’ best-laid plans and show them how far off the mark they are.

Um...nailed it?

Um…nailed it?

It’s all well and good to try to create your dream wedding if you’re crafty, and patient, and don’t live in a studio apartment where every available flat surface is now covered in boxes and bags. It’s less good when you waste two hours and six sheets of origami paper trying to learn how to make a magic cube rose only to end up with a fist-sized mass of crumpled sadness. Ho hum. I don’t think I was made for this.

I’m not sure where these high expectations for weddings come from (I know our guests are not snobby people and would not judge us based on my origami skills), but I do know they exist. Case in point: yesterday, I went to the dentist for a check up and cleaning. One of the hygienists told me that I have the lightest shade of “natural” teeth (based on the scale they have in the office). Which is great! And then she proceeded to explain how to use a fancy home-whitening kit (normally $100) which my dentist gave me for free as a wedding gift, so that I could really whiten up before my wedding.

And you know what? I appreciate it and I’m going give it a try. If you flip through wedding magazines, you will notice that while more brides nowadays may opt for ivory or off-white gowns, nothing but the whitest of whites will do for their smile. It’s weird to me that a dental office can simultaneously acknowledge the lightness of your smile and offer you free home-whitening, but it’s as if we all understand that weddings are somehow special, extraordinary events, and normal levels of nice-looking just don’t cut it. Subconsciously, we’re all trying to recreate a Pinterest/wedding magazine-worthy wedding, and it’s pretty damn stressful.

And yet I find I’m getting excited in spite of my anxieties. We’re lucky to have lots of help from family and friends, and the closer I get to the wedding the more I remember what it’s all for. It’s hard to make a wedding “my own”, because it’s not just for me, or even for us. It’s to share with people we care about, and part of that sharing is wanting to show off for them.

Or maybe that’s kind of bullshit. I’ve spent an entire blog post blaming Pinterest and whinging about how some evil conspiracy has created unrealistic wedding expectations, but deep down I know that I want things to be pretty because I like pretty things. And I really like folding paper.

Pretty pretty!

Pretty pretty!

[Note: for my origami needs, I have been turning to the amazing website, origami-instructions.com. I made the roses above with the instructions for Origami Rose with Leaf.]

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How to meet women without being a creep

Um...no thank you.

Um…I like that you’re a reader, but no thank you.

Hi there (heterosexual) fellas!

I don’t usually dispense dating advice, but I can only imagine that the dating world is a minefield for you right now. With the #YesAllWomen hashtag taking off and so much push-back against rape culture and the sexual entitlement implied by terms like “friend zone“, you’ve probably been made to feel like an asshole for, or at least have been prompted to question, the ways in which you’ve commonly interacted with women in the past. It may seem like your go-to conversation starters are annoying, insulting, and perhaps even scaring, some of the women you’d like to get to know better.

This sucks. It sucks for those women because they very likely ARE annoyed, insulted, or possibly even frightened by your overtures. And it sucks for you because, to give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming you are not a rapist, you’re making yourself look like a creep, which was probably not your goal.

Though it’s true that a lot of the single male behaviours I’ve observed in my young life are certifiably creepy, it’s hard to lay the blame with you. The same patriarchal, macho culture that has been hurting women all these years has also been hurting you, by telling you that your worth as a man is directly related to the number of women you can sleep with, by telling you that your emotions and vulnerabilities are shameful, and by denying you the right to appreciate all of the different relationships you have with women in your life, even if these relationships are not sexual. The culture that raised women to think they must be thin and have large breasts to be attractive also raised men to think they need to be tall and muscly. For both men and women, these expectations are unrealistic, as is the expectation that you’re supposed to be attracting lots of women, all the time. That the culture that raised you makes you feel like you’re missing out on some amazing elite party whenever you’re not having sex is unfair and totally false. And it’s understandably frustrating for you.

But that frustration is scary for women (if you want to know why, simply look at some of the extreme violence catalyzed by frustrated and misguided feelings of sexual entitlement, like the Isla Vista murders, for example). If you want to talk to a woman without being a creep you need to understand that while you might feel embarrassed or rejected if your interaction with her does not go well, she has very real reason to fear that she might be assaulted or even killed. If you’re talking to a woman who’s never met you, she’s not just assessing whether or not she wants to have sex, date, or continue talking to you. She’s also assessing whether or not you might be a threat to her physical safety, either now or down the road. Not behaving like an entitled creep goes a long way if you’re trying to establish even just that physical trust.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with going out for a night on the town and trying to “get lucky”.  People of all ages and genders are indeed looking for romance, and as long as you’re courteous and respectful about it, no one can fault you for approaching people you’re attracted to. Both love and sexual intimacy are wonderful things and it’s completely valid to want to find willing partners to share either or both of these adventures with you.

In terms of actually finding these partners (either for just tonight or for years to come), I unfortunately can’t help you. I don’t know any superficial “trick” for attracting women (unless that trick is hygiene, in which case, yes, hygiene is a great start). In terms of keeping your approach courteous and respectful, however, I do have some tips I’d like to share with you:

