Warning: Long, runs to 51 pages. This is a fine piece by US expat Odin Crow. Relax and enjoy it.
Canada At Ground Level: Observations of a US Refugee
By Odin Crow
I am an American citizen living in Canada. I am not a sociologist, anthropologist, economist, linguist or any other ist. What I am is a middle class, late 40s working-guy who wishes to share with you what he’s learned about his adopted country from his own personal experiences and hopefully dispel a few misconceptions at the same time. But first, my take on the differences in basic character of these two countries and how they came about.
A Tale Of Two Siblings
If Canada and the US were brothers, the US was the one who said “fuck you” to the parents and left home as a teen. Granted, mom and dad were treating him like shit; he was a breadwinner, the loud, risk-taking one with big plans and ambitions and, to be honest, mom and dad were oinking up the fruits of his labors without giving him any say in how the household was run.
Sure, mom and dad got him started, set him up with everything he needed to be successful, but the dynamic didn’t seem fair to Elder Brother, who went indy.
Canada, on the other hand was the brother who just wanted to live his life and be left alone. He didn’t ask for much from mom and dad; they gave him very little to work with and neglected him for the most part. But Younger Brother never complained and did receive the benefit of some guidance and wisdom from time to time as he grew up as well as help when he really needed it.
So Younger Brother kept his nose to the grindstone, worked hard, minded his own business and slowly built a nice sane, stable life for himself.
Meanwhile, after a nasty spat with the folks, who started it out of sheer vindictiveness (and whose side was taken by Younger Brother, since Elder Brother lashed out at him and, to be honest, Younger Brother was still basically an extension of Mom and Dad) Elder Brother built a dizzyingly dramatic, risk-taking, get-the-fuck-outta-my-way life for himself, with stellar highs and deep, abysmal lows, being sometimes unbelievably heroic and idealistic and sometimes bewilderingly selfish, paranoid and self-righteous.
Over time, though, both siblings and parents’ relationship evolved into one of general support and respect, coming to each other’s aid, engaging in great endeavors and providing moral support to one another, even though one or more of them may not always have clearly been on the side of right.
So if the US is the “loud” one, the flashy, big-talking Type A, the stunning over-achiever who makes everyone else in the room feel inadequate (or at least tries to), the one who’s been out in the world reaping fame and glory, constantly striving always to grow his own wealth, power and influence, Canada’s the one that dresses down, doesn’t dominate the conversation at the dinner table, has his mortgage paid off and worries more about just being a good neighbor and minding his own business.
He’s the one who, through patience and consistency, has built himself a very comfortable, stable, relaxed life, and people generally find his company enjoyable. Others generally have mixed feelings towards Older Brother, being sometimes jealous of him, sometimes afraid and very often both. Older Brother wants everyone to be like him and feels the need to justify his choices constantly; Younger Brother’s the one who goes, “No thanks, I’m good, but whatever works for you.”
How I Got Here
I married a Canadian woman, it didn’t work out, and I stayed. I had applied for permanent residence with my wife as my sponsor, which involved paying around $900, submitting a criminal background check and medical examination, filling out a form and waiting seven months. During the interim, I was not allowed to work legally or receive any public services.
Once my application passed, I received my “landing papers”, a SIN (Social Insurance Number or Canadian SSN) and was then eligible to live permanently, work and receive health care. My status lasts 5 years between renewals, during which I must spend a minimum of 2 years on Canadian soil or abroad as an employee for a Canadian company. I cannot vote or serve in the military.
If I had applied for public assistance (welfare, etc) during my first 3 years, my sponsor (ex-wife) would have been responsible for paying it back to the government. I can and have received unemployment insurance.
What It’s Like To Be a Working Guy in Canada
I have no college degree and am actually a high-school dropout, though I’ve always lied about it, and it’s never been questioned (fortunately, they didn’t check on that in my residency application). I live in Alberta now, so I don’t pay provincial income tax.
Regardless, when I was in Nova Scotia, I still took home more of my wages than I did in California, despite paying both federal and provincial income tax. Canadian tax rates are lower for lower incomes, higher for higher incomes. If I were to make 100 grand a year, yes, I’d pay a higher tax rate, but I don’t.
The Canadian and US Dollars hover around parity for the most part, so for all intents and purposes, a buck is a buck. My cost of living is about the same as in the US. Rents are comparable and so are utilities.
