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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The good citizen

I came across an obituary in the Toronto Star. It was for L. Col. Paul Tuz, a member of the Order of Canada. I met Paul Tuz when he presided over my citizenship ceremony in 2005. He'd served in HM Forces, as the President of the Better Business Bureau, and as the Hon Consul General of Mali.

It is because of Paul Tuz that I'm a Canadian today. Not literally because he swore me in, but because of what he told us about citizenship.

Paul Tuz was not born a Canadian citizen either. He was born in Austria in 1929. When Hitler annexed his birthplace nine years later, Austria decided that citizenship was a right that could be taken away. At least, from those who, like Paul Tuz, had Jewish ancestors.

But he left Austria behind, surviving the war and making his life in Canada. "You're lucky," he told us new Canadians. "Canada doesn't require you to give up your original citizenship. My daughter, for example, was born in the United States, so she's an American and a Canadian citizen."

It felt good, at the very hour I became Canadian, to be reminded of my own situation. It felt good that Paul Tuz acknowledged both my citizenships as an example.

He carried a diplomatic passport from Mali in his service to that country. And he, like us, had become Canadian. His wife was originally from Mexico. One country could not contain Paul Tuz!

Austria didn't come up again until one of his children, seeking the opportunity to live and work in the European Union, asked about getting an Austrian passport. It was while looking into this that he discovered Austria had never restored his citizenship.

"Are you serious?" he said to the Austrian official. "All these years after the Nazi era, and I'm still not an Austrian citizen? I'm calling Time magazine and telling them Hitler is alive and well in Austria today!"

He left in anger, only to be called by his wife. She told him there was a message on the phone in German, which she didn't understand.

"Herr Tuz," the message said, "this is the Austrian consulate. Please come back right away--your passport is ready!"

After Paul Tuz's story, we pledged our loyalty to our new country and sang "O Canada." I attempted it in French, since the opening lines, "O Canada! Land of our forefathers," is more accurate than the English "Our home and native land." I wasn't born in Canada, but my great-great-grandfather was. I am Canadian–American.

Then we had our picture taken with the maple leaf flag and Paul Tuz CM. Because 2005 was the Year of the Veteran (Année de l'ancien combattant), we also got pins with a poppy on them, in memory of the Second World War ending sixty years before.

Citizenship is about service. Maybe where we're born, maybe where we serve in the armed forces or the business community or the diplomatic corps. On that day, I learned a new meaning of citizenship--wherever we serve.