I received a phone call this afternoon from a concerned Brocker asking if I’d seen the discussion at Isaac Brock about whether it was ok to lie to the bank on the various self-certification forms. Specifically he asked my opinion about the ethics of lying. He said of course that the nuns at his parochial school said one should never lie, not even to save the world! But of course, as a theologian, the story of Rahab the Harlot came to my mind. She lied, and for that both Jews and Christians consider her a great heroine. Here is the main story of her boldfaced lie (Joshua 2.1-6; RSV):
1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went, and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. 2 And it was told the king of Jericho, “Behold, certain men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3 Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring forth the men that have come to you, who entered your house; for they have come to search out all the land.” 4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them; and she said, “True, men came to me, but I did not know where they came from; 5 and when the gate was to be closed, at dark, the men went out; where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” 6 But she had brought them up to the roof, and hid them with the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof.
Now the New Testament remembers Rahab in Matt 1.5, as a great-great-great-great etc. granny of King David and Jesus; and as a woman of faith in Hebrews 11:31: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies.” James 2.25 also says, “And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?”
So it would seem that the Bible, as one the great foundational texts of both law and ethics in the Western world, has no problem with lying under certain circumstances. She lied to save the lives of two men who would soon become her new compatriots. Moreover, she’d seen that God was with the Israelites and Joshua, and she thus knew her city, Jericho, was doomed. So to protect herself and her family she decided to relinquish her Jericho citizenship under INS 349 (a) (7)–and become a daughter of Israel. She exercised her universal human right to change nationalities.
Yes, the King of Jericho would have severely punished her if he had found out her lie. And the homelanders of Jericho would have considered her a liar, traitor and tax cheat. But they didn’t write the history of the battle. Rahab had to do what was best for her family, and for that both Old and New Testaments praise her.
Hard times create unconventional heros.
Besides, relinquishment is not free. Not only did I have to pay the subway fare to the Consulate, but I had to certify five years of tax compliance. I think I am free of the IRS, but there is still the possibility of an audit and criminal charges for failure to file. I will never be completely free of the fear and intimidation. But that is the nature of the beast: http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2012/03/26/the-nature-of-the-beast-feeding-on-expats/
I have gone through every one of my comments on both this and the other thread and not once did I say that those who lie are bad, I even said that I can appreciate why some people would want to lie.
I did say that anyone lying with a clear conscience is a psychopath, but I think that the fact that someone would fiercely defend the morality and righteousness of their decision to lie proves that they do in fact have a conscience, and that lying has its consequences.
I still believe that lying for convenience should be avoided if there are other options, even if those options have their own weaknesses, such as the possibility that the Canadian government would renege on their promise not to collect from Canadian citizens on behalf of the IRS.
So yes, it seems lying is acceptable as a last resort to protect life (as in Rahab’s case) and to protect property from illegal seizure. Stephen’s lady saying she would lie “if necessary” is saying that she would lie as a last resort. It’s up to the individual (and sometimes the court) to determine what is necessary or avoidable.
Thanks for the discussion.
@Canadian Cop, I liked your story about foundations. I think it’s worth mentioning that the origins of our moral laws (e.g. The Ten Commandments) upon which our western civilization was founded came through Moses, who himself had to be saved from a very evil law. He wasn’t the only boy to be saved, though, as we find in Exodus chapter 1 (New International Version), verses 15 through 21:
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Exodus shows that these clever midwives invented a story to excuse them from obeying their king. Why? Their lies saved lives! And God “was kind to” them.
Exodus then tells how the king then ordered baby boys to be thrown into the Nile. It does not say what the midwives did, because we shift to the familiar story of baby Moses being placed into a basket-boat in the Nile, and attracting the attention (and subsequent favour) of Pharaoh’s daughter. Through a discreet “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement set up by Moses’ big sister, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted baby Moses (using a ‘wet nurse” who was, in fact, his biological mother). Again, God used this to protect Moses, who grew up to free the Hebrew people and to bring them into the promised land.
For the rest of you, the take away lesson is this: Don’t threaten to hurt our babies! A lot of us who are in this thing are here for one reason above all, to protect our kids! And if that means lying, we’re in good company!
I regret the personal attacking that became the flavour of some of my commenting yesterday. Please accept my sincere apologies for that. I will try to be more like how I see Petros, who is good at staying focused on the logic of the argument rather than getting overly emotional. Sigh….might be the female in me(hopefully I haven’t riled anyone up with that comment, but since I am a female I guess I can get away with it).
Regarding your statement: “I still believe that lying for convenience should be avoided if there are other options, even if those options have their own weaknesses, such as the possibility that the Canadian government would renege on their promise not to collect from Canadian citizens on behalf of the IRS.”