Food can be more expensive, and smokes are over 10 bucks a pack for most brands in Alberta and more in some other places; the more liberal, the more expensive – same with booze. Gas is currently about $CN 1.12/liter., ($4.20/gallon.) in Alberta, which has the lowest gas prices in the country, naturally. It’s as much as $CN .50 more a liter in other places.
Canada has a federal sales tax of 5% known as the General Sales Tax (GST). Each province can add to that their own sales tax, the combined sales taxes being called a Harmonised Sales tax (HST). This can vary widely from province to province depending on their social leanings and economy.
Nova Scotia, being a notoriously liberal and socially-conscious province with higher unemployment than the national average, has a HST of 15%; the idea is that when more people are unemployed, social services and support become even more critical to maintaining quality of life.
Alberta, which is shoveling in oil revenues like there’s no tomorrow and has a thriving agricultural industry (grain and cattle) is probably the least socially-conscious of all the provinces, being somewhat the Canadian version of Texas. It has no HST, only the 5% GST.
So, in short, I’ve sort of made a deal with the devil by coming out here for work after having been laid off in Nova Scotia; I enjoy the economic benefits, but am slightly at odds with the social climate which is, to be fair, still more liberal than that of the US as a whole.
Here’s an example of the difference between the IRS and Revenue Canada: I get a check every 3 months for $CN 100 as a GST rebate because I make below a certain income level (I gross between $CN 38k-45k/year). When was the last time you ever got anything from the IRS aside from something terrifying telling you you’re fucked?
Summary: Being an average, middle-class working person in Canada means you can actually have a good, comfortable life.
If you live here, either as a citizen, on a visa or as a permanent resident, like myself, you get health care. Each province administers its own system, and it comes out of the tax base; there is no premium deduction from your pay, no check box on your tax return form. I hear Alberta (surprise, surprise) used to have a mandatory premium deducted from your tax return each year, but not any more.
Your provincial health card will get you care no matter where in the country you are. Emergency room, ambulances – no charge to the insured. Neither dental nor optometry are covered, and seeing a specialist requires a referral. My employers provide me with health insurance for things like optometry, dental, chiro, prescription plan, etc, as does everyone else’s, to my knowledge.
But if you’re a small business, one less burden of responsibility and concern has been removed. Even if you’re a cheap, mean bastard who cuts corners every chance he gets, you and your employees are still covered.
Here’s how my Canadian doctor visits have gone:
Receptionist: Hello, dear, have you been here before?
Receptionist: Can I see your card, dear? (I hand her the card). Is this your current address?
Receptionist: OK, here’s your card back, have a seat and someone will call your name in a couple minutes.
10 minutes later: Mr. **********?
Receptionist: Hello, dear, have you been here before?
Receptionist: Your name?
Receptionist: Is this your current address?
Receptionist: OK, have a seat and someone will call your name in a couple minutes.
10 minutes later: Mr. **********?
This is not a fantasy; I am not exaggerating. No co-pay, no multi-page forms to fill out, no pissed off, fat, black bitch in teddy-bear scrubs studiously ignoring me as I wait for her attention, all-but-daring me to interrupt her personal phone call by meekly saying “Excuse me”, no interminable wait, nothing.
Now, I’m sure a clinic in a huge city like Toronto or Vancouver would probably be much busier (though nothing like the Cinco de Mayo fiestas of Southern California, I’m sure) and its staff more unpleasant (my experiences are limited to Halifax and my small Southern Alberta town of 2,000), but seriously, anyone who can compare this with an HMO experience in the US and see no difference is an abject boob.
My ex-wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 20. She had surgery, was treated, recovered fully and takes thyroid medication. Aside from the cost of the prescription, which was about 12 bucks a refill, her cost was zero. She had merely to show her Nova Scotia Health Card and her life was saved without any worries that she would face any complications when it came to receiving care or paying for it afterwards.
Summary: It is not a myth – the Canadian health care system works and it works very well. For everyone.
Quick primer on the parliamentary system:
Political parties elect a leader. General elections are for MP’s (Members of Parliament), the equivalent of House representatives in the US. Whoever gets the most MP’s in Parliament is the Majority – their leader becomes Prime Minister. You do not elect a Prime Minister, you elect a Party with whom you agree. As long as that party is in the majority, their leader is Prime Minister.
