Melissa Todd: When being Canadian means you can’t visit Canada

Happy birthday James

My son’s father is Canadian, and that isn’t even his worst defect.

His gifts to his child these last 16 years comprise white-blonde curls, an inability to tan, and, last and least, Canadian citizenship, after a little prompting from a lawyer. I thought being Canadian might conceivably be useful one day, if James ever needed to skip the country, say, or began suffering chronic insomnia. I tucked the certificate in a sock drawer and forgot about it.

Last Christmas James packed his woolies to go visit his grandparents in Montreal. At Heathrow we were told that Canadian citizens without Canadian passports were no longer allowed to visit Canada.

“Canadian citizens without Canadian passports are no longer allowed to visit Canada?” I repeated, stupidly, goggle-eyed and open-mouthed, aware of James biting back sobs beside me. “But that’s insane!”

“Well, suck it up, eh”, said the Air Canada steward. “It’s hardly the worst thing Canada’s ever done to you.”  Or words to that effect. After 24 hours hysterical sobbing – which is an expensive amount of emoting to undertake when you’re in the short stay car park – we got a special rubber stamp and thumbs up from Celine Dion, or something, and James got on a plane.

But it won’t work again. If he wants to go back to Canada – and inexplicably, he does, the raging white-blonde masochist – he’ll need a Canadian passport.

Fine, whatever, I thought. I’m an intelligent competent woman. I’ve got a heap of degrees, I run my own business, I’m studying for a doctorate. This should be a flipping breeze.

I won’t bore you too long with the details – nor reach for that easy cliche, Kafka-esque – but breeze it has not been.

They spelt my name wrong on the first form. That took months to sort. Then James turned 16, which meant a different form. Then we moved, which meant a new form. Then they remembered he’d need a new style Canadian citizenship certificate before they could issue a passport: the one crumpled under my hosiery was no good to anyone anymore.

It’s just about impossible to get hold of one of these if you don’t have a Canadian passport, although they thought perhaps a new form might help. So far, it hasn’t helped.  And I’d sooner rip off my own eyelids than admit I’ve married and changed my name this year. And doubtless I’d have to fill out “Eyelid ripping-off form 06543” before I did.

In short, it’s nearly Christmas and I’m no closer to getting him to Canada. He’ll have to stay in Broadstairs and share my sweets, which is clearly unacceptable.

I share this story partly to mock Canada’s incompetence (I know, I know, racism is evil! I’m only joking! Please don’t write in!) but also to make you feel better about our own beleaguered little nation, which, rainy, filthy, expensive, traffic-logged, insular and backward-looking it may be, still managed to get me my new passport in ten flipping days.