Three Things They Don’t Tell You About Moving to Canada

It’s taken six months, but I’m finally here, in Canada, for the long term.

Immigrating, even from the United States, is no joke. Things have gone relatively smoothly for me, but even so, there’s been a few surprises along the way. Since they’re things that folks usually don’t tell you when you’re thinking of immigrating, I thought I’d set them down here, so future immigrants can come better prepared.

So here are the top three things I wish I’d known before moving:

No Health Care

I know, Canada’s a single-payer system. Universal health care, and all that jazz.

That’s true, but what’s also true is that Canada’s system is really 10 different systems, because each province handles health care on their own. There’s no single, federal system you can carry with you from province to province.

Instead, when you first move to a province (waves) you have to sign up for their health care system. Does immigration tell you this? No. I had to learn from a co-worker.

To sign up, you’ll need a SIN. What’s a SIN? It’s a Social Insurance Number. That you get from the federal government, at a Service Canada station. You can’t get it till you arrive, work permit in hand, though. Good luck getting an appointment; they’re backed up 4-6 weeks, depending on where you land. For mine, I had to go stand in line for four and a half hours in downtown Vancouver, and I only got in because I showed up right when the Service Canada centre opened (even so, I was in the back of a line that stretched out their door and around the corner).

Ok, you’ve got your SIN. You’ve submitted your application to your province. You even did it online, because you and your province are fancy like that.

Now you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

…you see, the provinces are all backed up. So they straight up tell you it can take 3-6 months for you to get onto the province’s health care program. And even if you do get on, if you leave the province for “too long” (say, to take care of a family member back home), they’re drop you, and you have to start the process all over again.

Till then, you’re in legal limbo.

Wait, you say. This is Canada, how can they do this to people and call themselves a free country? Well, you see, it’s because you have:

No Power

That’s right. You can’t vote. You can’t run for office. You’re a person that works and pays taxes but has absolutely no input into the political system. You basically have no rights, save what they dole out to you.

This was brought home to me when I was waiting in line to go through Immigration at the airport. It was a large room with bad lighting, and chairs arranged in four rows, all facing a set of raised, plexiglass-enclosed cubicles. There was no signage, and no one said anything to me as I entered. I sat in the chairs, because everyone else was sitting in the chairs. I didn’t know what else to do.

Every so often, the figures behind the plexiglass would call out a name. Someone from the front of the line would stand, excitement on their face, and present their papers, to see if they would get through. We’d shift forward a few chairs, and settle back into waiting for our own turn.

It quickly became apparent to me that most of the would-be immigrants in line with me did not speak English as their first language. They seemed to have a language in common — they appeared to be from East Asia, but I don’t know enough about those languages to guess which one they spoke — as I saw multiple unrelated groups chatting with each other or asking questions.

It also became apparent that the Immigration officials had no translator, and no patience for those who did not speak English fluently.

I heard them yelling at people to get out. I saw them throwing translation cards at people. They taunted them, made fun of them, and generally verbally abused anyone that didn’t have a simple, up/down, fluent-English case.

It was terrifying.

They didn’t physically assault anyone, while I was there. But I realized they could have, and then what would I do? I felt rooted to my chair, afraid to speak out or help, because it would threaten my own ability to immigrate.

So no, the province doesn’t have to help you get your paperwork in order. And no, they don’t have to give you health care when you arrive. You have no political power, so they can write you off.

No Credit

Speaking of power, you don’t have any credit power, either. Because your credit history, back in your home country? Doesn’t matter here. They can’t access it, so you effectively start over from zero.

This might not seem like a big deal, until you try to get a bank account, or rent an apartment.

(I say rent because if you try to buy you’ll pay upwards of 20% extra as a straight-up tax when the sale closes. If that doesn’t discourage you from buying, then you’re probably rich enough you can smooth over the difficulties I’m outlining here)

Here’s the catch-22: You can’t rent an apartment without a bank account. Your landlord is going to want to know you can afford to rent the place. Without a credit history, your only recourse is to show funds in a Canadian bank that can pay for it (and also be used for automatic withdrawals every month). They’ll also likely want a secured bank draft for any deposits, once again drawn on a Canadian bank.

But you can’t get a Canadian bank account without a residence. Naturally enough, the banks want to be sure they’re only opening accounts for folks that are actually Canadian residents.

And even once you manage to solve that problem, if you’re thinking of maybe buying a car or getting a nice, points-based credit card, think again. You don’t have any credit history, so you don’t qualify for anything. In some cases, you not only won’t qualify, you can’t even apply without a Canadian phone number (oh, did I mention that? you’re going to want to swap out your home cell for a Canadian one. what’s that? you’re not ready to tell everyone and every account your new number? too bad)

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sorry I moved. Vancouver Island is absolutely beautiful, the folks who live here are quite welcoming and friendly, and it’s nice to be living in a place with reliable public transport again (because I don’t have a car, you see).