There is a Canadian Senate as well, but Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister – not elected – so they are all, inevitably, of the same party as the Majority (I’m sure there are a couple exceptions, but for the most part, who’s going to pick a guy from the Opposition?). I’m not clear what the Senate does, but I know that the lawmaking process is not bicameral.
The Majority party is the Progressive Conservatives (PC), colloquially known by the traditional English term “Tories”.
The Opposition are the Liberal Party (which held power for quite some time but has diminished in recent years due to lack of leadership), the New Democrats (which are the largest minority and surged suddenly in ranks at the last general election), the Green Party (a handful) and I think Bloc Quebecois still has a couple MP’s.
Bloc Quebecois is essentially an ethnocentric provincial party whose only real platform has been the secession of Quebec, and their place in national politics has been the subject of some contention; they have been, however, utterly decimated, many of their seats lost to the burgeoning ND Party in the last election.
There may be some stragglers from all-but-defunct other parties with a seat here or there, but I’m not sure and nor would be your average Canadian.
A Canadian Conservative is a lot closer to a US Democrat than it is to a US Republican. They are not trying to repeal universal health care, abortion rights, gay marriage or any of the other causes celebres of their Bizarro-World US counterparts. They object to things like making trans-gender public restrooms mandatory and legalizing pot and support things like privatizing government entities and easing up on business regulation, etc., for the most part.
Yes, PM Harper and his crew are trying to emulate some US Republican fashion trends, for example a “3-strikes, tough-on-crime” bill and building more prisons, but everybody’s response to that is generally, “Why? The crime rate is actually dropping.” Thanks to the Canadian Parliamentary system though, the MP’s are really not much more than what they should be, which is bureaucrats put in charge of keeping shit running smoothly, sanely and reliably.
Canadian politicians are also by-and-large not millionaires and lawyers as they are in the US. They come from a pretty wide demographic (a recently-elected ND MP from Quebec is actually a female bartender).
At the provincial level, Canada has Premiers instead of Governors (It always reminds me of some Communist Eastern European country when I hear that term – still doesn’t sound right to me). They attain office the same way as national PM’s: Parties field candidates as reps for the various provincial “ridings“, and the Party with the majority’s leader becomes Premier.
In Alberta, the Tories have maintained a hegemony over provincial politics for the last 40 years (PM Stephen Harper is an Albertan).
The current Premier, Allison Redford, was a constitutional attorney, a field of expertise rather uncommon amongst US Republican politicians, but not among Democratic Presidents it would seem.
Provinces sometimes have provincial political parties, limited to provincial politics, though Quebec’s Bloc Quebecois made its way into Parliament, concerned as they are with Quebec’s secession, though their position and influence in federal politics is marginal to say the least.
Alberta‘s further-right party, the Wild Rose Party, went balls-out during the last provincial election, and their gaffes were many and hilarious; one of their candidates mentioned in a mass emailing something about gays being “condemned to a lake of fire,” and another quipped that he would win his riding easily as he was the “only white guy“ on the ballot.
In true neocon fashion, the party responded not by asking either of the doddering farts to step down, but by making the statement that “there are many differing views within the Wild Rose Party, and all are tolerated.” Needless to say, they got their asses handed to them instead of winning a majority.
In Alberta, the Tories have been making noises about privatizing Alberta Health, giving the usual bullshit arguments about how the “private sector can deliver services more efficiently and cost-effectively than the provincial government can,” etc., but it’s not a position that seems to be gaining much traction with the electorate…..
To put it simply, Canadians are generally not stupid; they see what works with their own eyes, thus they are far less susceptible to specious arguments, panic-mongering and outright bullshit than their US counterparts. They know when something is working and aren’t obsessed with change for its own sake, not even Albertans.
Summary: Politics in Canada actually has more to do with working for the people than it does furthering ideological agendas or political careers.
Immigration and Race
Per the most recent census statistics, Canada is comprised of 80% Whites, 16.2% visible minorities and 3.8% Aboriginals.
One of the things I truly love about Canada is that there aren’t Mexicans all over the place. There are no undocumented aliens per se, since not only is Canada not conveniently within walking distance of Mexico, but an illegal alien isn’t able to get work or free medical care here. There are no mobs of day laborers in the Home Depot parking lot, nor have I seen massive, ethnically-homogenous ghettos in which an illegal can live and receive community support with impunity.
