Setting new rules for new citizens
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