Presuming you are making this statement from a moral perspective, at least partly if not mainly, lets look at those ‘weaknesses’ a little closer. Let’s say that the nice lady at the bank, asks ‘Cindy’, where she was born. Being a very moral person, with a strong aversion to lying, Cindy answers truthfully and says, “Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan”. The nice lady at the bank, asks Cindy to sign some papers, and informs her that her bank account information is required to be sent to the CRA (and on to the IRS) as per FATCA.
Cindy is upset about this breach of her financial privacy of course, but she feels good about herself because, although her private banking information is no longer private (she risks identity theft, nasty IRS letters, as well as the very real possibility that the Canadian government might not hold good on its promise to not assist the IRS any further with collection other than to shine the initial light on her), Cindy feels she has done the ‘right thing’ by not lying.
WhiteKat, also an honest person, who detests when people purposely tell untruths to further their own agenda at WhiteKat’s or others expense, when/if faced with the same question, might reply, “Sault Ste. Marie Ontario”. The nice lady at the bank smiles (she could care less where WhiteKat was born and/or if WhiteKat lied about that, and is looking forward to her lunch break).
WhiteKat, although upset she was asked a question that was discriminatory and none of the bank lady’s business, felt backed into a corner, and had no qualms about the morality of that particular ‘untruth’. She knows she did not hurt the nice lady at the bank in any way. She may even have saved herself and her family from a world of future grief had her private financial information been shipped off to the IRS (possible identity theft, an angry spouse for letting the kat out of the bag, possible nasty IRS letters, etc).
Now, of course, it is a personal decision whether to lie or not in this scenario. And I commend those who have strong aversions to lying. I do too, under certain circumstances. However the problem with making these kind of moral decisions is when one assumes that the telling of the ‘untruth’ is wrong for everyone else as well. This is the impression I have received from some of the comments on the two posts dealing with the subject of lying – i.e. that some people genuinely appear to express a certain moral superiority by insisting it is wrong to lie in scenarios like the one outlined above.
I don’t think psychopaths lie with a “clear” conscience; they lie with an absence of conscience. At least that’s my understanding of psychopathy. A psychopath who has done a horrendous deed would say he did not do it and would use intricate and deceptively compelling arguments as to why it could not possibly have been he who did the deed. (Psychopaths are masters at beguiling people.) Meanwhile he would not be telling himself he was perfectly justified to deny he had done the deed and therefore his conscience was “clear”. He simply would not give it a second thought. It wouldn’t matter to him — neither the deed itself nor the lies to deny and cover it up. If my take on this is correct, then I’m feeling guilty for even knowing how this works. I must have read this somewhere. Anyway this has been an interesting discussion. Brocker folks are good thinkers, methinks.
I was born in Canada so the POB question wouldn’t worry me BUT how about someone just answering, “I was born in a hospital. What an odd question for you to ask. Would you mind checking my account balance? My cheque book is a mess.” 😉
It is still unclear to me what would be the consequence for lying on a self-certification form. Are there any penalties in Canadian law (I’m sure some US law is broken, but who cares?)?
Will my bank be very mad at me because I lied on the form?
I am pretty sure that my bank is mad at me because I was going in every other day to find out what happened to a wire transfer that went astray, eventually bouncing back to me after 2 months with over $300 dollars of service charges missing. Banks are thieves. I lie to thieves with a good conscience. The IRS is also a criminal organization.
@Embee, yes that is my understanding of psychopaths as well. They say whatever suits their personal agenda, and don’t have a conscience that gets in the way. This is very different personality type than someone such as myself, who might lie to my bank with a clear conscience.
@Embee, I like your answer to the bank lady. 🙂 However, this might clue her in to your ‘US person’ status, and she is likely going to insist on a direct answer, particularly if the question is asked for form filling purposes as opposed to casual conversation (who asks that question anyway?). A safer bet, might be to end the whole line of questioning, right from the start, by telling a white lie.
@Embee, or maybe you could respond with, “Where were YOU born?” 🙂
Thank you for the apology, but please excuse me for not responding to the hypothetical situation you’ve described. I’d rather suggest that we give more to ADCS so that bank customers aren’t put in that position.
I myself had wondered if “no” conscience would have been a better way to put it. Thanks for pointing that out.
Ok, now for a joke to brighten our day. I think it’s very relevant to this post and what we’re doing here. I hope the IRS is reading. Prepare yourself, it’s a bit dirty:
What’s the difference between a harlot and the IRS?
A harlot stops screwing you when you’re dead.
@Bubblebustin, You don’t need to respond to my scenario. I have a pretty good idea what you think about it.
Yes, I agree with your suggestion to donate more to ACDS. In fact I made the same suggestion yesterday, in one of the ‘lying’ related posts. At least we can agree on that.
