Moving to Canada, eh?

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
Nov. 5 2004 6:37 PM

Moving to Canada, Eh?

Let Slate help you decide if it's really for you.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Five out of seven Fraysters surveyed agree: It's time to move to Canada. And it looks like those Fraysters may just be the thin edge of a disenfranchised wedge. The Web is buzzing as newspapers report hundreds of threats to move north, from unhappy Democrats in New York, California, Oregon, Ohio, Illinois, and, well, Massachusetts (which is really sort of Canada already). The possible Canadian monopoly on disaffected American emigrants prompted nervous Europeans to redouble their efforts to be the place disenchanted Americans go to die. The Canadian immigration Web site had 179,000 visitors Wednesday —six times its usual traffic—the vast majority of which came from the United States.

Suggestions to accommodate this mass defection northward include the Toronto Star's proposal to gerrymander the border and this newly redrawn map. A Web site belonging to this generous collective of sexy Canadians willing to marry Americans—no questions asked—has had 14,000 visitors since Monday. While some demoralized liberals attempt to muster earnest arguments for sticking around, this time it sounds like some folks really, really, really plan to go. "If the country votes for Bush, then 51 percent of the people in this country are psychos," one Colorado resident told the Denver Post before the election. He'd already opened a bank account in British Columbia. Last week's Ottawa Citizen reported that Scott Schaffer—an assistant professor of sociology at Millersville University in Pennsylvania—had already lined up an immigration lawyer and was applying for jobs in Quebec.

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Not so fast, my fine Yankee friends. One of the reasons you tend to scare poor Canadians is that you know next to nothing about them. Which is why, hours after the election, Reuters was forced to disseminate this sobering story about how defection is not always just a matter of showing up at the border in a parka and being welcomed warmly by the simple northern folk amassed there to greet you. No, there are hurdles to be jumped and requirements to be met before becoming a Canadian, as Slateexplained this week. Here's the immigration test you can use to decide if you're smart enough to get a job there. And that smartness requirement won't be waived—not even for Alec Baldwin, Robert Altman, and Eddie Vedder (who all allegedly threatened to leave if Bush was elected in 2000), at least according to this article.

(One of the best things about Canada is that major national newspapers sometimes run pieces like this—with glossy photos of the famous people, in this case Robert Redford, who aren't moving to Canada and never actually planned to).

One of the great frustrations of any Canadian is that well-intentioned Americans attempting to introduce other Americans to the real Canada seem to be in command of only about 12 words. Here they are in no particular order: loonies, toonies, snow, Tim Hortons, hockey, poutine, socialized medicine, DeGrassi Junior High, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Labatt, French, and the expression "eh."

But there is so much more to Canada. Just ask any one of the many Canadians who are lurking about in your midst. (We lurk because we love.) There are great reasons, beyond frostbite and pink currency, to seriously consider relocation to the Great White. But still, Canada is still not for everyone. So here's a quiz, for those of you still considering joining the Bush-dodgers relocating to Canada. It isn't about loonies or toonies or socialized medicine. It's about the important stuff—stuff that will determine whether you really want to be a Canadian or just dress like one:

1) Do you like to shoot people? Circle one: yes / no

(If you answered "yes" you should know that there is no Second Amendment or equivalent thereof in the Canadian constitution. Perhaps as a consequence only 22 percent of Canadians own guns as opposed to 49 percent of Americans, while handguns and assault rifles are verboten.Perhaps related to that statistic, the violent crime rate in Canada is 10 times lower than in the United States. This may have no connection to guns, though, and rather a strong correlation to general mellowness of the Canadian temperament. (See Question 3, below.)

2) Have you recently shot someone? Circle one: yes / no

(If you answered yes, you may find Canada appealing. The Canadian courts abolished capital punishment in the '70s, and Canada hasn't seen an execution since 1962. Texas hasn't seen one since about 11 seconds ago.)

3) Do you like to smoke pot? Circle one: yes / no / only for medicinal reasons / only with John Ashcroft

(Judges in at least three provinces have now decriminalized marijuana possession and the federal government is considering decriminalizing it in small quantities. We are advised that the feds alsogrow great masses of it in large underground caverns and may soonexpand the use of these caverns as shelters towhich the entire country would retreat in the event of a terrorist attack or to spur mass-munchies in case of a national Doritos glut. And only in Canada would you find marijuana advocates genuinely arguing that people actually drive better stoned.)

4) Are you covered in vast quantities of coarse, black fur? Circle one: yes / no

(Don't kid yourself. It is freakin' cold up there. While 90 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border, the places they live north of are Green Bay and Buffalo.)

5) Do you like to wear white sneakers (Canadians call these "running shoes") with jeans? Circle one: yes / no

(Canadians are an extraordinarily stylish people, without the excess snobbery of Europeans; and most of them manifest this by being strikingly well-shod. Canadians generally find themselves perplexed by shiny tracksuits, leggings, baseball caps, and sweaters with reindeer on them.)

6) Do you generally find being alive to be just fine? Circle one: yes / no

(For some reason Canadians seem to live longer, be healthier, and pay less for these privileges. It has something to do with national health insurance, adequate primary care, particularly for children, and the availability of quality prescription drugs. (See, e.g., Question 3, above.)

7) Are you gay, or, alternatively, do you suspect that the institution of marriage should be open to all couples who are committed to living together and/or raising children in a loving environment? Circle one: yes / no

(Six and possibly soon seven Canadian provinces currently permit gay marriage. Before leaving office last year, Prime Minister Jean Chretien referred the question of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court for an opinion. The court hasn't yet decided the question.)

8) Are your political views either too complicated to be expressed in two-word bumper stickers, or, alternatively, do you find that you just don't much care about your neighbors' views on guns/the unborn/or which deity is their copilot? Circle one: yes / no

(Canadians tend to subscribe to a live-and-let-live view of political ideology. It's not that Canadians don't care about their politics or moral issues. It's simply that they appear to operate under the assumption that, whatever their personal beliefs might be, you, their neighbor, may not care all that much to learn every detail of them on the way to the 7-Eleven. As a consequence, T-shirts in Canada are still funny, signage is still commercial, and bumpers are reserved for smashing into telephone poles after cottage parties. [Cottage: Def. Sprawling lakefront estate in rural Canada, quaintly Hamptonesque but with indoor plumbing optional.])

9) Are you bored to death of razor-thin margins between radical ideologues in every aspect of public life? Circle one: yes / no

(The 5-4 split on the Canadian Supreme Court is male/female as opposed to crazy/crazier.)

10) Does the idea of pluralism appeal to you? Not just in the sense that I-want-to-be-surrounded-by-lots-of-diverse-and-fascinating-people-who-all-worship-my-Lord, but rather, in the sense, that a country is a richer place for competing values, religions and cultures? Circle one: yes / no

(When Canadians talk about "multiculturalism," it doesn't only mean they're for blondes hanging out with redheads. Canadian TV shows actually teem with racially diverse characters, and the major national catalogs have been known to feature models in wheelchairs. Moreover, Canada has not one but two official languages, and no one seems to be suffering for it. Indeed, some believe it makes them sort of interesting. Certainly it will be interesting when the thousands of Bush-dodgers someday return to the United Statesto visit relativesand amuse them by explaining that the Teton Mountains actually mean "big boobies" in French.)

Dahlia Lithwick is a Canadian living in America. Alex Lithwick, her brother, is a Canadian living in Canada.