Set­ting new rules for new cit­i­zens

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - THE WEST -

AS much as any coun­try in the world, Canada wel­comes im­mi­grants and goes out of its way to help them fit in. This is ap­pro­pri­ate be­cause the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans are here be­cause they or their an­ces­tors im­mi­grated here.

As part of wel­com­ing ap­prox­i­mately 250,000 new­com­ers to this coun­try each year, how­ever, the fed­eral govern­ment is re­spon­si­ble for teach­ing them about Canada and help­ing them be­come Cana­dian cit­i­zens. With this in mind, the news that record num­bers of im­mi­grants are sud­denly fail­ing their cit­i­zen­ship test will in­evitably raise ques­tions about how good a job Ot­tawa is do­ing with this vi­tal task.

Af­ter the govern­ment in­tro­duced a new and more rig­or­ous cit­i­zen­ship test on March 15, the fail­ure rate, which had been be­tween four and eight per cent, jumped to about 30 per cent. That fail­ure rate is alarm­ing. Even so, on bal­ance the govern­ment’s new pol­icy is not only rea­son­able, it sends out the im­por­tant mes­sage that Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship means some­thing and is well worth work­ing for.

The new cit­i­zen­ship test fol­lows last year’s in­tro­duc­tion of a new guide for im­mi­grants. This 63-page book­let, en­ti­tled Dis­cover Canada, re­places a pre­vi­ous, far-too-brief im­mi­gra­tion guide with more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about Canada.

The govern­ment has to find a fine bal­ance here. Mak­ing the test too hard will clog the sys­tem with failed ap­pli­cants look­ing for an­other chance. But it shouldn’t make the tests so sim­ple that they are mean­ing­less.

In search of this bal­ance, govern­ment of­fi­cials have re­viewed the test and the over­all sys­tem. Re­cently, they have made the cit­i­zen­ship exam a lit­tle less dif­fi­cult. More im­por­tantly, they have al­lowed those who failed a chance to write the test a sec­ond time. This of­fer of a sec­ond chance is wise as well as fair. Pre­vi­ously ap­pli­cants had to speak to a cit­i­zen­ship judge to ex­plain why they thought they should be­come Cana­dian cit­i­zens de­spite fail­ing the test. Why not en­cour­age as­pir­ing cit­i­zens to keep work­ing and writ­ing the test un­til they achieve their goal?

Rea­son­able ques­tions may still be raised about whether fed­eral of­fi­cials have per­fected the new test. That said, Cana­di­ans can be con­fi­dent that the fed­eral govern­ment’s goal re­mains the cor­rect one.

Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship is a priv­i­lege, not a right. Would-be cit­i­zens should know that ef­fort is re­quired to be­come mem­bers of the Cana­dian fam­ily. The more mul­ti­cul­tural Canada be­comes, the greater will be the need to use our his­tory, geog­ra­phy and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem as a cul­tural base on which to build our col­lec­tive fu­ture. A greater knowl­edge of Canada can only help ev­ery­one in the years ahead.

— By Water­loo Re­gion Record

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