My Canada

Writer: Belaluddin Category: আত্মজীবনী (Memoir) Edition: Dhaboman - Eid 2019


Out of sheer frustration my wife and I decided to try our luck in the States. So, in June ‘91 we packed our bags, loaded the kids in the car and left Canada hunting for opportunities down south. My daughter was 5 and my son was only 6 months old at that time. We decided to stop at every major city along the eastern coastline going south towards Miami and would come back up along the western coastline. We would settle down anywhere that we liked, if there was an opportunity for me. We went as far down down as Miami stopping at various cities and as we were coming up along the western coastline of Florida, we both fell in love with Tampa. We drove into a gorgeous neighborhood with manicured lawns. Looked like a million-dollar neighborhood. There was a house for sale and I called the realtor who said asking price for that home was $140,000! We drove around the neighborhood.

We noticed a plaza on the other side of the street and I saw an accountant’s office there. The sign said, “John Palmer, CPA”. I walked into the office and told the receptionist that I wished to see Mr. palmer. She asked me if I had an appointment and I told her that I did not but that it would be to Mr. palmer’s benefit to see me. She went to him and a tall white man in his 40’s appeared behind her. Mr. Palmer had an annoyed look on his face and it looked like he had come out to tell me to take a hike. Before he opened his mouth, I told him “you offer financial accounting services to your clients. I could help you in increasing your revenue by offering management accountancy services to your clients. There are many small manufacturing companies in the area who would pay you a lot more for showing them how to become more profitable.” He was an educated man who immediately understood what I was talking about. He became interested and said, “why don’t you come into my office and tell me a little more about it.” I explained how, told him about Harvard Industries and he became quite excited and offered to take me on right away. He said he would speak with his attorney about any work permit issues that may arise, but he guaranteed that no matter how, he would find a way. He said “I could start you off with ten clients and we could go from there. Very soon, you’ll have a house with a swimming pool and your kids will be going to a private school”. We left it that with the agreement to meet the following morning to iron out the details.

After I got back to my hotel room, I went through everything with my wife and we decided to do some soul searching about whether to take up the opportunity or go back to our financially uncertain life in Canada.  Strangely, no matter how we looked at it, Canada came out on top every time! Finally, after several attempts we gave up and decided to return to Canada. A major contributor to this decision was the fact that Canada’s official policy encouraged us to keep our cultures and traditions while USA did not. Canada was a salad bowl while USA was a melting pot. We never regretted that decision. The difficult job now was to face John Palmer the next morning and convey this message to him!

First thing next morning, I went to an office supplies store and bought a business card holder for Mr. palmer for $2 because that was all I could afford at that time. It was a very small gift, but I had bought it for him in the tradition of prophet Muhammad who always gave gifts whenever he went to visit people. Perhaps because of that or for some other unexplained reason, my $2 gift had a profound effect on Mr. Palmer. He seemed visibly shaken when I handed the gift to him and said, “here’s something small for you, I picked it up on my way here.” After we sat down, I told him “John, I want to thank you for your offer. It is the best thing that happened to me in a while, but after a lot of soul searching my wife and I have decided to return to Canada because that is our home and we would like to go back there no matter how bad things are. You have been very generous with me, but I am unable to accept your offer and I am very sorry to have wasted your time.”

John Palmer listened to me quietly, then got up, went to the next room and came back with a small brochure. He held it like it was something precious.  I had no idea at that time how precious it really was! He handed the brochure to me and said, “I am giving you my brochure. It outlines some facts about me and the services I offer. I have had a lot of success with it. Take it with you and when you go back to Canada, don’t look for a job. Just copy my brochure and send them out. It will help you. I wish you all the success in the world. I know you’ll do well.” With that, we parted company. I kept the brochure with me. After we returned to Canada a week or so later, I copied his brochure, doctored it somewhat, customized it with my individualized touch and paid $300 to a print shop who printed 500 copies for me. Then, instead of sending them out like John had suggested, I decided to use my selling skills I had acquired while working for “The Wholesale Warehouse” and decided to knock on businesses doors myself, ask for the owner, offer my brochure and tell him face to face about the services I was offering. The combination worked like magic! I signed on several clients very quickly. Now the difficult job was to provide what I was offering. I had never done real bookkeeping, never worked on financial statements, never done payroll, never filed a corporate tax return and the only personal taxes I had ever done were for my wife and myself!  So, I visited an established local accounting firm on Queen and Kennedy in Brampton, explained the situation to the owner Mr. Stevenson a CGA who agreed to give me a crash course on bookkeeping and taxes if I paid him to do the corporate taxes for my clients. I agreed, and life started! Some clients called me 6 months after I had left my brochure with them and some even called me two years after! In my mind, I had to thank John Palmer of Tampa for that over and over again. He had truly given me something valuable.

