Happy New Year!
Have you decided what kind of person you’ll be this year?
Sometimes that is more or less out of our control, more or less a matter for Fate and the Gods to decide.
A Young Person. A Tall Person. A Short South East Asian Female Canadian Person.
A People Person.
Circumstances this week have rendered me a Non Person.
It wasn’t my idea!
It was very casual, my sudden loss of personhood.
Stephen went away for work.
And I lost my wallet.
No ID. No cash.
There. That’s it. That’s all it took.
For four days, I survived via a pile of loose change I amassed after searching the apartment. Stephen suggested going to the bank and turning that change into cash money so that I could at least avoid the shame of paying with handfuls of coins.
“You need a bank card to do that.”
Surely, I thought, things would have been better if Stephen were around: even without my driver’s license or credit card, I could at least validate my existence through him.
Get him to tell people who I am.
Get him to pick up bread and Drano®.
But I realized that even with Stephen home, my personhood was not guaranteed.
I exist in space and time. I am matter. But without anything to substantiate my identity, did I?
Legally, the answer would be: No.
Existentially, the answer is: Really?
For four days, one realm of possibility closed on me, while another (kind of) opened up. It was a realm in which I existed, but only up to a point. A limbo in which, for those four days, it would be a very inconvenient time to get killed or want to take out library books.
If a car or a plane or an assassin hit me, where would the proof of my identity be? That chicken pox scar from childhood? My memories from the Calgary Stampede (circa 1999)? My love of smooth jazz?
My fingerprints and blood, sure, but without my health card or SIN number it would take a while to establish my identity.
So that left just me.
A regular Jane Doe.
I worried a lot about someone else having my wallet.
My boss had his identity stolen, and now he can’t get a passport. He went to the police and they did very little. For what it’s worth, his identity is now “compromised”.
What the hell is it like to be “compromised”?
He won’t say.
People change. Every single cell in your body, so the logic goes, gets replaced every 7 years, more or less. Biologically, that makes you a more or less a new person.
Health cards in Ontario are renewed every 5 years.
Passports are renewed every 5 to 10 years.
Birth certificates can’t be renewed, but they can be replaced.
In any case, they don’t expire, unlike your cells.
My sister never got a driver’s license, so she used her passport during the 2008 election as her ID so she could vote.
Or rather, she tried to.
The man working at the polling station, officious little turd that he was, refused to accept her passport as “legitimate identification.”
She wasn’t allowed to vote. She didn’t vote.
Imagine that. And in this day and age.
In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada had declared that sorry no, women were not, legally, persons. The decision was challenged by five Canadian women at the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest court of appeal for Canada at the time, in England, and on October 28, 1929, the Privy Council confirmed for Canadians everywhere that, “yes, women are persons”.
Just to be clear.
In 2012, the Bank of Canada replaced the image of an Asian woman with a more “neutral” Caucasian woman on the newly redesigned $100 bill after focus groups complained about the appearance of the Asian woman on “Canadian” money. The Bank later apologized for its decision and after it was too late for it to make further changes to the bill.
“Erased” is another word for “replaced”. It’s funny.
In his book, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Thomas King writes of Canada’s Bill C-31 and the effect of its “two-generation cut-off clause” on Status Indians.
In Canada, Status Indians are people who the federal government chooses to recognize, legally, as Indians.
However, “[m]arry out of Status for two generations, and the children of the second union are non-Status (2012: 168).”
“Let’s think about that for a minute. Because Indians marry both Status and non-Status individuals, so long as the ‘two generation cut-off clause’ remains in place, more of our children will lose Status. If this continues, at some point…there could be no Status Indians left in Canada (2012: 169).”
King goes on:
“It’s a brilliant plan. No need to allocate money to improve living conditions on reserves. No reason to build the new health centre that’s been promised for the last thirty years. No reason to fix the water and sewer systems or to update the science equipment at the schools. Without Status Indians, the land can be recycled by the government and turned into something useful, such as estate lots and golf courses, and Ottawa, at long last, can walk away from the Indian business” (2012: 169).
So much for blood and fingerprints.
Not that I need to worry about the next election or next week or even, after a fashion, getting totally smoked by an 18-wheeler tomorrow.
For, on the fifth day, my wallet was returned to me.
I am a person again!
For what it’s worth.
Don’t leave home without it.
King, Thomas. (2012). The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Anchor Canada/Random House Canada: Toronto.
 Assuming, of course, that there’s anything left.
 One of these is false.