By Rick Lyman
Feb. 4, 2005
Christopher Key knows exactly what he would be giving up if he left Bellingham, Wash. "It's the sort of place Norman Rockwell would paint, where everyone watches out for everyone else and we have block parties every year," said Mr. Key, a 56-year-old Vietnam War veteran and former magazine editor who lists Francis Scott Key among his ancestors.
But leave it he intends to do, and as soon as he can. His house is on the market, and he is busily seeking work across the border in Canada. For him, the re-election of President Bush was the last straw.
"I love the United States," he said as he stood on the Vancouver waterfront, staring toward the Coast Mountains, which was lost in a gray shroud. "I fought for it in Vietnam. It's a wrenching decision to think about leaving. But America is turning into a country very different from the one I grew up believing in."
In the Niagara of liberal angst just after Mr. Bush's victory on Nov. 2, the Canadian government's immigration Web site reported an increase in inquiries from the United States to about 115,000 a day from 20,000. After three months, memories of the election have begun to recede. There has been an inauguration, even a State of the Union address.
Yet immigration lawyers say that Americans are not just making inquiries and that more are pursuing a move above the 49th parallel, fed up with a country they see drifting persistently to the right and abandoning the principles of tolerance, compassion and peaceful idealism they felt once defined the nation.
America is in no danger of emptying out. But even a small loss of residents, many of whom cite a deep sense of political despair, is a significant event in the life of a nation that thinks of itself as a place to escape to.
Firm numbers on potential émigrés are elusive.
"The number of U.S. citizens who are actually submitting Canadian immigration papers and making concrete plans is about three or four times higher than normal," said Linda Mark, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.
Other immigration lawyers in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax said they had noticed a similar uptick, though most put the rise at closer to threefold.
"We're still not talking about a huge movement of people," said David Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Montreal. "In 2003, the last year where full statistics are available, there were something like 6,000 U.S. citizens who received permanent resident status in Canada. So even if we do go up threefold this year, we're only talking about 18,000 people."
Still, that is more than double the population of Gettysburg, Pa. "For every one who reacts to the Bush victory by moving to a new country, how many others are there still in America, feeling similarly disaffected but not quite willing to take such a drastic step?" Mr. Cohen asked.
It will be six months, at least, before the Canadian government has any hard numbers on how many people are really making the move.
Melanie Redman, 30, assistant director of the Epilepsy Foundation in Seattle, said she had put her Volvo up for sale and hoped to be living in Toronto by the summer. Ms. Redman and her Canadian boyfriend, a Web site designer for Canadian nonprofit companies, had been planning to move to New York, but after Nov. 2, they decided on Canada instead.
"I'm doing it," she said. "I don't want to participate in what this administration is doing here and around the world. Under Bush, the U.S. seems to be leading the pack as the world spirals down."
Ms. Redman intends to apply for a conjugal visa, which can be easier to get than the skilled worker visa required of most Americans. To do so, she must prove that she and her boyfriend have had a relationship for at least a year, so she has collected supporting paperwork, like love letters, to present to the Canadian government.
"I'm originally from a poor, lead-mining town in Missouri and I know a lot of the people there don't understand why I'm doing this," she said. "Even my family is pretty disappointed. And the fact is, it makes me pretty sad, too. But I just can't bear to pay taxes in the United States right now."
Compared with the other potential émigrés interviewed, Ms. Redman was far along in planning.
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