My experience as a Canadian living outside the country appears to have been quite typical.
I hung out with other expatriates. We celebrated Canadian holidays. We returned home for holidays and summers. Most of us intended to return home permanently. I even purchased a cable package so I could watch Hockey Night in Canada.
We were all there for work reasons and all remained current in Canadian politics. I voted twice in federal elections while living in the United States. Then when the calendar turned to year six of my U.S. stay, my government honoured the occasion by disenfranchising me.
Instantly, I was a second class Canadian without the same rights as prisoners in this country.
Two young Canadians, Jamie Duong, a 30-year-old Montrealer living in Ithaca, N.Y., and Toronto-born Gillian Frank, 35, living in Princeton, N.J., challenged this provision of the Canada Elections Act at Ontario Superior Court.
How Canadian is Frank? He lived in Toronto until he was 21, his spouse is Canadian, his family lives in Toronto, he won a Governor-General's Silver Medal at York University, he was a part-time member of the Canadian Forces, helped in the 1998 ice storm emergency and while at Brown University he founded the Canadian Club, complete with events sponsored by Tim Hortons and Labatt. He remains in the U.S. because he has not been successful in his job search in Canada.
The court agreed their constitutional rights had been breached and gave them, and all expatriates away for more than five years, the right to vote.
That wasn't good enough for Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre, who launched an appeal. But first he tried to have the decision stayed so expatriates cannot vote in four federal byelections next Monday.
On Monday, he lost his bid for a stay, but he will continue with his appeal.
Poilievre is fresh off a Parliamentary session in which he was widely accused of trying to suppress votes before backing down on his Fair Elections Act.
His government is already under fire for scheduling the byelections on the eve of Canada Day. Yet the Conservatives appear ready to go to the wall to prevent long-term Canadian expatriates from voting.
The numbers may not be huge, but the symbolism from this government is massive.
The Canadian diaspora numbers about 2.8 million and has been called the "missing province."
About a million of them have been out of the country for more than five years; most of them live in the U.S.
About seven in 10 expats, according to a 2009 study by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said they intended to return home. Two out of three left the country for work reasons and one in three worked for a Canadian company, the government or a Canadian non-governmental agency.
Non-resident Canadians paid about $6 billion in taxes to the Canadian treasury in 2008-09, according to the APF study.
The five-year cut-off is a product of the 1993 Progressive Conservative majority government, which for the first time provided a mechanism for Canadians living outside the country to vote.
In 2005, following a recommendation by then-Elections Canada chief John-Pierre Kingsley, a parliamentary committee recommended the five-year limit be removed. All four party leaders endorsed the committee decision. Nothing ever happened.
In the original court ruling, Justice Michael Penny said if being a citizen is not considered sufficient to sustain a connection to Canada, certainly going through the cumbersome voting process from outside the country shows that connection. In refusing the stay, Court of Appeal Justice Robert Sharpe rejected Ottawa's argument of "electoral fairness."
"It is not clear to me how denying a citizen the right to vote can be justified on the basis of electoral fairness," he wrote.
Still Poilievre perseveres, pointing to similar restrictions in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. But most of Europe and our largest trading partner and neighbour, the U.S., have no voting restrictions for expats at all.
"Non-residents should have a direct and meaningful connection to Canada and to their ridings in order to vote in federal elections," he says.
The Conservative view of Canadians who have left the country remains hard to fathom.
If you are a dual citizen journalist in Egypt wrongly sentenced to seven years in prison, your government is largely silent. If you are a Liberal leader who spent time abroad, you are attacked for leaving. If you are a Canadian citizen abroad wishing to vote, you must first fight your government.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. email@example.com Twitter:@nutgraf1