This may not be the case in the bigger cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, but the numbers of illegals must be so low as not to have much effect as a socioeconomic issue. Illegals aside, I don’t see Canada suffering the negative social and cultural impact of being overwhelmed by immigrants from one particular culture.
Canada has a policy of basing immigration approval upon needed skills. Since Canada is not suffering from a shortage of gardeners, pool cleaners or sidewalk ice-cream vendors, that would pretty much exclude the bulk of the Mexicans wanting to come in.
Canada has a foreign temporary worker program just like the US used to since there’s more work here than there are people who want to do it. A Newfoundland seafood processing plant that had shut down for awhile opened back up when the catches improved and couldn’t find enough locals for the jobs, so they imported a bunch of Thais along with an interpreter.
However, in most other circumstances, immigrants have to prove a functioning grasp of either English or French depending where they‘re going to be working and living. Children who cannot speak English are sent home by public schools, and the parents are informed that the school will be happy to teach their child once the parents have taught the child English.
Recently, the English requirement for citizenship was actually increased. Canada seems to feel, oddly enough, that two of the keys to properly managing immigration are ensuring that an individual not only can speak one of the official languages but that they can somehow contribute to the economy and society as a whole.
Absent giant ethnically-homogenous communities of immigrants, Canadian immigrants seem to assimilate much more quickly and willingly than in the US. Every first-generation-born Canadian I’ve met has no foreign accent; they say “eh”, and they seem to hang out with just about anybody.
I never get the vibe that foreigners and their kids here hate Canadians while enjoying the benefits of being Canadian. The mayor of Calgary, the biggest city in the most conservative province, is a Muslim – Naheed Nenshi – and you’d never know by hearing him speak on the radio. You see “people of color” scattered throughout the media and government, and they all seem to retain ethnic names, despite sounding and acting like Canadians.
Blacks in Canada are not ubiquitous. In Calgary, the Blacks I meet are invariably immigrants; there is no “Black” part of town.
In Halifax, which was, among other things, at the other end of the Underground Railroad, the Black population is mostly descended from former American slaves and is proportionally larger than in many other areas of the country.
This population in Halifax began in earnest following the War of 1812 during which “Black loyalists” (slaves willing to fight their masters in exchange for freedom) were deeded land on the outskirts of Halifax as reward for helping the Crown, which was named Africville.
Africville has a tragic and disappointing history which I’m going to expand upon in a separate piece, but suffice it to say that Blacks in Nova Scotia suffer from many of the same socioeconomic problems as do their counterparts in the US, though certainly not to the same degree.
I understand that there are Black communities in and around Toronto which are primarily Caribbean in origin, that there is public housing inhabited mostly by Blacks and that crime rates are higher in these areas, but I’m not aware of specifics.
I have never heard a Canadian say “nigger”. Oh, I’ve had friends say “What up, my nigga,” plenty of times, but as far as it being used as a pejorative, never. Much of what many Canadians believe about Blacks, since many of them have never spent much time around or lived around them, they get from US TV shows, so many of them are understandably scared shitless.
In Nova Scotia, where there is a Black population descended from American slaves and not immigrants, I often heard the general stereotypes bandied about by Whites: They don’t like to work, but they do like to commit crimes, do drugs, get bitches pregnant and split, etc.
My ex-wife was utterly petrified of them. She saw a Black kid walk down our street once and, since no Black people lived on our street, wanted to call the police, I shit you not. She did not, though, and the ensuing argument lasted about two hours.
Canadians are, however, very quick to characterize Americans as racists, despite the fact that Canada had Jim Crow “Whites only” bylaws in rural areas just like the US did. But, in fairness, the institution of slavery did not exist here, and that counts for rather a bit.
Aboriginals, still commonly referred to as Indians, seem to take the place, in many ways, that Blacks do in US society. They are disproportionately plagued by crime, poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction and prejudice and are distributed across Canada. They receive government assistance and are spoken of by most of the Whites I know as a “problem” and with little compassion. A disproportionate number of their males are in the prison system.
They are, in effect, the Blacks of Canada, and the origins of their problems are as convoluted and difficult to figure out as are those of US Blacks. However, to be real, they were doing OK before Whitey showed up.
