On March 25th, 1960, when I first set foot in Canada, it was an instant epiphany. Ten years had elapsed since that glacial Christmas Eve when we hastily departed from Stalinist Romania. We had fled the imminent threat of my father, a lawyer, being assassinated for occupying a top position with the Shell company. In their mid-thirties, my parents left with nothing more to show for than a couple of rolled up academic degrees. And, yes, I can still recall them incongruously adding a few carefully wrapped blue Bohemian crystals in the only trunk for four people that would accompany us throughout our travels in search of an ersatz homeland, first to Israel, and finally to Canada).
As a fourteen-year old on the Leonardo da Vinci liner, I felt anxious. What hardships might be awaiting us? We did not know a single soul. All I knew was that Immigration Minister Ellen Fairclough had approved our passage to Canada and that a saintly Father Irénée would offer us shelter in Montréal. Once beyond Pier 21 in Halifax, I could not quite believe the courtesy, the genteelness, the sudden feeling of security that miraculously enveloped us. Why would anyone welcome our family with so much respect, so much generosity? Only in books had I encountered such a utopian reality (in Voltaire’s Eldorado, perhaps?).
Canada has never let me down since that very moment, over half a century ago. It continues to offer me the certitude of a peaceful environment, where each day brings its share of joy and sorrow, but spares its citizens the horrors of war, of killing, of famine, of torture, of terror – a privilege which must, however, never be taken for granted. I was brought up on the principle that it is better to give than to receive both with respect to individuals and to the State. I have followed in the footsteps of my parents whose values were based on unending education, hard work, and civic obligations - all anchored by a moral conscience.
On February 7th, 2007, I casually answered the phone only to hear Ontario’s Attorney General express the following: “Dr. Guberman, you’re stuck with us! You have been appointed a Justice of the Peace.” Stuck with us? I instantly remembered John Stuart Mill’s assertion that “A man’s right to swing his arm stops where the other man’s nose begins.” The words of Socrates followed suite, affirming that “One must obey the commands of one’s city and country, or persuade it as to the nature of justice.” What an honour! Dispensing justice. Competence and compassion became the name of the game.
Robertson Davies in Maclean’s, September 1972, put it this way: “I just am a Canadian. It is not a thing which you can escape from. It is like having blue eyes.” I do not have blue eyes, but I know exactly what Mr. Davies means. Loving Canada is like loving a cherished other; it is an unending work in progress. For receiving, one must always remain worthy of the gesture and reciprocate. Truly belonging in any relationship means keeping ones end of the bargain.
I only wish my parents were still alive so I could thank them from the bottom of my heart for making such an enlightened choice when they left everything behind. In her nineties my mother – an accomplished concert pianist -- was still distributing social-awareness pamphlets from house to house. She showed by example that one must continuously protect and honour our blessed land: CANADA!
• Passages Canada website