  1. Remember that no one owes anyone else sex, ever. You don’t owe anyone sex, and neither does she. Even if you’ve bought her a drink. Even if you’ve talked all night. Even if she flirts with you, or makes out with you. Even if she goes home with you–if, at any time, the woman you are talking to makes it clear that she does NOT want to have sex with you, that is the end of the discussion. Thank her for the conversation, call her a cab, or put her up on the couch. Then do something else (if you’re still interested in being around each other even if sex isn’t going to happen) or just walk away. No insults. No calling her a bitch or a slut or a tease. And absolutely NO trying to persuade her to change her mind once she has said no. It might not be the outcome you wanted, but a true gentleman seeks freely given and enthusiastic consent, and NEVER makes someone feel guilty for not wanting to provide it. This foundational principle is absolutely essential if you want to be respectful and polite in your interactions with women. Without fully understanding this the rest of my suggestions will be empty gestures, just tricks to make women think you’re a “nice guy”.
  2. Try to make sure you’re not interrupting something. A person who’s been interrupted by a stranger is likely in no mood to give that stranger much of a chance, romantic or otherwise. I’ve been interrupted by men I didn’t know while I was mid-conversation with my friends, and the other day a man on the bus got the woman sitting in front of me to take out her ear buds and listen to him just so he could tell her she had a “beautiful profile” and “nice features”. Not impressive. I’m sure you don’t like it when people interrupt you, and most women don’t either. Even if you’re interrupting or intruding to give us what you think is a compliment, what we really take away from the interaction is that you don’t believe that whatever we were doing (talking to friends, listening to music, or even just enjoying a quiet moment with our thoughts) is as important as your right to approach us as a stranger and say whatever it is that is on your mind. So how to know if you’re interrupting something? Well, if the woman you’d like to speak to is talking to someone else, listening to music on headphones, reading a book, or writing something, this is a pretty good indication that she’s busy. Why not try making eye contact with her before you approach her? If she avoids contact she is probably not interested, however, if she reciprocates she might be open to a conversation. When in doubt, simply ask, “Am I interrupting you?”. If she says yes, apologize and move on.
  3. Ask her to dance. Almost every girl I know has been the victim of some random stranger grinding them in a club without so much as a hello. Ew. Grabbing and frotteurizing someone on the dance floor is invasive and incredibly creepy. Asking someone to dance is not only respectful, it is charming and old-school and provides a gateway not just to dancing but also to introductions and conversation. Which I assume you would at some point want if you were truly interested in meeting someone.
  4. Talk about something besides her appearance, at least to start with. One of my friends recently mentioned to me that she doesn’t actually feel flattered when strange men begin conversations by complimenting her on her appearance. Though obviously a compliment is preferable to an insult, the implication is that physical appearance is the A+, gold standard by which women prefer to be measured. It actually sucks to be measured by your physical appearance, and beginning your interaction with a woman by talking about her appearance just plays into her insecurities. Instead of talking about physical appearance, which people have very little control over, why not talk about her/your job, her/your studies, how her/your night is going so far, etc.? Your continued interest is signal enough that you find the woman you’re talking to attractive. You don’t need to put her on the spot about it (besides, I’ve always much preferred to receive those kinds of compliments from those who’ve also seen me without make up, not just people seeing me dolled up in a club).
  5. On that note, never never NEVER “neg” a woman. Of all the creepy tactics endorsed by creepy players, negging is one of the most sinister and insidious. Insulting an attractive girl so that she’ll feel insecure and sleep with you in order to “regain” your favour and her lost confidence is dishonest, misogynistic, and cruel. If you think it’s okay to say mean things to another human being to trick them into having sex with you, you don’t deserve to be with anybody. Period.
  6. Honesty is the best policy. Lying to get someone to sleep with you is a totally creep move. If you think you need to lie to impress women, maybe you need to do a little more work on liking yourself (or being the kind of person you can like) before you go searching for a partner. Looking for a fun night but not looking for a girlfriend? Just say so before anyone goes home with anyone else and before any feelings get hurt. Believe it or not, women do enjoy sex and not all of us are looking for a “til death do us part” scenario. Being up front about who you are and what your intentions are just saves you from awkward and uncomfortable misunderstandings down the line. Remember, in small cities like Vancouver, it’s not uncommon to see the same single people in the same clubs/bars on any given weekend. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered as a cool fling instead of some lying creep?
  7. Don’t take it personally. Unless you’ve specifically done something to upset the person you’re talking to, there’s no reason to take a lack of interest on a woman’s part as a judgement of your worth. She might not be looking for a male partner right now (either because she’s already seeing someone, isn’t into men, or maybe just wants to be single). She might be out for a night with her friends and doesn’t want to add a strange person to the mix. She might be very shy. Or she might just not be into you, and that’s okay. Think about the women you see everyday that you’re not into–should they take it personally? Of course not. No one’s attracted to everyone and it’s nobody’s fault.
  8. Women are people, which means they’re not all the same. My suggestions come from my own experience, and while I think they are worthwhile as broad strokes, every person is different and will react differently to different approaches.  As with any social interaction, intuition and social acuity are good traits to have. When in doubt, remember that politeness and courtesy are almost always appreciated (even if the lady in question is not interested in pursuing a relationship), and that name-calling and aggressive behaviour are almost always creepy (unless you’re with a lady who’s specifically in to that sort of thing, but that’s a whole other scenario….).

In addition to the above suggestions, I recommend being open to the idea that women might approach you (and remember, if they do, you are entitled to the exact same courtesies that are expected of you). In  my current (and most of my past) relationships, I took some of the initiative when it came to meeting and finding out more about the guys I was interested in and I think it worked out well for the both of us. Society still seems to think that men are always supposed to pursue women but women are capable of breaking the ice too. Relax. Enjoy your night out for what it is. Maybe a woman will approach you. Maybe she won’t. Maybe you’ll want to approach someone and maybe it’ll work out. Maybe it won’t. Either way, remember that your frustrations, disappointments and moments of confusion are shared by most single people, both men and women. There’s no great sex party going on without you–just a few people having sex and a bunch of people pretending.

[Note: My list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive so female readers, if you have anything to add or if you disagree with any of my points, feel free to comment below. Gentlemen, I recognize that creepiness can be a two-way street. Is there anything women have done that creeped you out? Let me know!]

 

 

 

 

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Exquisitely Crafted: Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries”

9780316074315_custom-ab2793381053c909c69a0e7d56cac302350a9795-s6-c30To begin Eleanor Catton’s elegant, 832-page novel, recipient of both the 2013 Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, is a daunting task. The Luminaries contains 20 important characters (helpfully charted in the opening pages), follows an astrological structure and is, as mentioned above, an intimidating 832 pages long. To settle into the opening chapter (“In which a stranger arrives in Hokitika; a secret council is disturbed; Walter Moody conceals his most recent memory; and Thomas Balfour begins to tell a story.“) is not a matter of allowing yourself to be swept away (because how can you be with a book this physically heavy?), but of making a conscious decision to begin a long journey in the rain.

This, I think, is Catton’s intention. Her opening scene, set in 1866 Hokitika, New Zealand, finds young Walter Moody rattled from his overseas journey, bogged down by fatigue and rain. Upon entering the smoking room of the Crown Hotel, he comes upon twelve men silently occupying themselves in the kind of “studied isolation” that betrays the secret council in which they were deeply engaged just moments earlier. Both Moody and the reader must decide if the glimmers of intrigue that Catton has left visible are worth the trek into the murky unknown.

The answer for this reader is yes. Though never an easy read, the weight of The Luminaries is one which begins to gain momentum the moment we know something another character does not (which happens repeatedly throughout). Catton is a master of both concealment and revelation, parceling out each in just the right amounts so that our confusion never quite overtakes our dawning understanding, and vice versa. Her style is one which assumes and speaks to the reader, and ultimately rewards them in the incredibly satisfying final chapters.

Despite the mathematical and thematic sophistication of the book’s structure and Catton’s gorgeous, though occasionally high-falutin’, prose (the men in the Crown Hotel “might have been twelve strangers on a railway car, each bound for a separate quarter of a city that possessed fog and tides enough to divide them” their “bodily silence…deadened here not by the slur and clunk of the coaches, but by the fat clatter of the rain”), The Luminaries is, at its heart, a mystery story. Like any good mystery, the beauty of the language and the elegance of the chapter headings and divisions are secondary to the characters’ (and the reader’s) quest to seek out what is hidden and to unravel what seems at first to be hopelessly twisted. The prose and the structure, significant as they are, are the vehicles in which we travel–the mystery is the terrain.