As you may or may not know, the English defeated the French in the battle for supremacy in Canada but allowed the French to stay and maintain their own culture. Like any defeated people, despite the magnanimity of the victors, a lot of them are still sore about it.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are elements within Quebecois society who believe that Quebec should exist as its own separate country. Anglo Canadians love to point out that the federal government paid for and built their infrastructure, so if they want to pay back all of that, fine, go ahead; many Anglos are constantly irritated and annoyed by the French.
Despite this, however, Quebec and its French culture are clearly things that make Canada, well, Canadian and add an extremely cool flavor to the whole mix here. In 1980, Quebec held a referendum about whether it should secede from the Canadian federal government or stay.
Literally thousands of people from all over Canada came to Quebec to plead with the citizens to remain part of Canada. I’ve heard the old radio news reports from that time, and people were actually crying, “Please don’t leave.” Many Quebecois were also crying, saying, “How can we consider this? What does it say to the rest of the world?”. Fortunately, the results were 60-40 against.
I can’t help but imagine that if Texas tried to do the same thing, millions of Americans would show up saying, “Please! Do it! Leave and good riddance!” OK I was being a smart-ass with that one, but I think you’ll understand my point. Canadians seem to like other Canadians more than most Americans like other Americans, even when they’re French.
Summary: Canada is very White, its culture is Western European, and the people who emigrate to it seem to acknowledge and appreciate that, as such, it is a much better place to live than wherever they came from. Canada is a clear example of the superiority of Western Culture and the benefits of White Rule.
Yes, we have it here. I see churches all over the place, especially in Alberta, which I believe boasts more churches per capita than any other province (once again, proof that Alberta secretly wishes it was the 51st State of the US).
However, there is much less “religion” here. It is not part of the political conversation and seems rarely, if ever, to be part of polite conversation. Alberta is the province which boasts the most Evangelicals, and it’s the only one where I’ve seen occasional billboards in rural areas featuring Right-To-Life slogans.
However, when I tried to call the 800 number on one to tell them to suck my dick, the number was disconnected, and the website on the sign no longer existed; that’s the degree of religious fervor out here. In Nova Scotia, I did see an anti-abortion protest outside of a hospital: Two old ladies in camp chairs watching a portable TV on an ice chest, their picket signs leaning against the fence behind them as people walked by in both directions.
Summary: In Canada, religion is essentially no one’s business but their own, so shut the fuck up, and please don’t block the sidewalk.
Guns, Crime and Violence
Guns are not banned in Canada; they are regulated and controlled. Allow me to slack off for a second and quote a Wikipedia article for a brief historical background:
Registration of firearms in Canada has been an issue since the 1930s when the registration of handguns became mandatory. Over the past few decades, legislation had become increasingly restrictive for firearm owners and from 1995 until 2012, all firearms were required to be registered. As of April 6, 2012 the registration of non-restricted firearms is no longer required in any province or territory, except for Quebec, pending litigation.
Systematic auditing and criminalization of firearm owners and sports is implemented and enforced in most of Central Canada, and to a lesser extent, in Western Canada (in most cases firearm ownership regulations vary slightly in different provinces and territories, where some provinces have decided to mandate their own laws, such as the Quebec Law 9 course, which is mandatory for all owners of restricted firearms).
The Criminal Code of Canada provides recognition of self-defense with a firearm; The Firearms Act provides a legal framework wherein an individual may, acquire/possess and carry, a restricted or (a specific class of) prohibited firearm for protection from other individuals when police protection is deemed insufficient.
This situation is extremely rare, as evidenced by the fact that the (publicly available version of the) RCMP Authorization To Carry application refers only to protection of life during employment that involves handling of valuable goods or dangerous wildlife.
In short, you can have a gun if you have a good reason for it. “Personal protection” and just being afraid the government is going to show up and shove you in a FEMA trailer for re-education are not considered valid reasons. It is a matter of record that Canada’s rates of homicides and suicides using guns have further decreased as more and more restrictions have been put into place.
This has not eliminated crime, but it has clearly mitigated it. I’d rather have a guy come at me with a knife than a gun even if I’m similarly armed any day – I don’t know about you. To anyone in the US who maintains that lower violent crime can be achieved through an “armed society”, you need only look to Canada to see how absolutely shit-brained-stupid that is.
