Proposed citizenship oath change prompts some to call for more education about Indigenous people: Consultations

Good account of the results of the consultations:

A revised oath of citizenship that will require new Canadians to faithfully observe the country’s treaties with Indigenous people is nearly complete.

The proposed new text was put to focus groups held by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in March, following months of consultation by departmental officials.

The language comes from the 94th and final recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the legacy of Canada’s residential schools.

Implementing that recommendation was one of the tasks given to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen when he was sworn into his portfolio in January 2017, but work on it began soon after the commission delivered its recommendations in late 2015, briefing notes for the minister suggest.

Focus groups mixed on proposed changes

The notes, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, show the government also wants to modify the script delivered by those who preside over citizenship ceremonies. The proposed notes say the script should refer to ceremonies on traditional territories, and include remarks on the history of Indigenous people.

When it comes to the oath, the inclusion of a reference to treaties is the only proposed change.

Changing the wording requires a legislative amendment to the Citizenship Act. The Liberals are in the process of overhauling the act in a bid to make citizenship easier to obtain.

When the proposed text was put to focus groups composed of both recent immigrants and longtime Canadian residents, reaction was generally positive, according to a report posted online by the Immigration Department this week.

But there was a caveat: “Participants only agreed with the modifications insofar as newcomers are adequately educated about Indigenous Peoples and the treaties,” the report said.

“Many felt that they themselves would struggle with this new formulation, given their own limited knowledge of the treaties.”

Some wondered about the need for changes at all.

“A few participants took it upon themselves to question the need to modify the oath and that it might represent a precedent whereby other groups in Canada will want to be represented in the oath,” the report said.

The new oath comes along with a major overhaul of the study guide used for the citizenship exam. A draft copy obtained by The Canadian Press earlier this year revealed it, too, will include extensive references to Indigenous history and culture.

The Liberals had originally been aiming to unveil both the new guide and oath around Canada Day, but work is ongoing.

It reads: “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.”

Source: Proposed citizenship oath change prompts some to call for more education about Indigenous people – Politics – CBC News


Globe editorial: Ottawa should stop politicizing the citizenship guide

If only …

But even a neutral body would have a challenge drafting a text that would be viewed as neutral by all:

Immigrants who want to become citizens of Canada have to pass a test demonstrating a basic knowledge of this country. To prepare for the test, the federal government provides a study guide filled with facts, names, dates and – these days – subtle little plugs for the party in power.

It’s sad, really. After reading the current version of the guide prepared by the Harper government and parts of a draft of the new one coming any minute now from the Trudeau government, one is left with the impression that the chief goal of the exercise isn’t to help newcomers be better citizens but, rather, to tickle the biases of the governing party’s supporters.

Take the Harper version. It tells newcomers that Canadian law prohibits “barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”

It also says that one of the chief responsibilities of citizenship, along with obeying the law and serving on juries, is “getting a job, taking care of one’s family and working hard.”

Conservative voters reading this are going, What’s wrong with either of those things? Liberal voters, on the other hand, are going, Typical Conservative bashing of immigrants’ culture and work ethic!

Which explains why, under the Liberals, the references to barbaric cultural practices and the responsibility of getting a job aren’t in a draft of the new guide obtained by the Canadian Press.

Can you guess what Trudeau government canon will soon be included in the “mandatory” responsibilities of citizenship, along with obeying the law and doing jury duty?

Filling out the census and respecting treaties with Indigenous peoples, that’s what.

If the NDP ever gets into power, we swear the guide will be re-written to say that supporting the right to collective bargaining is a responsibility of Canadian citizenship, and that the colour orange isn’t just for Halloween anymore.

The guide has become a silly competition, with successive governing parties redefining the obligations of citizenship along ideological lines. Citizenship – this country’s greatest gift – should be less fickle than that.

Ottawa should give the job of writing the guide to a neutral body, and leave the politicking to election campaigns.

Source: Globe editorial: Ottawa should stop politicizing the citizenship guide – The Globe and Mail

Respecting Indigenous treaties is mandatory in draft rewrite of citizenship guide

Look forward to seeing the final version and doing a detailed comparison with previous study guides. Clear shift, as expected, from the current Discover Canada:

Respecting treaties with Indigenous Peoples, paying taxes and filling out the census are listed as mandatory obligations of Canadian citizenship in a draft version of a new study guide for the citizenship exam.