The business took a year or so to generate income comparable to my salary at Marian International. During that time, in order to make ends meet, I applied for unemployment insurance which I had paid into but never collected. Little did I know at that time how that would come back to bite me!

Between 1994 and 1996 a series of horrible incidents occurred. During 1988 when property prices were soaring in and around Toronto, I had purchased a condo near Keele and Lawrence for $64,000 thinking it was a steal but it wasn’t and ended up causing me a lot of grief with bad tenants and then with Revenue Canada. Because the tenants didn’t pay rent for long periods of time, I had to claim rental losses on my tax returns. Around 1993/94 CRA ran a project called “Project Pink” with a mandate to audit (and deny) these claims. Because I had shown a loss every year, CRA denied 100% of my claim and in the process found out that I was self-employed. So, they decided to audit my business as well. The auditor was a very old and bitter man named Norman Barter from England who I became sure was the devil himself. He spoke to me like a very nice old man who always smiled and was eager to please while he was really planning to bury me alive all along. Secretly he had also alerted Human Resources Canada and told them that I was collecting EI while self-employed which wasn’t allowed in those days. He called me one day and asked me to meet him at the CRA office which was opposite Square One in those days. He was nice and polite during the meeting and at one point suddenly left the room saying, “I’d like you to meet someone”. Soon he returned behind a very large man who was wearing a jacket with an official looking badge pinned on it. He was introduced to me as Mr. Katkowski from Human Resources Canada. Mr. Katkowski approached me with a snarl, turned a chair around, put his foot on it while standing, loomed over me menacingly and quite loudly demanded “where is your passport?” I was very surprised and felt extremely intimidated with the sudden turn of events. I couldn’t figure out what my passport had to do with the audit. Norm Barter’s attitude also changed drastically as he chewed in his very fresh British accent “Mr. Katkawski asked you a question.” At that moment a memory flashed through my mind. Back in 1985 The Toronto Star had carried a series of articles which featured letters written by convicts being shipped to Australia from Canada. One of the convicts wrote “On the way to Australia, our ship stopped in England and I had the opportunity to meet and interact with real British people living in England and it occurred to me that it is the scum of England that rule Canada.”

As the saga with Norm Barter and Henry Katkowski progressed, life became more difficult. Henry Katkowski ordered me to meet him at his office near Torbram and Queen the next day with my passport. I still wasn’t clear as to what was going on. When I met Katkowski at his office the next day, he said that I was collecting EI illegally and that I would have to pay everything back along with a $4,000 penalty. I appealed, but Norm Barter made sure my appeal was rejected and I was ordered to pay close to $40,000 with penalty and interest to Human Resources Canada. At the same time, Norm barter produced a document from Statistics Canada which was basically an averaged income statement for established accounting firms in Ontario. He proposed to tax me based on that document for 1989, 1990 and 1991 when I hadn’t even started a business! In addition, he demanded that I should be taxed on gross income stated on the Stats Can document and that I should not be allowed to claim any expenses because I didn’t have a business! I took the matter to court hoping the judge would see how ridiculous the whole thing was, but the judge who was also an employee of the Minister of Finance ruled against me and I was ordered to pay $170,000. Between HR and CRA, I would have to pay $210,000 while my only source of income was from my new business of tax preparation and bookkeeping that I had just started. That is when once again I remembered Marvin of Robert Half and his comment “they’ll go by the color of your skin.” I couldn’t even get the judge to acknowledge the fact that if I am being taxed on income, I should be allowed to deduct the expenses incurred to generate that income. That was the law!

By that time, I had built up some equity in the house, so I took out a second mortgage and over a few years, paid the bastards off. Now that I had CRA off my back, I decided to focus on building my business and generate income to pay off the debts I had incurred. There was a lot of stress and I started having some physical problems.

