If Gordon Brown has his way I’ll soon be forced to choose between my husband and my liberty. As a Canadian resident in the UK, beginning this year I’m required to carry an ID card under the Labour government’s national identity cards scheme. As Brown put it in last week’s prime minister’s questions: “I suggest the whole of the country supports ID cards for foreign nationals.” According to the ID cards website, this means that when I fork out another 500 quid to extend the “temporary leave to remain” I was granted when I married an Englishman, I’ll be “eligible” to apply for an ID card, which I will be compelled to acquire. (Fans of Orwell will find more gobbledygook on the website.)

Of course, I shouldn’t mind carrying an ID card since I’ve got nothing to hide. Or at least, I don’t think I do. I did attend a protest march a while back that became rather raucous outside the US Embassy. Lots of cameras, I seem to recall. Hmm. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone after all. And there was a lively debate about Iraq at a dinner party recently. A private affair, but “careless talk costs lives”, so who knows?

There’s a certain etiquette to being an expat. You fake gratitude when locals “correct” your accent, you don’t insult your host country and you endure smug comments about your native land from people who’ve never been there. For instance, since moving to the UK, I’ve learned that Canadians are polite, dull and chippy. With no values of our own, apparently we operate in simple, kneejerk reaction to our American neighbours. Thank God somebody told me.

To be fair, a British organisation supplied a truly interesting fact about Canada just 10 days ago. London-based Privacy International reported that Canada boasts some of the strongest privacy protections in the world. By contrast, with CCTV cameras on virtually every lamppost, the UK operates a surveillance culture, offering the weakest privacy protections in the EU. As for the land of the free, the US government intrudes into its own citizens’ private affairs more than that of any other nation in the democratic world.

Since 9/11 and 7/7 there’s been endless commentary about attacks on western values instigated by fanatical mullahs and perpetrated by angry young men. Even when terrorists are locally born, their demonstrated contempt for “our values” makes them “other” by definition. In response, a steady stream of public intellectuals such as Martin Amis have publicly renounced their former liberalism, zealously trumpeting their newfound view that multiculturalism is a mug’s game promulgated by well-meaning but deluded numbskulls. According to Amis et al, the binary truth revealed by the terror attacks is that “we” are actually better than “them”.

The Privacy International findings put a new spin on the values argument, though. They expose Mr Brown’s double-speak in the pages of the Washington Post last July when he called on Americans to join the UK in defending “the ideal of freedom against the terrorist threat.” They also contextualise the way British-born detainees who languished for years without charge in the legal no-man’s land of Guantánamo Bay, were handed off to British authorities feverishly drafting applications for control orders faster than you can say “due process”.

Suddenly, it seems that I and my fellow dull and chippy Canadians are the ones with demonstrably different values. I guess that’s what it feels like to be one of “them”, and if Brown gets his way, soon enough I’ll have the ID card to prove it.

13 January 2008

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