Luckily, The Luminaries‘ mysterious landscape is one the author has mapped well and one she is adept at revealing. Unlike the patronizing explanations of Sherlock Holmes, Catton’s facilitation of our understanding is as emotional as it is rational, as lyrical as it is illuminating, and as wistful as it is fulfilling.

Having quite enjoyed The Luminaries, the only reason I wish the book were not so long is so that I would be more likely to undertake the repeated readings that would allow me to tease out Catton’s carefully crafted design a little more and derive even more pleasure from her skill. Even returning to the book casually (i.e. for leafing through) for the purposes of this review revealed details I hadn’t noticed before: delicious section names like “Tar”, “Tin”, and “The Widow and the Weeds”, and the way that the title of Part I, “A Sphere with a Sphere”, comes full circle (and becomes more poetic) for the book’s final section title, Part XII, “The Old Moon in the Young Moon’s Arms”.

There is so much to notice in this novel and so much to take pleasure in that I hope The Luminaries’ size will not dissuade you. Eleanor Catton clearly laboured long and now has a triumph to show for it.

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When Airlines Have a Heart

Just a short post from me this time as the family medical situation that brought me to Toronto last week became, as of Sunday night, a situation which now requires my staying in Ontario to attend my grandfather’s funeral.

There’s not much I can or want to publicly say about this situation, but I did want to say an internet thank you to Air Canada, for being surprisingly human for a large (and oft-maligned) airline.

After spending a week with my family, I was scheduled to fly home on Tuesday on my mom’s Aeroplan points. On Monday morning I found out that my grandfather had passed away during the night and, obviously, if I wanted to attend the funeral (which I did), I would not be able to fly on Tuesday as planned.

With less than 24 hours to go before I was meant to be boarding a plane, Aeroplan cancelled my flight and reimbursed my mom’s Aeroplan points. We were advised to call Air Canada when rebooking my flight home to talk about a possible compassionate discount–as it turns out, if you are suddenly changing or making travel plans so that you can attend the funeral of an immediate family member, Air Canada may be able to offer you a bereavement fare (obviously, when I called I was asked to provide specific details about the funeral so that Air Canada could verify the legitimacy of my request).

The hardest part about the process was actually just waiting on hold with Air Canada to talk to someone (30 minutes!) but once I was put through to an agent I found her to be very helpful. I had already picked the flight I was hoping to be on so once she confirmed that she could get me a bereavement fare on that flight the rest was pretty fast. She didn’t offer any platitudes, which is not what I wanted anyways, but she was courteous and efficient, and double-checked the details at each step before she made any promises. When I hung up the phone I was booked on a flight home for a price that was $100 less than the fare posted online.

$100 may not seem like a huge amount, however, unexpected events often come with unexpected expenses. For an airline not to take as much advantage of a situation as they could (since people travelling for funerals usually don’t have the flexibility that would allow them to arrange their schedules to facilitate cheaper flying), and to actually offer a fare to make things a little easier on their customers’ wallets, feels like an incredibly human thing to do. Air Canada is probably not the only airline to offer compassionate rates, but they really helped me out this time and I certainly appreciate it.

AirCanadaSled

(Yes, it’s a Christmas picture but it’s the only one I have that says “Air Canada” and also “giving”.)

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Family Trees

Latvia_Flag7

The phrase “tracing my roots” is an extension of the metaphor that describes family lineage as a tree with roots extending ever downward into the past and branches spreading ever upwards into the future. People charting the roots and branches of their particular family tree do so with names, places, and dates. They look for, and note, persons of distinction among their predecessors, and this distinction in their family’s past lends distinction to their present, to their blood. Locating your family is a way of locating yourself, of answering the question of why you are the way you are. Whether your ancestors achieved fame or infamy, triumph or tragedy, great love or great sorrow, you marvel at their lives and wonder at the forces of biology and time, at all the tessellations required to allow history to start with them and lead to you.

An impromptu visit to Toronto in response to a family medical situation has given me a rare opportunity to observe three generations of my mother’s family as they interact with, conflict with, and occasionally reflect one another. The unplanned nature of this visit and the uncertainty that prompted it mean that no one is on their “Christmas family-time” best behaviour. We’re just co-existing in my grandparents’ house for a few days–eating, sleeping, alternately trying to be useful and trying to get out of being useful (or maybe that’s just me–I really don’t know how to cook with other people’s food). It’s both fascinating and sobering: the similarities, the differences, the inevitability of change (of physical condition, of the roles and responsibilities necessitated by that condition, of familial relationships based on these new roles). And the realization that these changes aren’t anything new in the history of families.

Despite these stories being old and oft-repeated over time, they are still new to me and constantly in flux. I am, more or less, neatly half-Ukrainian and half-Latvian. How I feel, however, changes all the time. As a kid, I spent a year in Latvia as well as a lot of time with my mom’s Latvian-speaking side of the family. This is why I can sing Latvian folk songs despite (regretfully) not being able to speak Latvian. Latvian-ness was an ever-present force in my family. Of course, there was the matter of my Ukrainian last name. Can’t be helped, can’t be gotten around. It’s Ukrainian and I would be reminded of that every single time a school official stumbled over it. Then we spent a year in Poland and glory be! Every single person knew exactly how to pronounce it. My Ukrainian-ness seemed obvious and normal (Ukraine is, of course, right next door) and my Latvian-ness was an afterthought for a time.

indexIt’s been like this for most of the past few years, feeling connected to one culture or the other depending on which side of the family I was visiting or thinking about. In the past few years I’ve been involved in making shows with fellow half-Ukrainian theatre artist, Aliya Griffin (and taking Ukrainian dance classes!), and my creative and cultural life has seen a lot of Ukraine. But now, I’ve come to Toronto just in time for Latvians all over the world to celebrate Jāņ(mid-summer) which meant going to the Latvian Centre for beer (Lithuanian, sadly, but it will have to do), pirags (fun fun bacon buns), and song. So yes, I’m both Latvian and Ukrainian, always, a product of recent and not-so-recent history, and somewhere in there is a German predecessor (just one I like to think although of course I guess it doesn’t work that way) and one Ukrainian horse thief.

When you’re thinking about your place in your family and the world, it can be easier to start small–for me, I can start at the tiny intersection of my family tree where my parents branch out into my sisters and me. Growing up in the same house, it was easy to see how I was like my sisters. After all, we were similar in appearance, had similar talents when it came to school and athletics, wore each other’s hand-me-down clothes, sounded like each other (people couldn’t tell us apart on the phone), and were often treated as a unit by both family and friends. It was also easy to see the ways in which we were different–my older sister was more outgoing, my little sister was shy, etc.