Canada has crime though. People get their cars stolen, there are rapes, there is drunk driving – all the usual. Canada even boasts some celebrated serial killers as well. Most Canadians do lock their doors when they leave for work and when they go to bed, despite what Michael Moore might want you to believe.
The difference between Canada and the US in this regard is the crime per capita. In a city as big as Calgary (approximately 1.4 million), which is about 30 minutes from me, the amount of crime compared to a similar-sized US city is ridiculously lower. There isn’t even as much trash on the ground. I’m not kidding – same goes for the rest of what I’ve seen of Canada.
What doesn’t exist are gangs to any great degree. In Vancouver you have some Asian gang stuff, some minor shit with Russians and some others in Toronto and Quebec, but nothing even close to what you have in the US.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the role of the “career criminal”.
In the US, being a criminal is an actual occupation for many, one which they pursue with great professionalism and acumen.
In Canada, most of the criminals I’ve seen and read about are basically stupid assholes. They steal some shit, maybe sell some drugs, and they get caught.
This one idiot drug dealer in Halifax lived in a trailer park, yet bought a bright yellow Hummer and parked it out front. After a few stray bullets zipped through his neighbors‘ homes courtesy of a rival “drug kingpin “ (yes, this is how the local news referred to him), the cops pretty much figured out that if they nabbed the guy in the yellow Hummer at the bridge toll-plaza, they’d get some answers.
Random acts of violence occur. Guys get dumped and kill their ex and her new boyfriend; a middle-aged loser who’s sponging off his grandmother’s pension checks decides he can smother her with a pillow and pretend she’s still alive; some guy hears Satan tell him he can fuck Avril Lavigne if he kills his whole family in their sleep, and so on.
But to be honest, most random, violent crimes I hear about around my neck of the woods, few as they are, involve immigrants. You can take the boy out of Viet Nam, but if you smile at his girlfriend during lunch time at the meat processing plant, he just might shove a fork in your neck.
The cops here are actually nice, at least the ones I’ve met. You’ve got your Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP’s), which function as the equivalent of the FBI and State police in provinces without a provincial police force (unlike Ontario or Newfoundland), the city police forces and the “peace officers” who enforce by-laws and do not carry weapons.
The only times I’ve dealt with cops, whether local or RCMP, they have said, “Hey, how’s it going,” introduced themselves and shook my hand, then calmly figured out what was going on. No twitchy hyper-vigilance, no hand on the gun as they approached. I’m guessing they may be a little different in the metropolii, but still, you don’t get Rodney King situations here.
If called to a bar in response to a complaint of a disturbance, a Canadian cop is more likely to say, “Hey, I think your friend’s a little drunk, why don’t you take him home?” as opposed to calling in six cars for backup and making the entire place lie face down with their hands behind their heads.
There are occasional stories of abuse, and there was a spate of deaths caused by tasering, but generally, since everyone doesn’t automatically hate them and want them dead, I think the cops are a bit more relaxed and less concerned with being intimidating. They are, after all, just guys trying to do their jobs, and I get that most Canadians understand and appreciate that.
Despite the fact that they seem less violent as a culture, do not make the mistake of thinking Canadians are pussies. Canadians drink, and they also fight. Hockey, the world’s most violent sport is, after all, a Canadian invention.
The difference, though, is the absence of ubiquitous and constant belligerence. If I go to a crowded concert or sporting event in the US, it’s a safe bet there will be more than one fight. My ex-roommate’s best friend from Northern California was jumped and had his brains beaten after a Dodgers-Giants game in LA; it put him in a coma, and he’s barely escaped being a vegetable.
It would be impossible to me to conceive of that happening here and actually is impossible to any Canadians I’ve spoken with about it. Can Canadians hold their liquor better, or are they just generally less angry, violent and belligerent? Maybe a little of the former and a lot of the latter.
Summary: Less guns, garbage, crime and violence, nicer cops, fewer incarcerated citizens and far less anxiety as a whole.
I smoke a lot of weed. I have been doing so for over 35 years. In Canada, medical marijuana is federally legal, but I can’t just go to a podiatrist and tell him I’ve been having trouble sleeping to get a license like in California. It requires multiple signed applications by several doctors and, like the gun licensing, the determining criterion is, “Why do you need it?”. Unfortunately, mild insomnia isn’t considered a valid reason.
