(by Aboud Dandachi)

(Where the simple Syrian village boy turns his Social Insurance Number into a drama worthy of Shakespeare)

Since the lockdown began, I’ve been looking through Twitter for Canadians’ experiences with applying for the CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit), a financial benefit from the government that provides CND$ 2000 to each individual who has lost their job because of COVID-19.

The process itself is straightforward; a series of simple questions which only takes a few minutes, and then receiving a confirmation that the money will be deposited in one’s bank account within three business days (ten if receiving by cheque).

Since it was anticipated that millions of Canadians would apply for the benefit,  processing applications was handed over to the one department that existed in the country that could handle the applications of millions of Canadians; the Tim Horton’s Gift Cards program.

Haha. No, but seriously, CERB is being handled by the Canada Revenue Agency (Canada’s equivalent of the American IRS). Basically, all you had to do was to enter your SIN and passcode into the CRA’s portal to apply for the CERB.

What is a SIN? Social Insurance Number, the equivalent of the USA’s Social Security Number.

(Come to think of it, Canada does seem to have quite a bit of similarities to the USA when it comes to these things. Too bad Canada didn’t emulate the British. Their equivalent of the CRA and IRS has the fancy name of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office.)

Basically, every Canadian, and resident of Canada, is assigned a SIN number so they can pay taxes and get rebates and everything else when it came to dealings with the Federal government. When it came to applying for CERB, all one needed was a SIN, an address in Canada and a method to receive the benefit. Easy. Yay.

Except, for one person that I saw on Twitter, it wasn’t so straightforward. He mentioned that his SIN had expired and he had no idea how to renew it.

An expiring SIN? That was a first for me. I had no idea how long SINs were valid for. Two years? Three? Heck, just HOW did someone go about renewing their SIN?

You can imagine the moderate panic I started to feel at this unexpected bit of information. A SIN is the key that identifies a person in the government systems. What else could I be cut off from if I didn’t renew my SIN? Suddenly, in the middle of the pandemic, I found myself with the prospect of renewing the Holy SIN when all the CRA’s phone lines were jammed and Service Canada’s offices shuttered.

So I did what any sensible person would do: I started to compose a Tweet with the plea “DOES ANYONE KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT EXPIRING SINS???”

Yeah, none of my non-Canadian friends would have understood me, they would have probably replied “Ask the Vatican!”

I did the next sensible thing and Googled “does a SIN expire”

The first, prominent result was less than reassuring.

Sh*t. The words “immigration document” stood out like the dreaded Eye of Sauron.

It was then I noticed the part in blue at the bottom of the description: “Social Insurance Number that begins with a 9.”

It isn’t easy to memorize a nine digit number one only uses occasionally, but you can be damned sure you will have a very good memory of what the first number is. And mine was…not 9. Most definitely not 9.

So I clicked on the relevant Service Canada page.

“SINs that begin with a “9” are issued to temporary workers who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents.

Permanent residents. I was a permanent resident. I became a permanent resident the moment I landed at Pearson Airport from Istanbul, after over three and a half years as a refugee there. I have the PR Card to prove it. I remember every detail of it. To me, it is more beautiful a creation than the Mona Lisa.

A permanent resident. With a permanent SIN. A SIN that is forever. Eternal. Unlike those poor suckers on a temporary work visa HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA *very un-Canadian gloating*

And no, I was not being overdramatic. It was yet another confirmation and reassurance that Aboud, former refugee, had all the same rights and responsibilities as any Canadian citizen or permanent resident. I wasn’t so lucky back in Turkey. Even refugees in some parts of Europe who had had their asylum applications accepted, were granted only temporary residence. In Turkey, I couldnt even leave Istanbul without police permission.

It is things like these that give reassurance to people who have let unsettled lives. COVID-19? Bah! Let it do its worst, my SIN would stand as an eternal monument to history that at one time, Aboud Dandachi did reside in Canada! Permanently! 🇨🇦

Now to remember which one of my banks I had setup direct deposit with the CRA…