Good grief, if you know what I’m thinking already why bother asking?
LOL! I did not ask you anything.
You’re quite right, WhiteKat, and I suggest you continue not doing so.
I’ve made up my mind that if I ever find myself in that situation my answer will be something like:
“That’s an odd question because to the best of my knowledge one’s place of birth has nothing to do with the right to banking services in Canada. That’s a very intrusive question. Why are you asking it?”
If they start with the “because of this new US FATCA law we are instructed to collect that information”, my reply will be “oh, so now you’re an expert on US citizenship law? US citizens are born all over the world. People who are not US citizens are also born all over the world.”
“Well we are concerned you may be a US citizen and, if so, we must report your accounts to the CRA.”
“Oh, why didn’t you say so? I can assure you I am not a US citizen. That’s all you need to know. Do you want me to sign something?”
If they bring out an IRS Form W8 whatever the hell it is, I’ll say: “This is a foreign government form. I’m not signing that. Bring me a CRA form or a XXX Bank form.”
The banks (at least TD) are trying to make FATCA comfortable for us. No way we should make it comfortable for the banks.
Just lie on the self-certification. If you do the evasive answer thing, you will be marked as a recalcitrant account holder and your info willl be reported to the IRS.
Actually, I should reword the above comment so that it doesn’t look like advice: It seems less problematic to me to just simply lie on the self certification form.
Still no one has told me what punishments if any will be visited upon the liars on these importunistic self-certification forms.
@ Petros, re: “Just lie on the self-certification ”
@Petros, re: “Still no one has told me what punishments if any will be visited upon the liars on these importunistic self-certification forms. ”
Santa clause won’t come?
I wouldn’t have to lie on the self-certification; I’m no longer a US citizen. I’d be happy to sign anything attesting to that fact as long as it’s not an IRS form.
But I will not tell them where I was born; it’s none of their damn business. Besides birthplace neither proves nor disproves US citizenship. Is the local banker suddenly an expert on US citizenship law? It’s simply useless (but very personal) information that is not relevant. Whether that would be deemed to be recalcitrant remains to be seen.
As far as being reported to the CRA goes, big deal. But if they report me, they can kiss my ass goodbye as their customer. The CRA already has all that info anyway (certainly for any account that produces income). What the CRA doesn’t have is any US personhood data linked to those accounts. The banks are tasked with doing that dirtywork.
You’re absolutely right, maz57.
I don’t think that CRA currently has any details of Canadians NON-registered accounts.. My understanding is that the T5 slips that you get from your FFI, are not sent to CRA, just to you. You then keep those as backup receipts in cause you are audited, but all you are required to report on your tax return is the income earned on the accounts, not account details. So, if your bank reported you to CRA, they would be sending a lot more information than you normally volunteer on your tax return. Personally, this would not make me a happy camper, as there are risks involved when private financial data is passed onto other organizations (in this case CRA, who may just send it off to the IRS without verifying whether or not you really are a US slave). For example, identity theft is no walk in the park! I suppose you heard about the CRA websites that were compromised around tax time this year. We can never be too vigilant when it comes to the privacy of our financial data (SIN, name, address, birthdate, account balance, address, etc).
I admit I don’t have detailed knowledge how it all works re: the CRA. Obviously they know our full legal name, SIN, address, DOB, even whether we are a Canadian or not (via the Elections Canada box), phone number, spouse, and God knows what else. I still do paper returns so they get my T-5s along with the rest of the package. (Note to self: maybe its time to start e-filing but it could be paper returns are actually safer. I heard Jimmy Carter commenting about all the NSA spying; he said when he had something sensitive to transmit he just used snail mail!) And if they wanted to, the CRA could go to your bank and get anything else the bank has on file. Suffice to say, they already know a lot about us.
I have to say, I don’t perceive the CRA as a threat. Even when there has been the odd discrepancy they were respectful and I felt that my arguments were heard. Sometimes they were wrong and sometimes I had it wrong but we figured it out and life goes on. Maybe this will all change for the worse as FATCA ramps up.
But that bank isn’t getting my birthplace. (I might tell ’em the town, it’s a common name scattered all over the globe, LOL.)
“We can never be too vigilant when it comes to the privacy of our financial data (SIN, name, address, birthdate, account balance, address, etc).”
ABSOLUTELY! On one hand the government warns us to be very careful to whom we reveal sensitive information (basically don’t do it) and then on the other hand they tell us to trust THEM with everything. Well I don’t trust them — neither the Canadian nor the American government. There could be miscreants working for the various agencies the information passes through. Someone could accidentally lose the information. A hacker could access the information and create all manner of mayhem with it.