Things like rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and serious medical conditions which require pain management are generally what are required. Once licensed, it means you can go anywhere in the country without getting hassled; you can even walk through an airport with a sack in your pocket, provided you have your license on you. You cannot, of course, burn one in public (legally). You can also grow some.
Despite the fact that I must, then, smoke weed illegally, there are a couple of benefits to doing so in Canada. First and foremost is that I can get a half ounce of good smoke for 120 bucks. Second is that the general attitude towards marijuana law enforcement is pretty relaxed. In most metropolitan areas, it is considered of “lowest priority,” officially, when it comes to enforcing pot laws.
In Vancouver, there are Amsterdam-style cafes where everyone’s smoking weed, and the cops leave them alone. In the case of illegal grow-ops, though, or significant trafficking, the cops, understandably, do not look the other way. But as far as normal people getting high and not causing any problems, the worst they usually do is take it away from you, tell you to “watch it”, and maybe smoke it themselves after work.
For the record though, Harper and the Tories have stated unequivocally that marijuana will not become legal as long as they are the majority. Fuck the Tories.
Summary: Canada’s a cool place if you smoke weed; just remember it’s still illegal (technically).
Gays can marry here – it’s been legal for quite some time – and, despite that fact, they are not running around having anal sex in the streets. Pre-employment and random drug screenings are forbidden as unconstitutional, yet people aren’t snorting coke at work or showing up baked to the gills.
Women can get abortions, and their health care covers it, yet there is not an epidemic of female promiscuity (much as I wish there were). Prostitution is, by certain definitions in certain areas, basically legal, or at least not criminal. Even the age of consent is much lower in some provinces, yet teenaged girls are not being incessantly fucked to death and discarded by middle-aged men.
The guiding principle behind Canada’s attitude towards civil liberties seems to be, “If they’re not hurting anyone or causing a fuss, leave them the fuck alone, it’s none of your business.” Pierre Trudeau wisely stated that the government has “no place in our bedrooms, period,” and he was agreed with by even the most right-wing politicians at the time, eventually.
I laugh my ass off every time I hear some Republican or Libertarian troll threaten to “move to Canada” if Obama gets re-elected. Not only would they not be issued a visa for such reasons, if they were, they would be forced to live in a place where fags can teach their kids, sluts can get abortions, niggers can get decent jobs, hippies can smoke weed and people claiming God speaks to them are not only banned from public office but they’re quite often placed under psychiatric observation.
Summary: I think my freedoms are more well-protected here than in the US.
Canadians do not say aboot. Most commonly, the ow diphthong, which is broken down into the phonemes a (like cat) + oo in US English (and every English dictionary), is very often pronounced eh-oo in Canada, similar to how the Irish pronounce it.
In Atlantic Canada, it is common to hear the diphthong pronounced oh (I had a boss who actually spelled couch as coach because that’s how he pronounced it). They also usually pronounce sorry as soar-ee, been as bean, produce (n.) as prah-duce, project as proh-ject, process as proh-cess, schedule as shed-jule, missile as miss-isle and a slew of other British pronunciations.
What drives me nuts though is their insistence on pronouncing virtually any a they see as the short a in cat. It’s difficult for me to represent graphically, but go ahead and say to yourself the following words with that short a and see how lame it sounds: pAsta, tsunAmi, drAma, mAzda. Ugh. Sonically, it makes me fucking cringe.
And I know it’s a matter of taste, but to me, mispronouncing names and proper nouns from other languages in that fashion just seems ignorant. I guess that’s a vestige of the famous British contempt for other cultures giving a last, dying twitch.
I have adopted the Canadian forms of spelling; I think it’s cool. They use the British forms here almost exclusively: colour, centre, defence, and so on. They do not use the spelling aluminium. They do, however, use the silent h in herb.
But while Canadian spelling I may have adopted, most of Canadian pronunciation I have not. The exception is when I play “I’m pretending to be Canadian.” I have at various times when doing this been pegged as a Maritimer (someone from Atlantic Canada), since I have a good grasp of the accent and “isms“ I absorbed while in Nova Scotia.
Though I am functional in French, I rarely have occasion to use it. Canadian French, though, is far more dissimilar to its parent than Canadian English, and volumes could be written about Francophone (French-speaking) culture in Canada, and I haven’t enough experience to do so with any credibility or thoroughness.
