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July 1, it's a day worth celebrating
Becoming a Canadian citizen is a proud moment
Saturday, June 29, 2002
Canada Day may be on Monday, but for a select few, Canada Day was celebrated last week.
They spilled out into the street in their Sunday best and smiles. They were coming out of the citizenship and immigration office downtown and some of them were seeing Vancouver for the first time as real citizens, not landed immigrants, not visitors, not refugees. Full citizens.
If you were born here it's hard to imagine what that must feel like. But occasionally, we get a glimpse like that one. A friend told me a few years ago that she and her family have a big feast every year on the anniversary of the day they were granted citizenship more than 20 years ago. They'd been stateless until that moment. It's a moment they'll never forget.
It's funny how many of our newest citizens feel no shyness about celebrating Canada.
I hate to think it's yet another of those national characteristics we've developed solely as a way to distinguish ourselves from our southern neighbours. But maybe in some small way it is. An American will at very least put hand to heart at the merest sight of the Stars and Stripes. But Canadians get a bit squeamish about the patriotism thing -- unless, of course, there's hockey involved.
Dana Asher ran smack into this last year when she had a tiny idea that wouldn't it be nice if a whole bunch of Canadians would take just two minutes out of their year and sing O Canada at the same time on July 1.
Asher just graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in history and English from Simon Fraser University and next fall she's moving to the University of British Columbia to do a bachelor of education.
She got the idea for one big round of O Canada after listening to hours of Rafe Mair's phone-in show. It was a daily ritual on her way to school, something she thought might help her learn and understand more about politics.
"People would phone in and say we've almost got a dictatorship here. They were all complaining and nobody was calling in to say that this really is a great country. Everybody checks themselves rather than saying something good. Sure, there are some things that make me think this sucks ... but couldn't we just take a couple of minutes to say this is a great place?"
Asher started sending e-mails to journalists with her suggestion. Even though she's not a very good singer, she acceded to requests to sing on radio and TV. "I totally took one for the team doing that," she says. "It was really embarrassing."
Asher kept bugging people to just stand up and sing.
"As a people in general, we tend to focus on the negative. But while we're complaining, we should be aware of the good things in Canada. We shouldn't let our anger consume us."
She figured noon Vancouver time was best because last year Canada Day was on Sunday. "I wanted everybody out of church, even though I guess they could sing in church."
She also figured that noon here isn't so late that it would interrupt supper in Newfoundland.
To say the least, it was a huge battle to get people interested. Asher figures that some of her problem is that she sounds about 12 on the telephone.
"I know I sound really young and I can just tell people are thinking, 'Yeah, yeah, little girl,' just hoping I'll go away."
But she's not going away. At least not yet, but it's tough getting anybody in the media excited.
Now here's an interesting fact. Despite what you might think of the news -- same old boring thing day after day -- journalists think they don't repeat themselves. Journalists tell themselves that they don't do the same stories day after day or year after year. So when Asher called back the journalists she spoke to last year, the response was pretty much: "Dana Asher? Nah, did her last year."
Asher doesn't want to give up. There's a guy in Edmonton who calls himself Joe Canada who e-mailed her the same morning I talked to her. He runs a store that sells O Canada gear. He's sending Asher $350 worth of bumper stickers and tattoos to hand out to people before she starts singing O Canada at noon Monday in Maple Ridge Park.
Joe Canada -- who does a schtick at baseball games in Edmonton along the lines of the 'I am Joe Canadian' beer commercials -- plans to lead a whole stadium full of fans in song at Monday's game. There are bunch of people in London, Ont. who will also be singing. They found out about it from Asher's Web site (www.singforcanada.ca)
Even though Asher lives in the Lower Mainland -- Maple Ridge to be precise -- there's no huge movement here to sing along.
There's a big celebration at Canada Place. But when Asher called the organizers and suggested they sing the national anthem at noon. She was told that singing O Canada is part of the plan. But not at noon and, no, they couldn't change their plans. How Canadian.
We Canadians are a strange group. So desperate to be different from the Americans. Sure we look like them. Speak mostly the same language. But you tell me. Can't you pick out the American tourists on the street?
Our country is so big and we're spread so far apart it sometimes seems we have few shared experiences. Even our icons aren't found all across the country. The first time I saw a maple leaf like the one on the flag wasn't in Canada, but Germany.
Likewise, the paintings of the Group of Seven have no emotional pull for anyone not familiar with the Canadian Shield, any more than Emily Carr or Haida artists speak to people who haven't been to coastal B.C.
Yet here we all are. A country where talking about the weather takes up an inordinate amount of time. A country where somebody would actually make a movie about curling and presume it would have mass appeal. A country where television anchors are balding and people say I'm sorry when you bump into them.
We're fiercely law-abiding, yet more than half of us have little or no faith in lawmakers, if you believe a recent survey done by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada.
We're a country where singing the national anthem is something you do at sporting events and even then you'll probably mumble or hum. We're a country where millions of people yearn to live and even risk their lives to get here. And all that is worth celebrating and singing about ... at noon on Monday.
© Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun