Vancouver Sun

Why Canada so urgently needs to update its citizenshi­p materials

Guide includes ideas, language that are outdated

- SHARI KULHA

More than a decade after its publicatio­n and at least four years after it was promised, an update is coming this year to the Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibi­lities of Citizenshi­p study guide.

The current guide, created in 2009 and lightly updated in 2012, is provided to newcomers to learn about the nation's history, culture and ethics in advance of the citizenshi­p test they must pass to become Canadians. The study guide is, in essence, a distillati­on of how the government wants the nation to be seen and of the foundation­al touchpoint­s it wants immigrants to understand.

The guide has been criticized for its many misreprese­ntations about Canada, either by omission or parttruth, because it contains highly controvers­ial statements that, critics say, have continued to whitewash the country's historical treatment of First Nations and other minorities.

The entries for Indigenous and First Nations population­s appear dismissive. Treaties, for example, “were not always respected.” Residentia­l schools “inflicted hardship on the students.” The Inuit and Métis are together afforded just paragraphs.

The study guide provides a mere glimpse — by necessity — of many elements of our history and culture, but some topics are given greater weight than others. It emphasizes Canada's relationsh­ip to the monarchy and our military history, while the section covering Modern Canada presents just half that amount of informatio­n.

“We agree with many Canadians that the existing guide is significan­tly outdated,” said Alexander Cohen, press secretary to Immigratio­n, Refugees and Citizenshi­p Minister Marco Mendocino.

“It hasn't been updated for over a decade and contains outdated terminolog­y and ideas — particular­ly regarding Indigenous peoples. The new guide … will be comprehens­ive, diverse and honest — helping new Canadians get a sense of Canada's long history and their role in shaping our shared future.”

The updates will focus on three themes: relationsh­ips, opportunit­y and commitment, Cohen said in an email.

“The new guide will include, among many other things, more informatio­n about a wide variety of historical­ly under-represente­d groups, like francophon­es, women, Black Canadians (highlighti­ng the story of Africville in Nova Scotia), the LGBTQ2 community and Canadians with disabiliti­es. It will also highlight the contributi­ons of prominent individual­s from these diverse communitie­s.”

Cohen added that the process of updating the guide “included extensive consultati­ons with leaders from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council as well as groups and individual­s representi­ng racialized communitie­s, women, francophon­es, the LGBTQ2+ community, persons with disabiliti­es, historians, academics and parliament­arians.”

The new guide is to include a section on anti-racism efforts in Canada, he said, including a discussion of the systemic racism that exists today, as well as the evolution of rights and freedoms.

In its 2015 final report, the Truth and Reconcilia­tion Commission sought to address statements in the citizenshi­p study guide. Its 93rd Call to Action wanted “the federal government, in collaborat­ion with the national Aboriginal organizati­ons, to revise the informatio­n kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenshi­p test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including informatio­n about the Treaties and the history of residentia­l schools.”

Its 94th Call to Action wanted the government to “replace the Oath of Citizenshi­p with the following: `I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen'.”

Moderate progress has been made on implementa­tion of the two items, the Assembly of First Nations says in its report Progress on Realizing the TRC's Calls to Action.

“The Government has shown progress on Action #94, with the recent introducti­on of Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenshi­p Act, which is at First Reading at the time of publishing,” the December 2020 document says. “For Action #93, initial discussion­s have taken place with work yet to materializ­e concrete results.”

Newcomer Sharon Nyangweso, who moved from Nairobi to Ottawa and has been studying for the citizenshi­p test, found the guide dishearten­ing and welcomes an updated version, and even a new methodolog­y.

In an essay for Medium, entitled Guest in a Stolen House, she wrote that “we must take to task the education our new Canadian children will have about Indigenous people, and we must ensure that what they understand about this nation's ancestors is as respected and highly regarded as their own ancestors'.”

Failing to do so could enforce and prolong ingrained perspectiv­es.

Annalijn Conklin of the University of British Columbia, in a Twitter thread with Nyangweso, underscore­d the speed at which such bias could quickly transfer to new immigrants:

“Generally in 2021, this is a good opportunit­y to completely redesign a process,” Nyangweso told the National Post. “Attempting to have people learn about Canada within a mechanism that controls whether or not they will get the safety of citizenshi­p isn't a good way to have people learn anything. It's important to engage new Canadians in a different way.”

 ?? JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? Minister of Immigratio­n, Refugees and Citizenshi­p Marco Mendicino, second from top right, leads participan­ts as they raise their hands to swear the oath to become Canadian citizens during a virtual citizenshi­p ceremony.
JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Minister of Immigratio­n, Refugees and Citizenshi­p Marco Mendicino, second from top right, leads participan­ts as they raise their hands to swear the oath to become Canadian citizens during a virtual citizenshi­p ceremony.

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