New citizenship guide to warn against ‘abhorrent’ practice of female genital mutilation

Good. Now the question remains how this will be presented and what language will be used.

Hopefully, the guide will place this in the context of spousal and child abuse, sexual assault, and a short summary of the evolution of women’s rights in Canada, without the identify politics label of “barbaric cultural practices.”

While one would have hoped that the government would have done this in any case, one has to give credit to Conservative Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel for pressing the issue:

Canada’s updated citizenship guide will include a warning to newcomers about the illegal practice of female genital mutilation.

In a statement provided to CBC News, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen called it an “abhorrent practice” that is against the law in Canada.

“While the content for the new guide is still being developed, Canadians can be assured that the new document will include information on Canada’s laws against gender-based violence, including FGM,” he said.

“We would normally not comment on a product still under development, but given the interest in this specific issue, I felt it was important to update Canadians on where we stand.”

The issue has become politically charged, with the Conservatives suggesting the revamped guide would drop a reference to the practice.

Immigration critic Michelle Rempel has repeatedly pressed Hussen on the topic, and sponsored an e-petition in the House of Commons that calls on the government to ensure the new guide condemns the practice.
Petition E-1310, which is open until Feb, 3, now has nearly 25,000 signatures.

On Nov. 28, 2017, Rempel urged people to sign the petition in a tweet that said: “Trudeau is removing references to female genital mutilation as being a harmful practice from Canada’s citizenship guide.”

Rempel was citing a report from The Canadian Press, which said a draft copy of the revised citizenship guide removed the reference to FGM. The current guide, brought in by the Conservatives in 2011, stresses that men and women are equal under the law in Canada.

“Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, “honour killings,” female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence,” it reads. “Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws.”

via New citizenship guide to warn against ‘abhorrent’ practice of female genital mutilation | CBC News

Petition calling for more representation of Indigenous people in citizenship guide headed to House of Commons

Pretty clear that there will be from public comments at both the political and official levels (see Pathways to Prosperity 2017: Building Bridges between Indigenous and Immigrant Communities):

….Indigenous people from B.C. say changes critical

For Wet’suwet’en and African-American youth Taleetha Tait, changes to the guide are critical.

“It allows our experiences to be acknowledged and not to be judged,” Tait said.

“I feel better about new people coming to Canada and learning the truth and not hiding the wrongs, so there is less ignorance,” she added.

Information about Indigenous people in the citizenship guide is placed in the “Canada’s History” and the “Who We Are” sections.

The first describes the hunting and gathering practices and traditional diets of Indigenous people. For example, it says “West Coast natives preserved fish by drying and smoking.” It also adds “warfare was common among Aboriginal groups as they competed for land, resources and prestige.”

The Indigenous section under “Who We Are”  starts with “the ancestors of Aboriginal peoples are believed to have migrated from Asia many thousands of years ago.” It uses the word “Indian” and “Aboriginal” to describe Indigenous people and says residential school ended in the 1980s.

Ry Moran, the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, says the guide is not giving newcomers the tools needed to participate in important conversations Canadians are currently having.

“It’s a very good example of a document that presents very poor information on Indigenous people and absolutely needs to be rewritten,” Moran said.

“It repeats the general narrative that there were Indigenous Peoples, there was a brief period of relationship and then goes into the predominant settler narrative. It doesn’t talk about the difficult relationship or serve newcomers well,” he added.

Changes a long time coming says new Canadian

There are two Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action pushing the federal government to revise the information kit for newcomers, the citizenship test and the oath to reflect an accurate portrayal of Indigenous people.

They call on the Government of Canada to change the Oath of Citizenship to observe treaties with Indigenous Peoples.

The guide currently says Aboriginal and treaty rights are in the Canadian Constitution, but there is nothing about treaties in the oath.

Kue K’nyawmupoe came to Canada as a Burmese refugee and is now a Canadian citizen. She says she is relieved the new citizenship guide and exam will be updated and wished she had learned more about Indigenous people when she first arrived.

“That is a very good change that has needed to happen for a very long time, and it would be very useful for Canadians  to recognize the first people of Canada, to be more inclusive,” K’nyawmupoe said.

The cynical roots of Rempel’s female genital mutilation crusade – iPolitics

Martin Patriquin on Michelle Rempel’s raising the issue of FGM and its inclusion or not in the revision of the Discover Canada citizenship guide:

The procedure by which a woman’s clitoris is surgically removed is usually performed without anesthesia and in unsanitary conditions. Unnecessary, retrograde and associated with a host of physical ailments, the surgery also can saddle a woman with a lifetime of psychological issues.

The very purpose of the surgery — to deprive a woman of sexual pleasure — is religiosity at its worst. Only a monster would support such a thing.

A monster — or the Liberal government, according to the blinkered thinking of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel. She seems to believe that the 23rd prime minister of Canada, along with its 20th immigration minister, are in favour of the practice.

Why? Because the Liberal government (she suggests) plans to remove from the pending new citizenship guide a reference to female genital mutilation, which is listed among other “barbaric cultural practices,” including honour killings and forced marriage.

“Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws,” the current guide helpfully points out.

In fact, ‘plans to remove’ is too strong a statement, as the Liberals have yet to release the new citizenship guide, which newcomers use to study for the citizenship test. Nor have the Liberals said that the reference would be excised from the guide, despite the leak of a draft copy this summer that didn’t include it. Whenever he is asked about it, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen typically spouts the words “consultation” and “stakeholders” ad absurdum.

Rempel, who serves as the party’s shadow minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, sees something altogether nefarious in all this bureaucratese. And should the Liberals indeed remove the mention of female genital mutilation, it will be a “tacit message to people that perhaps the Canadian government is OK with it,” Rempel recently said during a radio interview.

open quote 761b1bRempel’s line of questioning strongly suggested Hussen was a cypher, using his position to foist the practice of ritual mutilation on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

So, there you have it. Canada’s current government is in favour of the forced, ritual removal of a part of a woman’s anatomy, according to the Official Opposition. To be clear, Rempel says she doesn’t know why the Liberal government would be gung ho on such a thing. But that hasn’t stopped her from speculating — on the record.

During a recent parliamentary committee hearing, Rempel lobbed loaded questions at Hussen, the apparent goal of which was to suggest the Prime Minister’s Office had asked for the reference to be removed. After Hussen said the PMO hadn’t instructed him to do anything, Rempel aimed for the jugular — or rather, below the belt. “What is your personal view?” Rempel asked Hussen, before the committee chair mercifully cut her off.

Hussen hails from Somalia, where the rate of female genital mutilation is the highest in the world, according to UNICEF. He is a refugee who fled war and strife to become a Canadian citizen and eventually a federal cabinet minister. Rempel’s line of questioning strongly suggested he was a cypher, using his position to foist the practice of ritual mutilation on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

The reference to female genital mutilation in the citizenship guide is similarly loaded. Telling potential citizens that cutting off another person’s body parts is illegal and will be punished is … redundant. Worse still, the inference is clear, and is aimed squarely at a certain subset of would-be Canadian citizens: Muslims.

Not coincidentally, female genital mutilation is carried out in roughly 30 countries, nearly all of them in Africa and nearly all predominantly Muslim. The inclusion of the phrase in the 2011 citizenship guide, much like the Conservative’s “barbaric cultural practices hotline” gambit during the 2015 election, is the stuff of cynical wedge politics meant to leverage revulsion against an identifiable religious group.

It conveniently ignores the fact that immigrants and refugees often flee their countries of origin specifically because of such practices. And it vastly overstates the scope of the problem in Canada.

As in Europe, instances of genital mutilation in this country remain isolated tragedies, and often come to light as a result of arrests. Moreover, the rate of female genital mutilation among those 30 countries has decreased by 30 per cent since 1985, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, other types of crimes in Canada are far more common. There were 1,409 police reported hate crimes in 2016 — an increase of 20 per cent since 2013. The homicide rate has also increased by 20 per cent in that time period. There were over 220,000 assaults across the country in 2016, and roughly 159,000 instances of breaking and entering.

One wonders why Rempel isn’t pushing the federal government to remind potential citizens that murder, assault, thievery and race-based aggression are illegal in this country and will be punished. Because it’s obvious, perhaps?

via The cynical roots of Rempel’s female genital mutilation crusade – iPolitics

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.

Handout

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

Encouraging:

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