The working copy obtained by The Canadian Press suggests the federal government has completely overhauled the book used by prospective Canadians to prepare for the test.

The current “Discover Canada” guide dates back to 2011 when the previous Conservative government did its own overhaul designed to provide more information on Canadian values and history.

Some of the Conservatives’ insertions attracted controversy, including increased detail about the War of 1812 and a warning that certain “barbaric cultural practices,” such as honour killings and female genital mutilation, are crimes in Canada.

Getting rid of both those elements was what former Liberal Immigration Minister John McCallum had in mind when he said early in 2016 that the book was up for a rewrite. But although work has been underway for over a year, there’s no date set for publication of a final version.

In the draft version, the reference to barbaric cultural practices is gone, as is the inclusion of getting a job as one of the responsibilities of citizenship.

Instead, the proposed new guide breaks down the responsibilities of citizenship into two categories: voluntary and mandatory.

Voluntary responsibilities are listed as respecting the human rights of others, understanding official bilingualism and participating in the political process.

Obeying the law, serving on a jury, paying taxes, filling out the census and respecting treaties with Indigenous Peoples are mandatory.

“Today, Canadians, for example, can own their own homes and buy land thanks to treaties that the government negotiated,” the draft version says. “Every Canadian has responsibilities under those treaties as well. They are agreements of honour.”

The draft guide delves extensively into the history and present-day lives of Indigenous Peoples, including multiple references to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on residential schools and a lengthy section on what happened at those schools. The current guide contains a single paragraph.

The draft also devotes substantive sections to sad chapters of Canadian history when the Chinese, South Asians, Jews and disabled Canadians were discriminated against, references that were absent or exceptionally limited previously.

The new version also documents the evolution of the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups, as well as other sexual minorities. Bureaucrats had sought to include similar themes in the 2011 book but were overruled by then-immigration minister Jason Kenney, with their efforts reduced to a single line on gay marriage.

There’s also an entirely new section called “Quality of Life in Canada” that delves into the education system — including a pitch for people to save money for their children’s schooling — the history of medicare, descriptions of family life, leisure time, effects of the environment on Canadian arts and culture and even a paragraph seeking to explain Canadian humour.

Canadians like to make fun of themselves, the book notes.

“Humour and satire about the experience of Indigenous, racialized, refugee and immigration peoples and their experiences is growing in popularity,” the section says.

The rewrite is part of a much broader renewal of citizenship laws and process that is underway. In June, legislation passed that changed the age for those who need to pass the knowledge test for citizenship, among other things.

Briefing notes obtained separately from the draft copy show nearly every government department is being consulted for input into the guide. But the team inside the Immigration Department didn’t just look there.

They were also taking cues from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sharing copies of his remarks for themes to incorporate.

One of Trudeau’s often repeated mantras — “Canada has learned how to be strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them” — appears to be paraphrased directly in the opening section of the book: “Canadians have learned how to be strong because of our differences.”

The briefing notes say the guide is to be released to mark Canada’s 150th birthday but elsewhere note that production time is at least four months once a final version has been approved.

A spokesperson for the Immigration Department stressed the importance of the consultations that have gone into the new guide.

“While this may take more time, this broader approach will result in a final product that better reflects Canada’s diversity and Indigenous history, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Lindsay Wemp said in an email.

Source: Respecting Indigenous treaties is mandatory in draft rewrite of citizenship guide – The Globe and Mail

Kelly McParland: McCallum’s plan to rewrite guide book is a historical stumble

Predictably, and legitimately, concern has been raised regarding the plans to revise Discover Canada, the citizenship test study guide.

When providing advice to the Conservative government on the guide in 2009, I argued for greater balance in their choice and treatment of elements, along with messaging, aiming to ensure a guide that would survive any possible change in government (while there was an advisory committee, it never met together to have a fullsome discussion and debate).

In terms of McParland’s particular concerns, while military history is important (and not just the previous peacekeeping focus), so is social history, which Discover Canada largely downplayed. It was a deliberate political choice to downplay the Liberal narrative in favour of a more Conservative one.

