What Cruise Ship Did You Take During the War?


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