But the differences and similarities we exhibited in our parents’ home are only part of the story of the variations I anticipate in the lives of our great-grandchildren. When I visited my sisters in their own homes I found myself confused by their kitchens. Where was the breakfast cereal? Where was the stuff required to make all the meals my parents used to make? Why was there kale in the fridge? Was someone really going to sit down and eat this mango? WHERE WAS ALL THE MEAT? I quickly began to form the idea that my sisters had veered away from our childhood eats while I’d remained steadfast to them.

Which is in fact not true; we’ve just chosen which pieces of home to bring with us. I always liked the pantries full of crackers and breakfast cereal, so that’s what I have. And I’m not as faithful to my parents’ kitchen as I like to think–there’s a lot I’ve changed, even in old favourite recipes, to suit my new tastes. It’s just small changes, here and there, but add time and biology and circumstance, and who knows where we end up?

On a visit to my parents’ house several years ago, I found somewhere the cover for their old toaster. (It’s beige with mushrooms on it and says, “CHAMPIGNONS” in brown letters). I tried it on my toaster in Vancouver but it didn’t fit so I put it in the outer pocket of one of my suitcases and forgot about it. Months or years later, I was in my sister’s kitchen and realized that her toaster was the old one from home. I asked her if she wanted the cover for it and she said yes. I looked in my suitcase and it was still there, ready to be returned to its rightful place.

I tell this story because although my family and I still have the same inside jokes and commitment to each other, the different physical landscapes we inhabit (our cities, our homes) are strange to me. I get lost in places I expect to find familiar (my sisters’ kitchens, for example), and I search for continuity–old things in new places.

All this is to say that we are not our families but we are pieces from the same shape, like dandelion seeds on the wind. Where we land is anybody’s guess and, with luck and flexibility, we can pretty much thrive anywhere. One day you realize that you have changed the story of your family simply by moving to another city, or adapting your home to your needs, or taking a job, or getting married. And so Ukrainian horse thieves and Latvian egg farmers beget teachers and graphic designers and publicists and me. How far away are my roots, now? And how wide is their reach?

Please excuse the haphazard careening from one thing to another in this post. This week has been more about my grandparents, aunts and uncles, mom, sister, and cousins, than about the blog. But I do like thinking about families, so I’ll probably blog about them again.

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Bill C-36 imposes moral judgement on consensual sex

Picasso

Picasso – “Nu couche et Picasso assis”, 1902, http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net

Though I have neither bought nor sold sexual services (nor know anyone who has done so, or at least who has told me about it), I find myself incredibly concerned about the Canadian government’s proposed bill C-36, which responds to the Supreme Court’s striking down of certain parts of Canada’s prostitution law by creating a new piece of legislation that is just as restrictive, ignorant, and unsafe (if not more so) for sex workers and their customers.

In my understanding, the bill restricts sex workers to working either in their homes or on the streets (since anyone renting space to them elsewhere would be “benefiting from the avails” of sex work, which means security guards, drivers, etc. would also be breaking the law if hired by a sex worker), prohibits them from advertising their services anywhere people under 18 may reasonably be expected to see this advertising (which includes, apparently, the internet so I’m not sure how that’s going to work), and criminalizes the act of purchasing sex. To reiterate: selling sex would be perfectly legal (with the above restrictions) but buying it would not.

Which of course means that the selling of sexual services wouldn’t REALLY be a legal transaction, because all of the sex workers’ customers would become criminals.

I know there are people who are passionately for the abolition of prostitution in Canada, and I know they mean well. I know the overwhelming majority of sex workers are women, and I know poverty is a factor in many women’s decision to become sex workers. I know there are women, men, and children currently performing sex work against their will. I know there are some sex trade workers who are being exploited, trafficked, assaulted, and plied with drugs by the people who are supposed to “protect” them. And this should and must stop.

But human trafficking, selling drugs, attacking a sex worker, and purchasing sex from minors (or exploiting a minor) are already illegal. What we need are better tools to enable police and courts to enforce existing laws, and trusting relationships between the justice system and sex workers that will both keep sex workers safe and help police to root out human traffickers, drug dealers, child molesters, and johns who hurt or kill sex workers. Effectively driving the profession farther underground and into the most dangerous parts of town (as bill C-36 would do by forcing sex workers away from any area children “might” be present, and customers of sexual services to hide for fear of arrest), does nothing to create trust between the justice system and the people this legislation is supposed to protect.

As for poverty, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in such a desperate situation that sex work became my only way to support myself and/or my family. No woman or man should be driven into sex work because of poverty. Instead of criminalizing johns, however, I would rather see our federal and provincial governments enact legislation that strengthens our social safety net and ensures vulnerable families never dip below the poverty line in the first place. It’s all well and good that the government wants to earmark $20 million for “exit services” (i.e. services that help sex workers leave the profession, though I am a little worried that most of these services may not be provided by impartial government agencies but by church groups eager to impart their brand of morality). Wouldn’t it be great if they earmarked those millions to fight poverty in Canada, so those who didn’t want to be sex workers never even had to start?

I am the first to admit that I am not the the most knowledgeable when it comes to sex work or to poverty. I also admit I personally would not like to be a sex worker. Which is why I have to trust the sex workers whose opposition to this bill I have read on Twitter and in news articles (like this one). Instead of rushing out to speak for people I do not know and whose lives I know nothing about, I have to trust what they’re saying. Yes, unsafe conditions, trafficking, drugs, and poverty are all problems in the sex trade. Problems that can be dealt with in other ways that don’t criminalize the exchange of money for sex itself. Yes, many sex trade workers are or do become victims of violent or exploitative situations, but their exploitation, abuse, and murder is already illegal, and bill C-36 won’t make those things any more illegal than they already are. I am not trying to downplay the dangers or the indignities that might befall a person working in the sex trade. BUT…

  • To claim ALL women who work in the sex trade are victims while ALL of their customers are aggressive, misogynistic criminals both patronizes women (ignoring the fact that some people do truly choose sex work), and demonizes men (and the occasional women) who turn to professionals when having sexual relationships (or indulging a specific odd kink) in their personal life isn’t possible. And there are lots of non-misogynistic reasons a person may pay for sexual services (from what I have read/heard, sometimes johns want human touch and someone to talk to, sometimes they have disabilities that make sex difficult, or their partner has a disability or illness and has given their healthy partner permission to seek sexual gratification from a professional, etc.). There are, of course, less saintly reasons a person may seek out sexual services as well, but if the sex trade worker is 100% consenting to the arrangement then that is none of our business.
  • The government’s talking points on bill C-36 have consistently referred to sex workers as being “women and children”, completely ignoring the men who also work in the sex trade. Are they too victims? Are they too being exploited by misogynists? Or can these men be trusted to DECIDE whether or not they want to receive money in return for sexual services because they’re men?
  • Bill C-36 and its advocates are being incredibly disingenuous. For example, Julia Beazley, policy analyst of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, claims that the use of sex workers is all about power, and that the government, through this bill, has “courageously challenged the belief that men are entitled to paid sexual access to women’s bodies.” (You can read more from Ms. Beazley on CBC.ca) I completely agree that no one is entitled to paid sexual access to anyone’s body unless the person whose body it is WANTS to grant paid sexual access.

