World’s Best Insurance Policy

POSTED AT 1:21 AM EDT ON 20/07/06

World's best insurance policy


From Thursday's Globe and Mail

The scenes are harrowing. Thousands of people have besieged the dockside in Beirut, waiting for ships to ferry them to safety. One pregnant woman, infant son in tow, was turned away after being promised she'd be among the first to be rescued. Never mind the Israeli bombs, said one of the people on the dock. It's the Lebanese sun that's going to decimate these people. People are going to start falling like flies out here.

Back home, the hapless Peter MacKay was on the CBC. What's gone wrong? the interviewer demanded angrily, as if the Foreign Affairs Minister were personally responsible for the outbreak of hostilities. One family, which got out of Lebanon on its own hook, expressed outrage at the lack of government help. They won't get our vote again, the father vowed.

Why was the government caught so flat-footed? Where was the plan? Where were the ships? The NDP called for an evacuation plan on Friday, sniped Jack Layton.

Personally, I'm inclined to cut our guys a bit of slack. Perhaps it's a touch unrealistic to expect that we'd have an emergency evacuation plan for 25,000 people tucked in our back pocket. Canada is thousands of miles away. The conflict broke out without warning, and Beirut's airport was bombed. What were we supposed to do have ships and 600 consular officials on standby, just in case?

Little Canada, amazingly, has as many as 50,000 nationals in Lebanon, half of whom have frantically signed up with the embassy. We have more citizens in Lebanon than the Americans, the British and the French. A few of these people are tourists. A lot are dual nationals on holiday visiting their relatives. Quite a lot are part-time residents of both countries. Probably half are full-time residents of Lebanon who became Canadian citizens, then, after the civil war died down, returned home.

When it's not at war, Lebanon is a very pleasant place to live. Canadian old-age pensions go a long way there. And a Canadian passport is a wonderful insurance policy. It guarantees you a ticket out if things get tough. When you have a Canadian passport, you become very demanding, says Martin Collacott, who was once Canada's ambassador to Syria and Lebanon. He has been involved in several evacuation plans, all with far more time to put together than this one.

Once upon a time, immigrants set sail across the ocean and never went back. Gradually, they lost touch with their relatives, their homelands and their original identities. That's all changed now. Cheap air travel, e-mail and cellphones mean you can go home again, as often and as long as you want. The world is full of dual citizens who shuttle back and forth between Vancouver and Hong Kong, Lebanon and Montreal, Toronto and Seoul. Some acquired their citizenship strictly as a hedge. Before the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese, there were perhaps half a million newly minted Chinese Canadians living there, far more than in Vancouver. Not for nothing did novelist Yann Martel call Canada the world's finest hotel.

With dual nationalities come dual sets of loyalties. That's not entirely bad. Canada is now intimately connected to every corner of Earth. But what happens to our own national identity? No country, and especially no democracy, can afford to have large numbers of citizens with shallow civic and national attachments, says U.S. political scientist Stanley Renshon.

Of course we should do whatever we can to extract innocents from the war zone. (We don't even charge them.) But it's worth noting that Lebanon has been an iffy neighbourhood for quite a while. Everyone knows that Hezbollah controls the towns in the south, including the town where eight members of a Lebanese-Canadian family lost their lives. That's a tragedy. But that's what Hezbollah does. It keeps its rockets stashed in civilian neighbourhoods and uses civilians as human shields.

My family are all martyrs, said one of the relatives in Canada, as he condemned our foreign policy. But it's not Hezbollah that will protect the Lebanese-Canadian kids cowering in the cellars. It's us because when Canada takes you in, we look after you forever.