But immigrating hasn’t been easy, and I’m still working through the kinks. I’m still waiting on access to the province’s health system, for example, and I just now got a Canadian cell.

So to others thinking of moving to Canada: Go for it. Just be prepared for a bumpy ride if you do.

The Limits of Law by Peter H. Schuck

A mixed bag of interesting, well-thought out essays mingled with articulate but specious arguments in favor of traditional conservative opinions.

The first half of the book, made of the first 8 essays, is the better half. His arguments in these essays about the limits of law are based on evidence, as when he uses the conflicting conclusions reached by medical studies and the legal system in the Benedictin cases in the 80s and 90s to argue that courts are bad places to decide essentially scientific questions.

In the second half of essays, he begins to twist logic and ignore evidence in order to forcefully insist on the positions he’s adopted.

He claims that the states have changed since the Civil Rights Era, and so there’s no need to worry about devolving power from the federal government to them, ignoring the many groups — women, the LGBT community, non-Christians, immigrants — whose rights the states routinely trample on.

He dismisses Proportional Representation to elect legislators as absurd and unworkable, despite its use in the majority of democratic countries around the world.

In one of the last essays, he goes so far as to say that pushing power down from the federal level to the lowest level possible — county or city — is an alloyed good, a goal to be pursued even if the evidence shows that it makes things worse.

Despite the uneven nature of the essays, though, I did learn a few things:

  • In product liability cases, defendants that rely on statistical evidence are more likely to lose in jury trials.
  • Making employers check their employees’ immigration status is an example of private gatekeeping: when the government delegates part of its regulation powers to private individuals.
  • Modern mass tort litigation (in the US) is only a few decades old. It was basically invented in 1969, and continues to be a cobbled together reaction to the fact that a single company can now affect so many lives all at once.

The Rule of Nobody by Philip K Howard

A short book that’s long on emotional arguments. The author seems to believe that merely repeating the phrase “American government is broken” often enough will substitute for producing evidence that over-specification of rules in law has harmed American business or society.

Not that I think our laws are perfect, or aren’t in need of simplification (I’m looking at you, tax code). But I don’t need to read 200 pages of someone repeating that phrase to me, and telling me that other countries do it better. I need specific examples and evidence of how a different approach has saved countries time or money or boosted their GDP or — anything, really, to back up the claim that our government is mired in too much red tape to be effective, and the author’s principles-based laws would solve the problem.

Despite the general lack of facts, I did manage to learn a few things from the book:

  • President Clinton had a line-item veto — granted by Congress via law — for two years, until the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional.
  • Presidents used to be able to hold back money for programs they felt were wasteful or inefficient, till that power was specifically outlawed by Congress.
  • Iraqis who worked for the US Army after the invasion were supposed to be given special visas to immigrate to the US (because of the death threats they received), but the Immigration Service delayed their processing over rules so long that some died after waiting more than a year

Hobby Lobby Ruling Undermines Pluralism

The Hobby Lobby ruling didn’t make sense to me for several reasons. One thing that really bothered me was the way they asserted they could apply the religious exemption law to the corporation: they started out asserting that corporations are persons, then shifted to saying the rights of persons are protected by protecting the rights of the people employed by corporations, then shifted to saying the shareholders would be burdened by the penalties if they didn’t comply with the healthcare law.

It felt very slippery, and didn’t seem to hang together. Then it dawned on me: what they’re saying is that shareholders should be allowed to practice their religion through the corporation. Which sounds good at first glance, and is certainly not unconstitutional. But I don’t believe it’s a good principle for a liberal society.

Think of a Muslim-held company that decides to force its employees to pray while facing toward Mecca five times a day, or a Rastafarian company that expects employees to smoke ganja. Or worse, a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses that refuses to pay for health coverage that includes my kid’s vaccines, or my blood transfusion during an emergency surgery, or my mother’s kidney transplant. According to the logic behind the Hobby Lobby ruling, this would just be the owners practicing their religion through the corporation. Never mind that they would be pushing their religion onto their employees.

I don’t think anyone should have the power to force a religious practice on someone else – not my teachers, not my city council, and certainly not my boss.

I shouldn’t need to worry about my employer’s religion when applying for a job, anymore than they should have to worry about mine. When you enter the public sphere, you check your religious baggage at the door. It may be uncomfortable, you may not like it, but it’s necessary in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society like ours.

If you don’t check your religion at the door, you can end up with Christian businesses and Muslim businesses and Atheist businesses, everything split along sectarian lines, like in Iraq. That’s not the kind of society I want to have.

In the past, our laws have been used to avoid precisely that kind of sectarian society. When Amish employers sued to be exempt from taking their employees’ Social Security payments out of their wages, they lost, because you can’t exercise your religion through a corporate body. When shop owners in the South sued to be exempt from Fair Hiring laws, they lost, because when you enter the public sphere, you agree to be bound by the laws of that sphere.

By going against that precedent, the Hobby Lobby ruling undermines one of the core principles of our pluralistic society. I can only hope it gets overturned as soon as possible.