This last point is something neither the government, nor Christian advocacy groups, (nor, it must be admitted, some feminist organizations) seem to be getting. It is possible to WANT to sell sexual services. It is possible to take pride in sex work (and lots of vocal sex workers and kink artists do). It is possible to make yourself a sexual object (on YOUR terms) when you want to and still believe in dignity and equality for all genders. And it is possible to purchase the services of a sex worker without being a pervert.

What the government is effectively doing with this bill is saying that not all sexual relationships between consenting adults are okay (notice I am talking about adults, not children, and situations that involve full and freely given consent, not coercion or exploitation). Consenting adults can have sex and that’s just fine with the government, but as soon as one of them pays for it, that person is a criminal and a pervert and an aggressor and a deviant. The seller of said services suddenly becomes not an equal partner in a mutually agreed upon sexual act, but a victim who lacks the agency to decide for themselves what they want to do with their bodies. Essentially, there are certain kinds of sex the Conservative government simply “doesn’t like”, or perhaps doesn’t understand, and is hiding behind the guise of protecting women to impose their tastes (while creating situations that would actually make sex work for women more dangerous and allow Robert Pickton types to murder women with a lot more impunity).

I thought we established long ago that when it comes to fully consenting adults, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” I know Pierre Trudeau wasn’t talking about sex work then, but perhaps we should be now.

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Into the Woods (Skookumchuk Hot Springs)

View from our campsite at Skookumchuk Hot Springs

View from our campsite at Skookumchuk Hot Springs

My TC and I are a couple who enjoy two things very much: exploring BC (our adopted home), and relaxing in peaceful outdoor settings.

It is for this reason that you won’t catch us at any Vancouver beach apart from Wreck, and why TC (who is more motivated when it comes to looking up stuff) took it upon himself to organize a quick overnight trip to the Skookumchuck Hot Springs near Pemberton.

Also known as St. Agnes Well or the T’sek Hot Springs, the Skookumchuk Hot Springs are accessed by the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road, which runs along the beautiful Lillooet River. Campsites and use of the springs are to be had at an incredibly reasonable $10 per person per night, plus $10 per vehicle. Though a few sites were a little exposed, they were generally quite nice with picnic tables, fire pits, and nice flat places to set  up tents. Most of the sites (like ours) are on the river and provide gorgeous views of swift green water and beautiful mountainscapes.

I have long believed that I am a terrible camper and I was apprehensive about my first camping trip since high school. It turns out that tents have come a long way since then (they’re so easy to set up now!), and that camping for one night is basically just having a picnic somewhere and then sleeping over, so it takes very little worry or organization. Or maybe I just think that because TC took care of most of the preparations. At any rate, we forgot to bring any soap but the hot springs did have hand sanitizer and, well, hot springs.

The springs themselves are a collection of soaking tubs of various sizes (some quite large) set in a clearing. Hot water is piped in from the natural spring a little farther up the slope, but the rock pool itself is far too hot to soak in. Bathers in the tubs can control the temperature of their tub by controlling the amount of cold water that flows in with the hot. As for the tubs, they are the kind of fairly ingenious assortment that would make a DIYer’s heart skip a beat. A couple of the tubs are the round, wooden-slatted variety (the kind you’d imagine people crushing grapes in). A couple of the tubs are simply empty water tanks, sawed in half and set in a wooden frame. And one tub (our favourite), is a hot tub shell propped up by wood and rock. Water is constantly flowing into the tubs and, at the same time, spilling out the other side. The tubs are cleaned often and the pools are never stagnant. I hardly noticed the kind of sulfur smell I’d come to expect with most natural hot springs (that said, I removed my engagement ring as a precaution before getting into the water since sulfur can ruin precious metals). Speaking of removing things, the tubs at Skookumchuck Hot Springs are clothing-optional, and most bathers seemed to favour the option of NOT wearing clothes.

If you like sitting in the tub at home, you’ll love sitting in a huge one that never gets cold and that allows you soak, chat with friends/loved ones, and be in the woods at the same time. We were at the Skookumchuk Hot Springs for less than 24 hours, but we managed to get three good soaks in. Heaven.

Just as enjoyable for me was the drive to and from the springs. I’m not generalizing when I say the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road is beautiful. It truly is, with new vistas opening up at every bend. Additionally, if you’ve ever driven the Sea-to-Sky highway, you are probably familiar with the drive between Vancouver and Pemberton and know exactly why TC and I love doing it so much.

The journey also provides fun opportunities for other things. On the way to Pemberton, we stopped for the l.5 km walk to Nairn Falls (where interpretive signs teach you all about the formations around the waterfall). It was, of course, rugged and beautiful and made me think of Lord of the Rings for some reason.

Nairn Falls. Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Nairn Falls. Photo: Brayden McCluskey

On our way back from the springs the following day, we stopped along the service road to take a look at a fascinating old cemetery that appears (due to the lack of surnames on most of the tombstones) to be a family plot. The newest headstone I saw was from 1930, though since I didn’t enter the cemetery itself I can’t be sure. What is obvious is that this plot has been carefully tended, and the tombstones decorated in much the same style, with coloured beads pushed into the cement. I was a bit surprised to see inverted pentacles carved into a couple of the older wooden grave markers (it just seemed unorthodox for an ostensibly Christian plot), but a cursory internet search suggests that an inverted pentacle was sometimes used by Christians to denote the eastern star, without being anything creepy.

In-Shuck_Ch CemeteryWe were starving by the time we got to Pemberton (the service road is a bit rough and takes over an hour to travel carefully), and all I wanted to do was eat and wash my hands (but not in that order). We stopped in at The Pony, where I had the best open-faced sandwich of my entire life: chicken breast stuffed with artichoke, red pepper, and feta on a bed of mixed greens and tomatoes, covered in harissa sauce and served on a thick toasted slice of homemade whole wheat bread. Oh yeah, and it came with soup. The sandwich WAS the special for the day, so I don’t know if it’s part of the menu usually, but it should be. Best sandwich.

And then of course, the view from the parking lot behind The Pony was so impressive I just had to take a photo. Ta-da!

