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severing ties

It’s done. I have renounced my American citizenship. It was an ordeal, in the penitentiary-like US Consulate in Ottawa, with foot-thick doors; you cannot bring in cellphones — or guns or fire starters, unfortunately, as I was going to bring both. Had to wait, then show all my documents, go through the rigamarole — “You do realize this step is irrevocable?” as if they can’t believe I’m giving up something so precious. Then another wait, twenty minutes, sitting there with the others in the bland room, without my purse or cellphone, staring at the wall and twitching, until finally called to talk to a consul and explain my reasons for this devastatingly stupid decision. I gave them the letter I’ll copy here, below. And then paid my king’s ransom and got out, feeling light and free.

I wish I’d done it many years ago. They warned me it’s not official until cleared by some official who’ll send me the final paperwork. I said, “You mean, they might refuse to let me go?” He laughed and said it hasn’t happened so far. They were in fact very nice. But it was sheer joy to walk out of the claustrophobic bunker into the Ottawa sunshine, to meet Janet and go to the National Gallery across the street for lunch and wander amongst the Canadian paintings. I was exhausted and drained, and still am. And extremely relieved.

You mean, now you’re 100% Canadian? wrote Anna. Yes, that’s what it means. I always have been, in fact, but for this lingering bureaucratic confusion. I’ve spent my life as partly American, partly Canadian, partly Jewish, partly not. Beth Partly Kaplan.

The gallery is stunning, with its towering ceilings. There’s a courtyard inside filled with plants and piped-in choir singing sacred music – lovely.

And in a bit I’m going to take my hostess out for dinner, to a place called Gin et Chips, nearby, where the batter for the fish and chips is infused with gin. Sounds good to me. Janet’s house is one of the loveliest I’ve ever visited, filled with light and interesting things, collections just like mine: thrifted or scavenged baskets, boxes, books, children’s toys, beautiful fabrics – and the thickest, most luxurious cotton sheets ever. I feel like royalty.

Pix: 1. Last night, the full moon was low over Ottawa – almost over my mum’s and her sister’s former apartment buildings, in fact. Magical.

2. Janet has books everywhere – thrilled to see my own Loose Woman on one shelf.

3. Selfie by an 100% Canadian, in front of two paintings by dear friend Tom Campbell.

My letter to the American government, which I know they’ll throw away:

In August 1950, a few weeks after my birth in New York City, my American father J. Gordin Kaplan took his first job as a cell biologist in Canada. A left-wing idealist, he was forced to emigrate by the intolerance for his viewpoints — in favour of nuclear disarmament and world peace — in America at that time. He was happy to live the rest of his life in Canada, grateful to the tolerant country that had sheltered him and his family, and made enormous contributions to his adopted country.

My mother and I lived briefly with my grandparents in New York before flying to Canada. I was 3 months old when I left the United States for good. After becoming a Canadian citizen, I kept my American passport because I saw no need to get rid of it.

Until a few years ago, when I learned that for some incomprehensible reason, I was expected to file American tax returns. That is, to file returns for a country in which I had lived for three months as an infant and where I’d never worked or had any financial dealings.

I’m a writer; my income is low. In order to free myself from this onerous, indeed absurd responsibility, I had to file years of back taxes, which cost me thousands of dollars in accountancy fees. And now, to renounce will cost me a ransom of more than $3200 CAD. The injustice of this burns in me.

I approve 100% of chasing wealthy tax cheats. But to punish low income expat citizens with absurd tax rules and giant exit fees reflects very badly on the country of my birth.

Like my father, I am deeply grateful to be Canadian.

Yours,

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2 Responses to “severing ties”

  1. Trevor says:

    Good letter Beth – as a transplant myself I appreciate the complications – also glad to be Canadian!

  2. Beth Kaplan says:

    Thanks, Trevor. I’m sure the American government is going to read my letter, snap to attention, and change their policies. Hooray!

    Sigh.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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