Summary: Someone could drop you in the middle of any major Canadian city outside of Quebec in your sleep, and it’d take you a bit to realize, just hearing people speak, that you weren’t in the US.
This is, to me, the single most important difference between Americans and Canadians, and I believe this trait informs all the positive ones I’ve previously outlined. Canadians are civil. They are brought up holding doors for other people, apologizing if they think they’ve offended or been a nuisance and just in general trying to be kind and decent to everyone else, even if they don’t like them.
The concept that your negative personal feelings towards others should not inform your actions towards them, that it’s right and beneficial to society to be polite to everyone regardless of whether you hate their guts or not is so obvious to them that it doesn’t bear mentioning.
Canadians’ default mode is “nice”. When in doubt, just be nice. Don’t understand something? Be nice and ask what someone meant, don’t just immediately go “Oh, yeah? FUCK YOU!” and start swinging if you aren’t sure whether you’ve been insulted or not.
Canadians don’t automatically assume the worst motive for the actions of others. If a guy’s going off and making a fuss about something, the first thought is usually, “Wow, he must really be having a bad day.” One of the keys to civility is cutting each other some slack, being easy on each other, at least the first couple times.
Canadians seem much better at this “a mile in my neighbor’s moccasins” philosophy than most Americans. They’ve been inculcated with good behavior through example; they don’t even think about it. As a result, even the immigrants get in on it within a generation.
Of course, there are those who recognize this tendency towards civility and understanding and try to subvert it for their own purposes. These types will invariably either adopt a disingenuously oblivious mien (“Oh, did I cut in front of you? Gee, didn’t see the end of the line.”) or will behave blatantly aggressively in the hopes of causing others to back down and avoid any type of confrontation, something that seems bred into most Canadians from birth.
I am at times frustrated by what I sometimes perceive as a pathological need to avoid confrontation of any kind. I see people allow others to take advantage of and inconvenience them without saying anything, and it pisses me off.
Some ass-wipe the other day at a movie theater, in which one joins a single line while waiting for the next available cashier, was standing near a particular window which looked as if it would free-up next, clearly intending to head straight for it while avoiding the line.
I, of course, ever-vigilant to such things and being a self-appointed Guardian of Civilization and Warrior against the Americanization of Canada, moved forward immediately when the register became available, shoving in front of the asshole and saying, “I was here first. The line’s over there.”
He muttered something under his breath as he walked to the line. Coincidentally, he was quite swarthy and spoke with a thick Middle-Eastern accent. Fuckers who style themselves “wolves among sheep” in this country fill me with cold rage. Despite the fact that your average Canadian finds my attitude and actions inappropriate, I will gladly suffer their disapproval, kinda like Batman has to.
Canadians are also far more respectful, in general, of people’s privacy. I hear less gossip and less mean shit behind people’s backs than I did in the States. People don’t pry as much, they aren’t as obsessed with going through your laundry, and are far less likely to share something private they may have learned about you.
For example, I was a porn actor in the US for a time; I got some press, and my stuff shows up on cable every now and then (gotta love Canadian cable; when they show porn, they leave in the penetration), so I am infrequently recognized.
A guy I worked with, when I confessed about my former occupation after having known him a few months, told me he already knew. When I asked why he didn’t tell me he knew his response was that if I’d wanted him to know, I would have told him, and it was none of his business.
In a similar situation in the US, a guy I worked with was so excited to know that he told everybody I worked with, including my bosses, and from then on, every time I spoke with them, though they never let on they knew, there was this weird awkwardness, like they couldn’t look at me without seeing me naked.
On the flipside, an Iranian immigrant kid I was in training with at this call center in Halifax sat down next to me one day, grinning. “Hey, hey, do you have tattoo? Show me”.
I lifted my sleeve and showed him, and he all-but shouted “Ha! I knew it! I see you, I see you on TV!” I convinced him to keep his mouth shut, but I’d catch the weird little fucker staring and grinning at me from across the room fairly often, and he’d give me the thumbs-up if I looked up at him.
Summary: The more civil you are, the better everyone gets along and the better your civilization.
A banking system under control, sane gun laws, lower crime, universal health care, a thriving middle class, no illegal immigration problem, cheap weed, way less garbage all over the place, fewer assholes per capita, a strong federal government with excellent social programs…isn’t this sorta what Obama’s America would look like?
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