Just a big ol' mountain. Visible from a parking lot in Pemberton.

Just a big ol’ mountain. Visible from a parking lot in Pemberton.

My god, this province is stunning.

When it came to discovering and getting to the Skookumchuk Hot Springs, we made use of the incredibly helpful directions and suggestions on the Whistler Hiatus website.

Nairn falls

Posted in Canadiana, Travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

I miss my journal (blogging is not the same)

The other night I was inspired to write a bit in my journal (currently a lovely, if scratchy-papered, leather-bound affair with an owl on the front). I was shocked, and somewhat ashamed, to find that I hadn’t written for almost two months. Flipping through the pages I realized that for the last few years I’ve been journalling, on average, once a month (or less). And the few entries I have written haven’t really been massive epistles to make up for lost time either–just little blips here and there, a note about Christmas, a paragraph about a recent disappointment or a recent triumph. I feel like I’m growing apart from an old friend. And it makes me sad.

I used to journal at least a few times a week. In grade 6 it was a bit of an obsession–trying to get through journals as fast I could, MAKING myself write at least one page per day, even when I had nothing to say except “Only 26 more days until this journal is done and then I can write in the new one with the tiger on the cover!”, etc. I’m not entirely sure why I was so obsessed with my next journal, as opposed to the one I was currently writing in. I think the sight of those blank pages made me feel that SOMETHING, something better than now, was waiting to be written in that next journal. Usually, it was just more of the same silly poetry and over-abundance of exclamation marks and musings about how close I was getting to the final page. I always finished a journal with a humorously wistful “Last Page” post (humorous because it usually involved me summing up the wisdom I believed my 11-year-old self had gained and finishing, as I often still do, with my signature).

Once I hit junior high and high school and became confused and insecure and angst-ridden, the tone of my writing was decidedly less positive. My childish indignation about popularity politics and boys I thought were icky (or cute, depending) gave way to a deep and abiding conviction that these things mattered–that being popular was a worthwhile goal, that whether or not any boys liked me was a measure of my value as a person. That my clothes mattered and my bra size mattered and that I was helplessly alone (even when I was loved all along). Receiving only 75% on my grade 8 science final necessitated a long walk in which I cried in the forest and wrote of my disappointment in myself. Envying my best friend her boyfriend resulted in pages of self-loathing. Arguments with my sisters or my parents were chronicled in capital letters with multiple exclamation marks immediately followed by regret. Often, I turned to my journal not for silent understanding but to say I was sorry.

It wasn’t all bad of course. I wrote about whether the boy I liked had talked to me that day. I told the story of my first kiss (and several weeks later, my fun fun time with mono). I could detail exactly the intensity of eye contact in a “romantic” situation, or what it felt like to have a boy reach for my hand for the first time while we watched a movie in the dark. I seemed to remember each and every electron that fired when everything I was experiencing was so new. I recorded my dreams, and wrote about vampires (which were a thing for me, I guess when I was 15), and Peter Pan, and my best friends, and all the places I was seeing, and what I wanted to do when I grew up (writing or theatre, depending).

When I revisit my old journals I always expect to find them funny, and instead I find that I am sad. Sad that the girl I was didn’t love herself more, or see how much she was loved. Sad about some of the not-so-good situations she got herself into due, in part, to her low self-esteem. Sad that I wasn’t always respectful to my parents, or understanding with my sisters. And sad about good things too. Sad to read about a school chum that isn’t here anymore. Sad to read about best friends that live so far away now. Sad that my hometown keeps changing without me, and for the beautiful places I have been that I can’t properly remember.

Which is why my journals are so important to me. They aren’t great literature. But they are a record of a life, unexceptional as it may be. I don’t want to forget how it felt to be those other people I have been, but I do forget, and, when I need them to, my journals bring those other Laurens back.

But only if I write in them. I know that I journal more when I am sad than when I am happy. I journal more when things are new than when they are routine, even though I know that life does keep changing in slow and subtle ways. And it’s too bad. In the sad times I’m always dismayed to look back in my journals and find I had little to say about the happy ones–I was having too much fun, I guess, or taking my happiness for granted. I read once that “misery stains backwards through the pages of life”, and it’s so much easier for that to happen if I neglect to write about the good times.

In a weird paradoxical way (familiar to procrastinators everywhere, I’m sure), the guilt I feel about neglecting my journal actually makes me want to write less. Opening my journal makes it obvious how poorly I’ve been keeping it up lately and it makes the guilt worse. So I cart my journals around with me like reproachful bricks until I FINALLY make myself write, at which point there is so much to say that my efforts are merely perfunctory.

I know there are other reasons I’ve been terrible with my diaries. For example, as mentioned above, I write less when I’m happy and in general, I am quite happy nowadays. I also am not as self-centred as a I used to be. I’m not saying I was a selfish teenager, just that the things that bother me the most nowadays aren’t necessarily personal insults or failures (the kinds of things I used to exhaustively record in high school because I was not as good at coping with them), but broader issues like violence, Canadian politics, and misogyny. (I don’t know how to journal about being afraid of the MRA movement, and the recent massacre in Isla Vista, for example. I don’t know how to bring that into my record of my life and I don’t know if I want to.) And, of course, I don’t have the free time I had when I was 13 (it turns out my parents were right–taking care of a household, even a small one like mine, IS a lot of work, and having their children help out without complaint WOULD have been very useful).

And then there’s this blog. It’s like a journal, in a way (and here I do attempt some larger issues), but it’s changed the way I write for, and about, myself. Instead of being honest with myself in private I’ve been presenting my emotional life in a public forum, and using my journal merely as a log of achievements and setbacks. I try to be truthful, but “presenting” is definitely what I do in this blog–it’s not, and can never be, a replacement for my journal. It’s glossy, it’s vague, and it’s CLEAN. Much cleaner than my emotions really are. I admit my confusion to myself less and less nowadays, and instead take a solid position because a solid position is easier to blog about. Sometimes, that kind of writing is necessary and useful and for that reason I continue to enjoy this blog. It’s a great new friend.

But blogging is not the same as my journal. My journal, truly, is singular, an entity that spans multiple handwritten books (a dozen? Two dozen?) written and collected over the past 20 years. My journal has been with me since I was a child. It has never left. It has always waited patiently with blank pages and the promise of better things to write about. I have neglected it and I am sorry.

Journals boxes! There are two more of these stored at my parents' house.

Journals boxes! There are two more of these stored at my parents’ house.