I had bought a Mercury Villager for my wife which kept breaking down. On March 5th, 1996 I had to leave it at the dealership and on March 6th, I asked my wife to use my Audi 100 to drop me off at the Chiropractor at Queen and Kennedy, drop the kids (then 10 and 5 years of age) off to school at Torbram and Clark and then come back and pick me up. She told me she was uncomfortable driving the large sedan, but we didn’t have a choice. It was minus 26 that day and the provincial salters were on strike. The municipal streets were ploughed and salted but the provincial streets were not. It had snowed about 25 centimeters all through the night.  My wife dropped me off and proceeded east towards Torbram on Queen Street. I was about 45 minutes with my chiropractor and then waited another 30 minutes for my wife to show up. But she did not. Thinking she had forgotten the address, I started getting upset. I called work and asked one of my staff to pick me up. My office at that time was at Dixie and Steeles in Brampton which was about 15 minutes from the Chiropractor's office even in bad weather. But it took my ride more than 30 minutes to arrive. When he did, he said that Queen Street was closed because a woman driver had run into a truck. He said earlier there was a helicopter on Queen street, that it was on the news. I didn’t think any more about it because I had clients Mr. & Mrs. Baram waiting at the office. I rushed to the office, I took the clients into my office and started preparing their taxes. In about 15 minutes my phone rang several times and Mr Baram graciously said “please go ahead and answer it.”

I picked up the phone and the deep male voice on the other side asked “Mr. Uddin?” I replied in the affirmative and he said “this is Dr. Rutka from the Sick Kid’s hospital. Your family has been in a very serious car accident. Your daughter was airlifted here, she has a head injury, facial injury and a cracked pelvis, but she is in stable condition. Your wife is in Peel Memorial, she has facial injuries and a broken arm with some bone missing. She is stable but can not be operated on at this time.” Then he became quiet. I asked him “where and how is my son?” he said, “your son was taken to Peel Memorial where they noticed he was losing fluid from his skull, he was not conscious, he was then airlifted from Peel and brought here, he has severe head injuries with a partially crushed skull. He is in a coma. I cannot guarantee that he will wake up. I will operate on him at 2:30 pm. You can come at two to see your daughter, but now you should check on your wife at Peel.” I was stunned. Mr & Mrs Baram realized the gravity of the situation and offered to re-schedule. I rushed to Peel Memorial in a daze. I walked into emergency to see my wife but was stopped by two policemen who said I need to go through some briefing or debriefing with a psychologist before seeing my wife. I complied, but don’t remember anything she said. When I went into see my wife, she was dangling from a contraption with a plaster covering her whole left arm. Most of her face was covered by bandages. She could talk and asked me about the children. I told her they were in good hands at Sick Kid’s and she managed a smile of relief.  I stayed with her for some time and suddenly realized that my briefcase with my wallet and credit cards was in the car she was driving. So, I went to speak with the police detective who was still there and told him that I needed to get my briefcase out of the car. He said that I wasn’t allowed to see the car because it might be too traumatic for me. The car was so crushed that it had to be cut up to extract my family. He offered to have my briefcase delivered to my office.

I arrived at Sick Kids before 2pm. I don’t remember how I got there or how I got back. I was in a daze that day and the days that followed. I saw my 10 year old daughter around 2 pm and although in a lot of pain herself, she kept crying and asking for her brother. One of the nurses said “you can’t see your brother, but after the surgery, I’ll take a picture of him and you can see him in the picture” my daughter seemed okay with that. Suddenly the phone in my daughters’ hospital room rang and as I picked up, a female voice on the other side said “I’m calling from Buffalo, you don’t know me, I saw on the news that your family was in a serious car accident and I want you to know that I am praying for you and your family”. There were several calls like that from people I had never known or ever met. The outpour of sympathy and empathy really moved me. Soon the phone rang again and another female voice said, “Belal, this is Natalie. I am one of your clients. Your staff told me what happened. I am very very sorry, it must be very painful for you. If you allow, I would like to come to the hospital with my sister one day and pray for your son. But now, I want you to repeat after me these words, but please believe them when you say them. I know it will be difficult, but please believe them. Now repeat after me “all is well”. As I mumbled the words she said : say it louder “all is well”, again, “all is well” again, “all is well”” – and at that point, the only time in my adult life, I broke down as I repeated after her “all is well”, “all is well”, “all is well”......