Saturday, February 13, 2016

Why Canada?

On September 24, 2005, on a day that thousands of patriotic Americans traveled to their nation's capital to protest an immoral war that was being waged in their names (link), I also boarded a plane; but bound for another country. I left the United States of America that Saturday, and my family and I now reside in Canada. I obtained a Canadian work permit at the port of entry (Toronto) and I started a new job with a large health insurance provider in the province of New Brunswick. I only told a few people, and in the very strictest confidence, that we were leaving the US for good.

Why did I choose to do this? There were several reasons, but it basically boils down to security for my family and our future, financial security and for our safety. We were the victims of persistent threats of violence against our lives and property in Alabama. We are very conservative, white, Protestant Christians; we were members of the 1st Baptist Church of Arab Alabama, the very last people you'd expect to be on the receiving end of prejudice in the Deep South Bible Belt of America. Why were we attacked?

Because, in January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote a letter to several local newspapers questioning the wisdom of invading a country that did nothing to our own, based on claims of a threat that were not bolstered by hard evidence. I opposed what later turned out to be a huge mistake.

Do you remember the venomous atmosphere of hatred that existed in the United States immediately prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003? No voice of reason, sanity or true Christian love stood a chance of being heard above the din. Never, as long as you live, forget it.

Did we leave out of fear? Partly, yes, though I never expected to see the face of any of those who threatened me, cowards all, I'm sure ... but at that time, if you'll recall, people like that were growing in numbers and it is in groups where cowards become dangerous. I decided to leave the United States because I felt like I no longer lived in America. The people I felt I knew (to include family, friends, co-workers, neighbors) were gone ... they were replaced by a hate-filled people, desiring (above all other things) vengeance. And I wanted no part of that. I wanted to be somewhere else.

I was a first-hand witness to how Americans spoke about Canadians when the government of Jean Chr├ętien announced that it would not participate in an invasion of Iraq in March 2003.  Because Canada put the truth and a respect for the sovereignty of another nation ... a tiny, impoverished, broken, defenseless nation ... above the will of the great and wonderful United States of America. It was ugly, and it was totally unnecessary. There are many who would argue with me, now, I'm sure ... that, in 2003, I didn't see Americans as they really are; I saw them at a time of crisis, an emotional time; that their true characters weren't on display; I was seeing only the emotions of the moment; fear, uncertainty, and reactionary hatred.

I would argue, rather, that the true character of people is always revealed in a time of crisis.  I learned that, growing up in the conservative Deep South, in America's Bible Belt.  I was taught that a man has no more character than he can command in a time of crisis.

I saw the true character of those around me, revealed when they faced a crisis; and what I saw came as a complete shock to me.  I saw them as they really are; and I can't simply "unsee" that.

It was not what I consider American.  And I know for certain it is not Canadian. 

I do not consider myself primarily a refugee from terrorism any more than I consider my move primarily one of protest. I consider myself a person who did what he felt was right, despite the enormous sacrifice and hardship that resulted from that choice ... in the very best tradition of Americans. In a sense, I packed all my belongings in a covered wagon, yoked a pair of oxen, and headed for a better place ... except my direction was North, not West. We are very happy in our new life; and we recovered a sense of freedom from persecution and hatred that I feel all people are entitled to.

Why Canada? Because it reminded me of the America I knew "before" (or thought I did). I know that I don't want to live the rest of my life in a place where my neighbors would support people who threaten my life before they'd stand up for me and my family. We stood up for our beliefs (in the best tradition of brave patriotic Americans), instead of remaining silent out of fear. And we were vilified for it.

At one time, I might have considered anger the primary motivator; but not now. Most of the anger I've felt in the past has turned to deep disappointment. I'm terribly disappointed in the people I once respected and often admired back in the States. In the past few years, I've grown to see them as small-minded, parochial, shallow, consummately selfish, and lacking both courage and conviction ... and not people I choose to be identified with.

Nothing the U.S. government has done in the past decade disappointed me as much as the response of the American people to those actions. Even the horrendous attacks on the WTC towers in NYC didn't shock me as much as the response of my neighbors, co-workers, friends and (in some cases) my family.

These circumstances aside, you know what really changed my attitude toward life in the USA?

My wife had surgery to remove a colon cancer in 2000, followed by chemo-therapy treatments. It was then that I realized how much I was dependent on my employer for medical insurance; without it, I would have been rendered financially insolvent ... then I got laid off and that devastated my ego. I blamed myself for a very long time. And it made me realize just how fragile our affluence really was. I had no trouble getting contract work and eventually a full time job (with medical insurance as a benefit), but I never went back to my old way of thinking; that "people have not, because they strive not."

In the sense that most Americans are only a paycheck or two away from a crisis; very few are so immune from circumstances that they should tolerate the systematic elimination of safety nets that protect them all.

And Canada is still a country where you can find what you thought America would never lose.
Charles Aulds
Sainte Marie de Kent,
New Brunswick, Canada

In a swearing-in ceremony held on February 15, 2012, along with
45 other immigrants to Canada,
my wife and daughter and I became
citizens of Canada.
It took us 6 years, 4 months, and 22 days to
achieve that goal.