Posted in Writing | 1 Comment

Sal Capone: a tragedy with sincerity and depth

Sal Capone PosterWhen I was offered the opportunity to attend Sal Capone: the Lamentable Tragedy of (presented by urban ink productions in cooperation with Black Theatre Workshop) I had no idea what to expect. I know nearly nothing about hip hop, and had no idea how it would play in a theatrical production. I thought, this will either be an incredible experience or a dud. I had never heard of Fredy Villaneuva, the unarmed youth whose fatal shooting by Montreal police inspired this play. Many new plays have called themselves tragedies, but very few have had the balls to honestly examine the complexities that create them.

It was my good fortune to discover that Omari Newton’s Sal Capone is a tragedy in the true Shakespearean sense of the word. As in Macbeth or Hamlet, one act of violence leads to others–violent emotions, violent words, violent actions. We know where this is going but the powerful emotional responses that bring us there are so skillfully wound up that we cannot look away. In this tragedy, the protagonists are not kings or princes but disenfranchised young people full of potential and talent. Their “fatal flaw” is not ambition or indecision but their anger at a system that marks them as dangerous, dehumanizing rather than protecting them.

Kim Villagante as Jewel

Kim Villagante as Jewel. Photo: Andrée Lanthier

I know I am watching a compelling piece of theatre when I cannot see the line between where the script ends and the performance begins. Tristan D. Lalla, Kim Villagante, and Jordan Waunch did exactly what excellent actors should do, inhabiting their characters (members of a hip hop group called “Sal Capone”) so completely that I never saw them working, only being. The hip hop pieces in the show are unforced, unpretentious, and incredibly powerful. I may not know much about hip hop, but I know when a performer is truly connected to what their character is doing, and these actors (who are also hip hop artists) are nothing if not genuine. I believed it. I bought it. I sent my heart out to it.

Counterintuitively, a cross-dressing sex worker narrator (played by Billy Merasty) frequently breaks the fourth wall and a little sister character (Letitia Brooks) also seems to play directly to the audience with her amusing grammatical pedantry. I personally found this contrary to the authenticity Lalla, Villagante, and Waunch create (which is not to say that there were problems with Merasty and Brooks’ performances, only that they operate, it seems, on a different level of theatricality). That said, when Merasty and Brooks enter the action not as a guides or foils but simply as people caught in the crosshairs, the “actor” masks fall away and you see every character for what they are, motivated by fear and anger, prey to a violence they participate in but cannot control. What I’m saying is that there will be times in this play when you are taken out of the honesty of the moment, into a place a little more literary, a little more theatrical, but when shit hits the fan the moment becomes real and every single performer is in it, body and soul. Sal Capone transports you into a place you’ve been busy ignoring, a place where violence isn’t just something that happens to people in gangs (as one of the characters points out, “What does ‘known to police’ even mean?”). A place where we realize that we, as a society, need to do better.

One of Newton’s greatest achievements in his script is his ability to examine violence and culture without resorting to a dichotomy of black and white, hip hop=good, police=bad. The “enemy” of the story (i.e. the police) are never even present onstage but between Newton’s sympathetic characters there is still enough fear and violence to spur the plot towards its tragic conclusion. Marginalized and misunderstood, Sal Cappone‘s characters trade in words of hate, hurting one another with “chink” and “faggot”, understanding that words are weapons, often the only weapons they have, and the only outlet for the violence they feel, fending off the physical violence that threatens to emerge.

The lesson in this tragedy, as in so many great tragedies, is that violence begets violence. People must be given a chance to break the cycle. We need to talk to one another, and do better. Sal Capone: the Lamentable Tragedy of is an incredible achievement and a powerful addition to this necessary conversation.

Sal Capone: the Lamentable Tragedy of plays at the Roundhouse Theatre until May 31. Tickets can be purchased online through urban ink production’s website.

Disclosure: I attended Sal Capone: the Lamentable Tragedy of courtesy of urban ink productions. The content of this review is my own.

 

Posted in Arts and Culture, Politics, Theatre | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Bill C-24 is an insult to all Canadians

Let me tell you a little story. The kind of story that is shared by so many Canadians it has become almost cliché. It is a story of two young people fleeing an Eastern European country (oh, let’s say Latvia) after the Second World War. They meet in England, fall in love, get married. While their first child is still a baby they board a ship bound for Canada. They settle in Toronto and have two more children. They work hard, save their money, pay taxes. They are proud of their heritage and participate in the sizable Latvian community in Toronto, but they are also proud to live in Canada and love their new home. All three children attend Canadian universities.

The first child, the one who was born in England, eventually moves to the Prairies, falls in love, gets married, and has kids.

And that is where I, and bill C-24 (the “Strengthen Canadian Citizenship Act”) come in. You see, because my mother was born in England, she, and her children, are eligible for British citizenship. Though I have been a dual citizen of both Canada and Great Britain since I was 15, I have always felt, first and foremost, that I am a Canadian. There is no other country on this planet that I would rather be a citizen of. It’s not that I think my country is the greatest nation on earth, or that the sun never sets on our gloriousness, or any other alarmingly patriotic claptrap. It’s that Canada is my home. There will never be another.

I know that my story, and my sentiments, are shared by many Canadians. A lot of us have parents who were born outside the country. The story of Canada as a safe haven and a land of opportunity for those fleeing persecution or war is as feel-good and heart-warming as its tale of the intrepid pioneers, carving out a life in Canada’s west, or its stout-hearted Maritimers, holding fast to their rocky shores and pulling their living out of the sea. It is, of course, excellent PR, a way to court both foreign investment and the immigrant vote (“Canada the Benevolent Multicultural Mosaic, now with Medicare!”).  Though these tales are always incredibly oversimplified (First Nations people, for example, are conspicuously absent in these feel-good narratives, as are other inconvenient “bumps” in the story, such as the Chinese head tax, Japanese-Canadian internment during the Second World War, and Ukrainian-Canadian internment during the First), the gist is that Canada loves its immigrants, wouldn’t be what it is today without them, celebrates their various cultural heritages, and is grateful for their contribution to the country.

Or so I thought.

canada11First introduced in Parliament in February of this year (and not yet passed by the House of Commons), several aspects of bill C-24 are giving the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers pause, and are leaving me feeling anxious, insulted, and second-class. If this bill passes into law, Canadian citizenship will be harder to obtain, but also, shockingly, easier to lose.

Currently, a Canadian can only lose their citizenship if they came by it through fraudulent means (if they lied on their citizenship application, for example). Those citizens who filed honest applications or who were born in Canada cannot lose their right to be Canadian. Under bill C-24, not only can naturalized Canadian citizens lose their Canadian citizenship if convicted of certain crimes (either here or elsewhere), any Canadian who is, or has the potential to be, a dual citizen can lose their citizenship as well.

