What Cruise Ship Did You Take During the War?

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Ask someone
if they remember the war in Lebanon and you might get an incredulous
stare. One person might wonder just which war you’re referring
to. There have been so many, after all. Another may remark that
it’s all just one big war to them. And both make a good point.

The most recent
conflict in southern Lebanon was particularly easy to overlook,
coming as it did right in the middle of the media’s “silly season,"
when hard news is replaced by stories about animals on roller skates
and other equally newsworthy events.

Canada’s government,
however, saw the conflict as anything but humorous. During the course
of the July War (as it’s known in Lebanon) or the Second Lebanon
War (as it’s known in Israel), as many as 30,000 Canadians registered
with the Canadian Embassy in Beirut. This was out of an estimated
50,000 Canadians living in Lebanon. By the end of this brief conflict,
approximately 15,000 had been shipped back to Canada.

I watched this
story with great interest, because there but for the grace of God
went I.

I’d lived in
a danger zone before. From June 1997 to March 1998, my home was
less than thirty miles away from the DMZ in Korea. Before I went
to Seoul as an English teacher, I’d read that it was a good idea
to register with the Canadian Embassy “just in case.” When I actually
went in to fill out the forms, I learned that, in the event of war,
the Government of Canada promised to do their very best to get me
out of harm’s way. There was only one catch: I had to pay them back
upon my return to Canada.

This struck
me as a pretty good deal. I got to live. The government got its
money back.

I was thus
a little put off when I learned that the Canadian government had
announced, in advance, that they would evacuate any passport holder
from Lebanon at no charge. Well, no charge to the evacuees, that
is. The rest of the country got stuck with the $85 million bill
— nearly $6,000 per evacuee — for several leased cruise ships that
ferried these [Love] “Boat People” back to Canada.

Now this struck
me as an extremely good deal. They got a cruise home. And
the government got its money out of general revenue, that is, from
every Canadian taxpayer, not just those who took advantage of this
act of charity.

I should mention
that the $85 million price tag is an estimate put together by one
of Canada’s news outlets. The actual total could be much, much higher.
(This is government, remember.)

The relief
on the part of the evacuees was tremendous. So happy were they that,
within a few weeks, nearly half of them had gone….right back
to Lebanon.

That’s right.
They got a free trip to Canada to visit their relatives and then
went back home.

Thanks, suckers.

To see such
a large group of people taking unfair advantage of their Canadian
passports reminded me of the run-up to the June 1997 handover of
Hong Kong to China.

During this
time, there was a huge influx of “new Canadians” from Hong Kong.
Once they got their papers, many went back, secure in the knowledge
that their "new" home would bail them out in the event
the Chinese government wanted to, say, shoot them in the head for
expressing an opinion.

Now as a matter
of principle, I believe in free travel. I do not believe passports
ought to be required to go from one place to another. I also do
not believe in war as a means of solving international disputes.

Unfortunately,
mine is a minority position. Until the rest of the world feels the
way I do, what should citizenship mean? And what obligations does
a country have with respect to foreign nationals who knowingly put
themselves in harm’s way? This is a question that should vex Libertarians,
for there are no simple answers.

The Canadian
passport, for example, has lately become a document of convenience
for those who come from dangerous or potentially-dangerous parts
of the world. Is it at least reasonable to ask what citizenship
actually means? Certainly. Do I run the risk of having my Libertarian
credentials yanked merely for asking the question? Perhaps.

In the meantime,
exactly how many pseudo-Canadians are out there? I’ve no idea, but
here are a few modest suggestions for reducing their number to zero
in a very short period of time:

Stop bailing
out Canadians abroad.
When I lived thirty miles from the DMZ
in Seoul, the threat of war loomed several times. (Ever experienced
an air-raid warning while living in a city of 10 million? Not
many Westerners under the age of sixty have. It’s eerie, to say
the least.) A Canadian in southern Lebanon must know that
war is imminent at just about any time. It’s just the nature of
the neighborhood. So you want to visit or live in a prospective
war zone or disaster area? Swell. You’re on your own.

End the
farce of "dual" citizenship.
You hold two or more
passports? Let’s save some paper. Pick one. And if you don’t choose
to be Canadian, then we can choose to send you back to your country
of origin.

Put some
kind of limit on how much "new" Canadians are entitled
to.
Look, I’m no idiot. I’ve read the studies showing that,
on balance, immigrants give much more to Canada than they take
out of it. In this they are like just about everyone else. But
there are a few who wreck it for those who work hard. Let’s eliminate
the few “bad apples” by letting them fend for themselves (say,
five years — I’m flexible on the time period) for a while.

Deport
those who grossly abuse the system.
The number of crimes committed
by landed immigrants is grossly out of proportion to the number
committed by citizens, whether home-grown or naturalized. So here’s
a new rule: if you get caught committing a crime while here as
a landed immigrant or refugee, you’re out for good. Period. No
exceptions.

To say I’m
conflicted about this would be an understatement. Nearly everything
I’ve written goes against my Libertarian inclinations. I don’t believe
in borders. But there they are, and until we can figure out a way
to make them go away, we can’t pretend they don’t exist. And we
sure as heck can’t afford to subsidize other peoples’ dangerous
choices.

October
27, 2006

George
Graham [send him mail]
is a freelance writer and former Director of Development with several
Canadian public policy research institutes. He lives east of Toronto,
Ontario.

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