The wording of  ‘barbaric cultural practices’ was largely chosen to attract media attention (it worked!). Arguably, it also was a precursor to the Conservatives use of identity politics, seen in the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and the late unlamented proposed ‘snitch’ line announced by former Ministers Leith and Alexander.

The same points can be made more effectively in the context of the history of women’s equality rights and how ‘honour’ killings and the like are against the law.

While Discover Canada was a marked improvement compared to the ‘insufferable lightness’ of its predecessor, A Look at Canada, my hope that the Liberal government, in revising and renaming the guide, doesn’t make the same mistake. Hopefully, it will keep some of the stronger points in Discover Canada while ensuring a broader narrative, one that lives up to the diversity and inclusion commitment, and speaks to those with both conservative and ‘progressive’ values:

Canadians continue to celebrate the people and events of the time despite the Liberal government’s apparent perplexity. Re-enactments are held each summer. Streets, schools and universities have been named in commemoration of its key figures. Reminders of the war are dotted across regions that are among Canada’s most popular tourist areas.


HandoutLaura Secord became one of Canada’s first heroes for warning of an impending American attack. featured in The War of 1812.

There is an unfortunate and dispiriting tendency in current culture to try and re-interpret the past. Oddly, it is deemed inappropriate to honour the events that made Canada a country and set the foundation for the culture we’ve become. We would prefer to condemn previous generations for lacking our own views, as if 19th century Canadians should somehow have shared the perspective of a future society they could never imagine.

The Liberals have shown an eagerness to roll back any initiative they view as too reflective of their Conservative predecessors. McCallum would do well to recognize that Canada’s history does not belong to any particular political party. He should be expanding efforts to acquaint Canadians with their history, not trying to erase it from guidebooks for the sake of a cheap political snub.

Source: Kelly McParland: McCallum’s plan to rewrite guide book is a historical stumble

Burma’s opposition demands government gives citizenship to Rohingya refugees adrift on the Andaman Sea


The Burmese government has so far disclaimed any responsibility for the fate of the thousands of Rohingya refugees adrift on the Andaman Sea. But now the spokesman for the National League for Democracy, Burma’s most important opposition party, has demanded a long-term solution to the problem: giving them citizenship.

In an interview with The Independent, U Nyan Win said: “The problem needs to be solved by the law. The law needs to be amended. After one or two generations [of residence] they should have the right to be citizens.”

The statement was a bold break with the NLD’s usual ultra-cautious approach to an issue regarded as highly inflammatory in this Buddhist-majority country – Buddhists constitute 85 per cent of the population – in which atavistic fears of Muslim domination have been whipped up by chauvinistic Buddhist preachers.

Speaking to AFP earlier, he said: “If [the Rohingya] are not accepted as citizens, they cannot just be sent onto rivers. They can’t be pushed out to sea. They are humans. I just see them as humans who are entitled to human rights.”

Burma’s opposition demands government gives citizenship to Rohingya refugees adrift on the Andaman Sea – Asia – World – The Independent.

B.C.: Funding Dries up for Successful Citizenship Exam Program

While I don’t know the details for this particular decision, we do know from CIC data that some groups have poorer success rates than others, largely related to education levels and language, correlated in many cases with ethnic origin.

This type of training was a means to help such groups become citizens without diluting the integrity of language and knowledge testing:

This year’s Citizenship Week marks a sad occasion for the staff at the Victoria Immigration and Refugee Centre. That’s when the centre will end its highly successful citizenship training course, a government program to help permanent residents pass Canada’s citizenship exam.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada began funding the two-year pilot program at several agencies in January 2013. But VIRC’s funding dried up in July this year, so the centre invested $100,000 of its own money to cover the costs and keep the program going.

However, VIRC’s executive director David Lau says that can no longer continue and the program will end on Oct. 17, a date that falls during Citizenship Week.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Lau, noting that the staff and volunteers put a lot of effort into the program. “We had to shut down the program before the end of our contract,” he adds. “We’ve been trying to reach Citizenship and Immigration Canada for months, but they’re not returning our calls.”

VIRC offered its Citizenship 101 course once a week for 10 weeks. The program ran five times and graduated 140 permanent residents. “We had really good dialogue [with CIC]. We sent in regular reports on the program and it met or exceeded all our milestones,” Lau says. “We had a 100 percent success rate.