Never, in my entire life, did it occur to me that a Canadian born in Canada could lose their right to be a Canadian. The thought makes me sick to my stomach. It’s just…wrong. It exposes some, but not all, Canadians to an additional punishment if convicted of the crimes outlined in the bill: banishment. Not only is banishment as a punishment antiquated and out of line with a modern justice system, it’s only a punishment for SOME people, i.e. people who were, are, or could be dual citizens.

According to a statement prepared by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers:

The new law divides Canadians into two classes of citizens: first class Canadians who hold no other citizenship, and second class Canadians – dual citizens, who can have their right to live in Canada taken away from them. Even if you are born in Canada, you are at risk of losing citizenship if you have dual citizenship or the possibility of dual citizenship. You may not even know that you possess another citizenship. If you have a spouse, parent, or grandparent who is a citizen of another country, you may have a right to citizenship without ever having applied for it. The proposed law would put you at risk of losing your Canadian citizenship if the Minister asserts that you possess or could obtain another citizenship. The burden would be on you to prove otherwise to the Minister’s satisfaction.

The new law will make it easier for the government to take away your citizenship in the following ways:

1. For all naturalized citizens, a federal government official can revoke your citizenship if he believes you never intended to live in Canada. This could happen if you decide to study in, accept a job in, or reside in another country. In contrast, Canadian citizens born in Canada cannot lose their citizenship by living outside of Canada.

2. For Canadians with potential dual citizenship, an official may remove your citizenship for a criminal conviction in another country, even if the other country is undemocratic or lacks the rule of law. The official may also remove your citizenship for certain serious criminal convictions in Canada, even if you have already served your sentence in Canada.

3. The power to remove your citizenship will be given to an official of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The decision may be made in writing with no opportunity for you to speak to the official. Under the current law [i.e. as it stands now, prior to the passing of C-24], to take away your citizenship, the government must make an application to a Federal Court judge where you will have an oral hearing to defend your right to citizenship.

This bill is just wrong, and cannot logically exist in a fair justice system. Let’s say both Joe Anglophone and I are convicted of espionage (I have no idea why or how I could ever be convicted of espionage but it’s an example). Joe Anglophone’s family settled in Ontario in the 1800s and any connections he may have to Mother Britain are so many generations back that he could not possibility apply for dual citizenship. I, of course, have a mother who was born in England and even if I hadn’t applied for British citizenship I would still have the potential. Under current law, both of us would receive the same sentence for the same crime (whatever the sentence for a conviction of espionage is, which I must say I do not know). Under bill C-24, Joe Anglophone would still receive the standard sentence for espionage, while I, as a person who has the potential for dual citizenship, would receive my espionage sentence AND be stripped of my right to be a Canadian. Joe Anglophone’s crime could even have been worse than mine, but as a dual-citizen only I would face banishment.

What Bill C-24 is saying is that there are two kinds of Canadians: Canadians who can’t ever be banished and Canadians who can. You don’t need to have done anything wrong to end up in the latter camp, vulnerable to a punishment your fellow Canadians are not. You just need to be an immigrant, the child of an immigrant, or the spouse of an immigrant. Canada’s multicultural mosaic in all its glory. Right.

I think I have outlined pretty thoroughly how bill C-24 is an insult to me and people like me (since that is the situation that is most immediate to me), but it’s not too hard to see how bill C-24 is also an incredible insult to many other people who call this country home.

  • Bill C-24 is an insult to all naturalized Canadians. Becoming a citizen of Canada if you weren’t born here isn’t like getting your driver’s license. It takes literally YEARS of commitment. There are fees, applications, a citizenship test, language proficiency exams, and dizzying layers of bureaucracy. The people I know who have been sworn in after all of this work have said it was an incredibly proud moment for them. Unlike those of us who were born in Canada, naturalized Canadian citizens had to work hard for their citizenship and to be recognized as equal Canadians in the eyes of the government. Bill C-24 essentially tells these citizens that their sacrifices weren’t good enough and that this current government does NOT consider them to be “as Canadian” as those who have no possibility for other citizenship.
  • Bill C-24 has an Anglophone and Francophone bias. Based on the different kinds of immigration embraced/allowed by the Canadian government in the last 50-60 years or so, it’s probably safe to say that today, most of Canada’s dual citizens are not Anglophone or Francophone. They may be of Eastern European descent, originally escaping Soviet and/or Nazi occupation. They may be Caribbean, their story a part of the West Indian Domestic Scheme of the 1950s, or perhaps the “liberalization” of immigration in the 60s and 70s. Canadian cities are home to a large variety of ethnic and religious communities (Asian, African, Latino, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Croatian, Latvian, etc.) and many many members of these communities are, or have the potential to be, dual citizens. Most of the “settlers” who don’t have to fear for their citizenship are the Original Whites–those of British or French origins whose family history stretches farther back into Canada’s colonial past.
  • By splitting citizen ship rights where it does, bill C-24 insults the primary rights of First Nations people. If you’re going to draw a line between “real” Canadians who don’t have ties to any other country and “other” Canadians who have foreign allegiances, it’s pretty obvious where that line should be drawn. If we’re going to give some Canadians more right to call this country home than others, clearly only First Nations people should qualify. The rest of us are settlers or the descendants of settlers. C-24’s bias towards French and British settlers (who have been here longer than many other immigrant groups) privileges Canada’s colonizers and inappropriately grants them equal status with First Nations people in this regard. It’s not that I don’t think “settlers” belong here, I obviously do, but my point is that if we are going to draw these seemingly arbitrary lines through the Canadian population, there is only one “fair” place to draw them, and that’s not where bill C-24 has placed them.

Okay. So the bill insults naturalized citizens, dual citizens, First Nations people, and is biased to privilege Canadians of Anglophone and Francophone ancestry. But what about those Canadians like Joe Anglophone, who will, under C-24, have more rights to their citizenship than I will? Does C-24 insult them too, or does it, as its short title would like to suggest, “strengthen” Canadian citizenship for these people?

Well, I would like to think that any Canadian who professes to love this country and what it stands for wouldn’t like the idea that their neighbours and friends could become second-tier citizens simply due to the circumstances of their or their parents’ birth. I would like to think that granting some “safe” citizenship in this way would cheapen citizenship’s value, since it would be an additional, more iron-clad class of status based not on merit but on birth. I would like to think that these Canadians would recognize that only a few generations separate them from dual citizens like me. I would like to think that bill C-24 insults their sense of fair play and their understanding of what it means to be Canadian. I would hope that they wouldn’t appreciate the government trying to divide its citizens, when it’s so obvious that what we need more of in this country is cooperation and understanding.

I’d like to think that even citizens whose Canadian status is not threatened by this bill would still feel that being Canadian means more than divisive politics. Because it means so much more to me, and that’s why I wrote to my MP to urge her to oppose bill C-24. I encourage you to do the same.

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