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Bill C-24

After the RCMP officer had left, silence fell on the town’s only holding cell.  David and Michael sat on the bench side by side, their backs to the wall and their limbs stretched out.  Adala sat opposite to them on another bench with her legs pulled up to her chest.  They were all staring at the floor.

Michael broke the silence.  “Eco-terrorism?!  That’s what they are charging us with?” he asked with some sarcasm in his voice.  He sat up straight and looked around for a response from the others.  He did not get any reaction.  Instead, he heard Adala’s quiet voice.

“My God!  My God!  This can’t be true!” she mumbled.

“Oh come on!  Lighten up!  It’s kind of funny!” Michael tried to console her.

“It’s not funny,” David jumped into the conversation, also sitting up straight.  “We blew up a couple of oil barrels during an environmental protest.  It’s serious, Michael!”

“It was an accident,” he responded, putting emphasis on the word “accident”.

“Why did you throw the flare at the barrel?” David interrogated him.

Michael became defensive.  “The cop held a gun at me.  He told me to put my hands up.  I saw the gun and panicked.  I didn’t want to get shot!  So, I threw it away…uh… and it landed in the wrong place,” he explained.  He paused to look at both of them.  “Well, nobody got hurt,” he added to make a point.

“My God! I’m doomed!” Adala cried out.

“Would you just relax?” Michael barked at her, losing his patience.

She put her feet on the floor and looked deep into his eyes.  “Relax?  Seriously?  You want me to relax?  We are Canadian Eco-terrorists!  You know what this means?  I will be thrown out of this country soon!” she yelled.  Michael was so surprised by the sudden forceful voice that he could not respond.

“What do you mean?” David asked calmly instead.

“My God!  Am I the only graduate student in this room with knowledge of the Canadian laws?  Haven’t you heard of Bill C-24?  According to the latest government rule, if you are a terrorist, your Canadian citizenship can be revoked.”  Adala was on the verge of a break-down.

“They can’t do that!” Michael laughed.  He was very dismissive of her statement.  “Where would we go?  Where would I go?  I am a fifth generation Canadian.”

“Lucky you, Michael,” Adala replied, now sobbing.  “Lucky you.  You have single citizenship.  Bill C-24 states that you cannot lose your citizenship, if you are Canadian only.  You were born under the right stars, I guess!  I am not that fortunate.  I am a dual citizen.  The rule allows them to take my Canadian citizenship.”  She paused.  Michael stared at the floor.  He wasn’t sure what to say to her.  She continued.  “I don’t want to go back to Saudi Arabia!  Do you know that women have no right to drive a car there?  Hell, they even have to get permission from a male relative to work!  My grandfather is the only member of my family who currently lives in that country.  He is ultra conservative.  If I have to live with him, he will surely not allow me to work.  He probably won’t let me outside the house, at all.  I’m doomed!”

“That’s terrible!” David commented.  He looked very concerned about Adala’s potential fate.

“I guess, I am a second-class citizen—in both countries now,” she added on a quiet tone.

David took a few deep breaths.  “I feel very lucky now.  My mother came over from Italy before I was born.  I don’t have an Italian citizenship,” he said.  He was very relieved.

“Just out of curiosity, are you eligible to get one after your mother?” Adala inquired.  Her tone made David worried for a second.

“Yes, I am.  But, I don’t have one,” he smiled triumphantly at the end of his answer.

“You can stop smiling now, David.  If you are even eligible to become an Italian citizen,  they can take your Canadian citizenship from you,” she clarified.  She bit into her lips at the end of her sentence nervously, knowing that David would not like the news.

“What?  That’s not right!  I belong here!” David delivered the expected answer.  He was outraged.  “Besides, I barely speak Italian and I certainly can’t read the language!  I have never been to Italy!  For God’s sake, I am an Asian gourmet chef with a Japanese wife who is currently six-months pregnant!  I can’t move to Italy!  What are my wife and baby supposed to do without me?  Who’s going to pay the bills?  I surely can’t take them with me to Italy!  How am I going to get a job there?  As I said, I barely speak the language!”  David was practically yelling out his statements.  He was in a panic thinking about the ramification of the law that seemed outrageous to him.  He continued gesturing with his hands even after he stopped talking.  He was visibly distraught.

Michael kept shaking his head all this time.  “If I knew how screwed up the Canadian system was, I would have stayed in Germany,” he said and let out a sigh.

“I thought, you said that you were a fifth generation Canadian,” Adala complained.  She was confused now.

“Yes, I am.  But, my father was an army man. He was stationed at an army base in Hamburg.  I lived in Hamburg from the ages of two to sixteen.  Recently, I have worked there for a year, as well.”  He felt more and more uncomfortable speaking to the two unfortunate souls in the holding cell.

“This is just great,” David blurted out, rubbing his forehead.

Adala pointed her finger at Michael as she began to speak to address David’s point.  “Yeah!  This is just great!  This is Canadian justice for you!  Michael is practically German without a German citizenship and he gets to stay in Canada!  At the same time, I get to be deported to become a female slave in my grandfather’s house and you get to abandon your wife and kid to live in a country where you have never been to before.  Awesome!”  Although she stopped pointing at Michael accusatively, Adala still refused to look at him.  She was very angry.

Michael was on the defensive again.  “Well, don’t blame me!  I didn’t make the law!  I am just lucky enough to benefit from it!”

David was rolling his eyes.  “That’s nonsense!  You’re the one who threw the flare.  We didn’t cause the explosion.  We were just lumped in with you because we were standing together.”  David stood up and started pacing while playing with the curly locks of his hair.

“Try unfair,”  Adala corrected him.  She put her right hand on her chest to take an oath.  “I will do anything to make a deal with the authorities; so, they can drop the eco-terrorism charge.”  She raised her eyes toward the ceiling.  “God, if you can get me out of this situation, I promise never to participate in an environmental rally.  In fact, I promise never to participate in any political gathering.  Please, God, help me!  I don’t want to be a female slave in my grandfather ‘s house!”  Adala was quietly sobbing as she addressed the higher power.  At the end, she buried her beautiful face in her hands again for a few moments. Then, she kept running her fingers through her thick black hair, some of which always ended up in front of her young face.  She pulled her legs up once more.  She put her arms around her legs and began to rock back and forth.

David sat back on the bench.  “Amen to what you just said about staying out of politics,” he said quietly.  He leaned forward.  He placed his forearms on his knees to support his weight.  His eyes were locked on the ceramic tiles on the floor.  He took up a statue-like contemplative position.  He came alive occasionally just when he bit into his lower lip.

Michael felt terribly guilty because he knew that they were right.  He threw the flare in panic; nevertheless, he could get away with a lot less punishment than the others.  He would not lose his citizenship.  He kept switching his focus from David to Adala in hope.  He was uncertain what he was hoping for.  Forgiveness?  Understanding?  Sympathy?  Finally, after a long stare, he understood that they were not the ones who needed to offer him hope.  Instead, he had to offer hope to them.

“I will carry the torch for the two of you in all future rallies,” he finally said.

“You should do that,” David agreed.  The beautiful, bitter woman nodded, too.

Adala kept rocking her body.  David continued to stare at the tiles.  Michael’s eyes got glued to the cell door.  They fell silent again and nobody spoke for the rest of the night.

M. J. Mandoki