”Word about the pilot’s success spread and Lau and his team began training people to teach the course for use in other agencies. Twelve non-profits were involved—ten in B.C. and the other two in Winnipeg and New Brunswick.

Funding Dries up for Successful Citizenship Exam Program – The Epoch Times.

Stephen Harper’s Canada Day speech the latest volley in Ottawa’s pointless history wars – Coyne

Andrew Coyne on the history wars.

The Crown, likewise, is not some useless foreign ornament, as successive Liberal governments often seemed to imply: It is the very foundation of our constitutional order, as essential to our way of life as Parliament, the common law, and the rest of the British inheritance, and as quintessentially Canadian. To remain attached to these institutional underpinnings, to remind ourselves of their advantages, is not to retreat into the past. It is merely to decline to be cut off from it.

So, fine: thus far, the Tories could be said to be righting the balance. But true to the chips on their shoulders, they could not leave it at that. It was not enough to celebrate and affirm Conservative national icons: It was necessary to diminish and downplay Liberal ones. The 30th anniversary of patriation and the Charter of Rights, for example, came and went without any official celebration or even acknowledgment.

And so the history wars continue, pointlessly. Surely it is possible to honour both versions of our past, both sides of our selves, in a country so accustomed to duality — aboriginal and European, French and English, immigrant and native-born — in other respects. Surely we are both a constitutional monarchy and a rights-bearing democracy. Surely our history is distinguished both by war-making and by peacekeeping. Surely our national character is a result both of individual and collective enterprise.

When working on Discover Canada, we tried to make the same point in our “fearless advice” but the direction was more changing the narrative, as in so many other initiatives, than merely righting the balance.

Andrew Coyne: Stephen Harper’s Canada Day speech the latest volley in pointless history wars

Tory History and Its Critics | The Dorchester Review

A good overview on the Canadian “history wars” from C.P. Champion who was my counterpart in Minister Kenney’s office during my time working on citizenship and multiculturalism issues. Champion provides insight into the conservative historical narrative along with a strong  critique of how Liberal governments shaped their historical narrative to their political interests.

Margaret MacMillan’s The Uses and Abuses of History discusses how government’s routinely choose the historical narrative that suits their political and other interests, reinforcing Champion’s point. The themes that governments choose to emphasize in their historical narrative or de-emphasize reflect  political and policy choices. The Conservative government chose to emphasize certain themes of the traditional narrative (e.g., history, military, Crown) and downplay others related to more recent history (e.g., social safety net, human rights, culture), valid political and policy choices. Future governments may choose differently, although hopefully not reverting the insufferable lightness of A Look at Canada, the previous citizenship guide.

One last point. I play a cameo role in the article, given my role in Discover Canada. As readers of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism will know, this work did challenge my preconceptions and Champion’s article would have been helpful to me and my colleagues had we had it before starting Discover Canada. Champion is correct in his sequence of events, the first draft was prepared by officials. I can see why he interpreted my account (p.24 of my book) differently but that was not the way it was intended.

Tory History & Its Critics | The Dorchester Review.

‘You are as equal as anyone’ | Toronto Star

An alternate “welcome to Canada and Canadian citizenship” speech by Haroon Siddiqui of The Star, with the classic liberal emphasis on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights (as part of the changes introduced along with Discover Canada, the 2010 citizenship guide and test, the Charter was no longer handed out at citizenship ceremonies, replaced by a pamphlet emphasizing the role of the Crown):

Respect that Canada is a Christian-majority nation. But know that it is not a Christian country. Canada has no official religion. All faiths are equal. Canada has no official culture, either. So be free to practise your faith, if you so choose, and live your culture as fully as you like — within the rule of law.

The rule of law is what binds all Canadians together, new and old, the foreign-born and the Canadian-born. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is our common holy parchment.

Canada wants you to succeed. The more you succeed, the more successful Canada becomes.

i‘You are as equal as anyone’ | Toronto Star.

The citizenship review: what to watch for | iPolitics

My opinion piece in iPolitics on the upcoming Canadian citizenship legislation (full article below as behind the iPolitics paywall):

Over the past five years, the federal government has engaged in a comprehensive policy renewal across the whole suite of immigration policies. The major remaining gap was in citizenship, where the government announced its intent in the 2013 throne speech:

Canadians understand that citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience. Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history …

To strengthen and protect the value of Canadian citizenship, our Government will introduce the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation.

