The Citizenship Guide

Discover Canada: is it a Tory document?

The National Post is touting Discover Canada, the new study guide for immigrants, as a Tory production, the Conservative Party’s attempt to colour Canada Tory blue. John Ivson says it’s: “an incremental step in the re-branding of Canada into a conservative country, full of people more inclined to vote Conservative.”

It’s true that the new guide is one to make Conservatives swell with pride. But it should make anyone proud, including Liberals and NDPers.

It sets out what Canada expects of all citizens: respect for human equality, and obedience to the law. “Getting a job, taking care of one’s family and working hard in keeping with one’s abilities, are important Canadian values.” Volunteering, serving in the armed forces or the police, or local militias are recommended. Yes, Discover Canada depicts a country that makes demands on its citizens. It says to immigrants, in effect: step up with pride and play your part. Make your contribution.

The message seems to me to be entirely appropriate. What could be more welcoming than an invitation to participate in enforcing Canada’s laws? Or an invitation to defend the country in uniform? New comers are told that when called they must take their turn at jury-duty. Doesn’t that idea put out the welcome mat? To be expected to assist in determining a fellow-citizen’s guilt or innocence under Canadian law! Doesn’t it reinforce the idea of citizen-equality?

Last summer, Jason Kenney’s department sent me the old guide, A Look at Canada, issued by the Liberals in 1995. In retrospect it looks like a whimpy affair. It certainly listed fewer obligations. Newcomers were told that saving the environment was the Canadian thing to do; planting trees, tidying up, carrying out the garbage. Applauding Canada’s role as international peacekeeper. (I’m exaggerating slightly. The old guide did include a description of the Canadian Constitution, and a section on how to vote.)

Ivison refers to the new guide as a “bodice ripper.” I think he means that it’s something to make you sit up and pay attention.

Christopher Moore notes one big omission in the new guide and eight small flaws. The big one is the failure to list among our constitutional “realities,” the treaties that set out Canada’s obligations to Aboriginals. Consult Christopher Moore’s Canadian History blog for the small glitches; it’s good to see the indefatigable historian at work. But he concludes that on the whole, “Discover Canada is all right.” I agree.


3 Responses to “The Citizenship Guide”

  1. 1 David Livingstone December 2, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    The new Citizenship Guide says Lord Durham’s assimilation policy “showed a
    complete lack of understanding of French
    Canadians, who sought to uphold the distinct
    identity of French Canada.” Clearly the Guide’s authors haven’t read “The Political Thought of Lord Durham.”

  2. 2 George January 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Moore is careless on his “major point,” in that Canada’s obligations to Aboriginals are laid out on pages 8 and 10. Indeed the Royal Proclamation of 1763 is cited there.

  3. 3 Colin Pearce March 17, 2010 at 7:33 am

    This excellent column on the Citizenship Guide appeared in yesterday’s “National Post”. – CP

    “Ask not what Ottawa can do for you”
    Marni Soupcoff,
    National Post
    Published: Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    I’m not sympathetic to critics who think the new Citizen and Immigration study guide should have included information about same-sex marriage. The less the government has to do with our intimate interpersonal relationships, the better. In Jason Kenney’s place, I’d have left it out too.
    But I wouldn’t have stopped there. I’d also have cut the sections encouraging immigrants to volunteer at local food banks, preserve architectural heritage and work “hard in keeping with one’s abilities.”
    Sorry, but whether a person prefers West Coast contemporary log cabins to classical revival town halls is hardly the government’s purview. Same goes for individual choices about philanthropy and degrees of energy expended in employment. As long as you’re supporting yourself, I don’t care if you’re sweating bullets or lazily coasting in a cushy desk job that’s intellectually beneath you. And neither should the government.
    Forget all this lecturing about what officialdom thinks new Canadians should be like. And enough already with the stilted explanations and definitions of national taste ( “Canadian football is a popular game that differs in a number of ways from American football”; “The films of Denys Arcand have been popular in Quebec and across the country.”). None of that subjective fluff should (or really can) be imparted by the government.
    What new Canadians truly need to learn from an official document like the citizenship guide are the limits of government in this country.
    What distinguishes Canada from so much of the non-Western world is that, human rights commissions notwithstanding, the government is restrained from interfering in personal matters of religion and thought. Canadians can say what they like, associate with whom they wish and criticize their leaders without fear of reprisals.
    These basic but crucial freedoms are not the norm in many immigrants’ countries of origin. Nor are they self-evident or trivial. Wouldn’t you, therefore, want them emphasized more than, say, the inventor of the pacemaker or the iconography of the beaver?
    Space-wise they are not.
    The 68-page guide devotes less than half a page (roughly 14 lines) to the totality of our traditional ordered liberties, including habeas corpus. And those 14 lines are merely a list with no elaboration or examples. Since the “Popular Sports” section of the guide gets more ink and explanation than that, you can’t blame new Canadians if they come away with the impression that we care more about curling ( “an ice game introduced by Scottish pioneers”) than freedom of speech — and expect them to, as well.
    For comparison, I looked up the United States’ official online study material for the civics portion of their naturalization test.
    I found 100 practice questions and answers dealing with specific points of history, separation of powers, enumerated rights, limits on government and constitutional amendments to those limits on government. Canada’s new guide offers three practice questions and answers (there are more questions without answers), one of which emphasizes the vague and unexplained notion of “taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family.” Another one asks about the significance of the poppy.
    The United States also has a publication for new immigrants called A Citizen’s Almanac, which not only lists but explains the various ways in which the government must respect its citizens’ freedoms, including the presumption of innocence and the right to trial by jury: “Americans can make their own decisions and pursue their own interests as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.”
    By contrast, the new Canadian Citizenship and Immigration guide meekly offers: “You can question the police about their service or conduct if you feel you need to.” Wow, talk about empowerment. But at least our immigrants will know that “Alexander Graham Bell hit on the idea of the telephone at his summer house in Canada.” Which will surely serve them just as well.
    The government doesn’t owe new Canadians a living or a lecture. But it does owe them a meaningful lesson in the limits on its power.
    On that count, if not on any other, the citizenship study guide remains several pages too short.

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