Caddell: Does Canadian citizenship mean anything?

More commentary opposing self-administered citizenship oaths among broader concerns:

There are few more endearing sights than a Canadian citizenship ceremony. As a reporter years ago, I witnessed a couple. They are memorable in the extreme: the judge intoning on the importance of being a good citizen, a chorus of new Canadians taking the oath together, and the smiles and tears of participants looking as if they won the lottery.

And in many cases, they have: for the chance to come to a country as wealthy, as open, as full of opportunity, is what drives that joy. And we benefit from the talented people who come here. When I worked in Bangladesh in 2000, my bank manager was applying to immigrate to Canada. When I asked why, he replied, “We consider Canada to be a kind of paradise.”

While we struggle with an influx of refugees and cope with the impact of discriminatory laws like Quebec’s Bill 21, immigration is a Canadian success story. Indeed, among the major federal parties, none is spouting an anti-immigrant bias, which is unusual compared to many western countries.

And so it was disappointing to read of a proposal in February’s Canada Gazette, innocuously titled “Regulations Amending the Citizenship Regulations (Oath of Citizenship).” It describes the backlog of citizenship applications due to the pandemic and offers a solution: “Technology offers the potential to vastly transform client service by helping to address long processing times and application inventories.”

In short, with the click of a mouse, you could become Canadian. No ceremony, no tears, no real effort. This simple act would reduce Canadian citizenship into a convenience, like online shopping.

Andrew Griffith, the former director general for citizenship and multiculturalism, doubts the idea came from the public service. “I find it hard to imagine anyone advocating for this,” despite the pressures of backlogs, he said. He thinks the deputy minister got a message from the minister’s office to “find a solution” to speed up processing and produced what Sir Humphrey of Yes, Minister would call a “courageous decision.”

Former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard famously said: “Canada is not a real country.” The current prime minister once stated: “Canada is a post-national state with no core identity.” To assist that perception, it has been years since a new version of the Citizenship Study Guide was published.

At the same time, there is a decline in the number of permanent residents who become citizens: only half living here take the oath. We also have one of the world’s largest diasporas: three million Canadians live abroad, without plans to return. I recently met a Korean family living in Halifax for three years to obtain citizenship before heading home. While in Portugal, I met a couple from Hong Kong who blithely said they had Canadian citizenship, but had no intention of living here.

It has also become too easy to obtain citizenship. The Harper government tightened regulations by, among other things, moving the residency requirement to four years. The Trudeau Liberals put it back to three in 2017. In many other countries, five and even 10 years residency is common.

Many talented friends and relatives have moved to the U.S. over the decades, and are never coming back. They are among the 50,000 Canadians who leave for the U.S. and U.K. each year. One young friend who is moving called Canada “genocidal” and “communist,” while the U.S. was “the best country in the world.” Her opinion was evidently shaped by the self-flagellating commentary on our history from our leaders. Now, try to imagine Americans debating whether their capital should be renamed because George Washington owned hundreds of slaves.

The thought someone should obtain citizenship with the click of a button from this country, which has achieved so much, is an embarrassment. Have we become so low in our self-esteem that we have abandoned any pride in being a citizen, and its responsibilities?

The current government could easily cut the backlogs by renting arenas and stadiums to welcome new Canadians in mass citizenship ceremonies. It could renew the citizenship guide, offering a positive take on our history. And maybe more people would be attracted to live here. If it does not change the negative narrative it is sending Canadians and the world, it should get out of the way to allow others to lead.

Andrew Caddell is retired from Global Affairs Canada, where he was a senior policy adviser. He previously worked as an adviser to Liberal governments. He is a town councillor in Kamouraska, Que. He can be reached at

Source: Does Canadian citizenship mean anything?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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