During the same period, and within existing legislation, the government nevertheless led an intense period of renewal of the citizenship program:

  • Issuing the new citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, and related citizenship test in 2010
  • Implementing new pre-qualification language requirements in 2012
  • Introducing a series of initiatives targeting residency fraud, starting in 2011
  • Increasing the public profile of the citizenship program and ceremonies, aligned to the messaging of Discover Canada
  • Supporting the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), and its work on strengthening the meaning of citizenship.

All of these reflect the government’s emphasis on making citizenship more meaningful, “harder to get and easier to lose”, to use former immigration minister Jason Kenney’s phrase — in contrast with previous governments’ emphasis on facilitating citizenship.

  • It is likely that the proposed Citizenship Act will continue to emphasize meaningfulness in the following areas, based upon previous bills tabled but not yet passed, and media coverage of ministerial comments:
  • Regulating citizenship consultants
  • Increasing penalties for citizenship fraud
  • Clarifying the definition of residency to mean physicalresidency, not just legal residency, and possibly increasing the required residency period from the current three years
  • Improving the government’s ability to bar criminals from becoming Canadian citizens
  • Streamlining the revocation and removal process
  • Ensuring a first-generation exemption for Crown servants
  • Possibly eliminating the current “birth on soil” grant of citizenship in favour of a more qualified right.

As the current Citizenship Act dates from the 1970s, the reformed act likely will be more in keeping with current drafting practice, giving ministers more authority and discretion compared to the extremely prescriptive current act, which goes into considerable detail on the citizenship application process and procedures.

While attention will be paid to the specific provisions in the new act, and the balance between facilitating acquisition of citizenship and making citizenship mean “ongoing commitment, connection and loyalty to Canada”, some of the broader issues to watch for include:

  • The balance between ministerial discretion and prescriptive measures in the act. While ministers and officials prefer to have more discretion, citizenship touches all Canadians and there can be advantages in having more constraints on ministers to ensure that changes enjoy wider support. The current act has a mix, specifying “adequate knowledge” of an official language and of “Canada and of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship”, defining these in regulations, not legislation, while the wording of the citizenship oath is in the Act itself
  • Close review of measures presented as “housekeeping,” to ensure that there are no unannounced or unanticipated substantive implications. Given the technical nature of much of citizenship policy, the devil is in the details
  • Whether the act, or related initiatives, seriously addresses the chronic and ongoing under-resourcing and under-management of the citizenship program, or whether the government is silent on these issues. In 2012, this, along with other changes, resulted in a drop of 37 per cent in new citizens, an example of poor program management. No government has properly resourced the citizenship program; typically the program gets a top-up once the backlog reaches an unacceptable level, as was the case in 2013 when $44 million was allocated in the budget
  • A real commitment to citizen service through meaningful service standards. Currently, it takes an average of over 2 years to acquire citizenship compared to Australia’s two months. Surely Canada should be able to do better, without compromising the integrity of the application process.

Beyond the specifics, the broader question of citizenship policy being faced by many governments is the balance between citizenship as “place” — assuming that citizens remain in their country of immigration — and citizenship as “status”, or a more instrumental view of citizenship as a means to secure employment and other rights.

In contrast to earlier waves of immigration — largely one-way, with limited and expensive two-way travel opportunities — today’s globalization enjoys free communications, low-cost travel, community-specific media (either Canadian or internationally-produced), all of which makes identities more fluid and complex. As governments try to reinforce a strong sense of Canadian identity, they come up against this reality — which is particularly the case for the more well-educated and trained immigrants that we aim to attract, and who tend to be more mobile.

Whether it be to pursue opportunities in their country of origin, or go back and forth to pursue business and other opportunities, citizenship policy has an impact on diaspora linkages and mobility. Make it too restrictive and the linkages may be underdeveloped — make it too easy and citizenship may be instrumental, without attachment.

Hopefully, once the draft bill is tabled, both parliamentary and public comment and discussion will engage in a broader debate about what kind of citizenship approach we want.

The citizenship review: what to watch for | iPolitics.