Citizenship study guide remains outdated in its ‘simplistic’ account of Indigenous history, critics say

Ironically, a simplistic article on the citizenship guide, citing only one activist and the NDP critic, and no reference to the previous guide’s, A Look at Canada, lack of reference to residential schools, and no detailed comments from the IRCC media folks unlike other CBC articles.

And while NDP immigration critic is correct in her critique of the government’s slow progress, she should look in the mirror as by and large her focus has been on immigration and refugees, not citizenship (like most MPs given constituent pressures):

When Nazanin Moghadami started reading the Discover Canada guidebook in 2018 to prepare for her citizenship exam, she says she felt like she was being lied to about the country’s real history.

While there were paragraphs about Hudson’s Bay and hockey, she says she found nothing helpful and accurate about Indigenous history, treaties and residential schools.

“It was the most triggering text I have read in a long time,” recalls Moghadami, who said she had educated herself about Indigenous history and culture before she started preparing for her citizenship test.

She had also taken the Indigenous Canada course, which explores key issues Indigenous peoples face today, before she picked up the citizenship guidebook.

On June 22, Canada adopted a revised citizenship oath that recognizes First Nations, Inuit and Métis rights.

But a revised Discover Canada study guide has yet to be revealed, something a number of Canadians say is needed to reflect a more inclusive history of Indigenous Peoples, treaties and residential schools.

“Reading [Discover Canada] felt like a bunch of lies, a very simplistic version of history in a way that was very biased and very much favoured picturing Europeans in a good light, really whitewashing the violence. It just sounded very hypocritical,” said Moghadami, who immigrated to Canada from Iran in 2005.

‘When Europeans explored Canada …’

Discover Canada was last updated in 2012.

That’s despite two of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action in 2015 urging the federal government to update the citizenship guide and test, as well as the oath, to reflect a more inclusive history of Indigenous Peoples and a recognition of their treaties and rights.

Source: Citizenship study guide remains outdated in its ‘simplistic’ account of Indigenous history, critics say

Canada’s citizenship study guide for newcomers is getting an ‘unvarnished’ makeover. Here’s how it’s evolved — from 1947 to today

Good overview of the evaluation of the guide as well as some of the key messaging in the forthcoming guide (we will see if roll-out “later this year” survives the expected election call, but clear from spokesperson the guide is ready for release):

For more than seven decades, the federal government has published a citizenship study guide for wannabe Canadians — a booklet that touches on Canada’s history and geography, its political structure and key tenets of what it means to be a good citizen.

The current version, however, hasn’t been updated in more than a decade, drawing criticism for using outdated terminology and leaving out or sanitizing darker moments of Canada’s past, including attempts to forcibly assimilate Indigneous Peoples.

In 2015, one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “calls to action” included that the information kit for newcomers “reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools.”

The current guide includes only one paragraph on residential schools.

After years of delay, and in the wake of the recent revelations of hundreds of unmarked graves being found at the site of former residential schools in Kamloops, B.C., and Marieval, Sask., the federal government now says it expects to roll out later this year a revamped study guide that will present a more “honest” portrait of the country’s past and present.

“The new guide will give aspiring Canadians an unvarnished picture of our country’s history, including extensive information (on) its darker moments,” said Alexander Cohen, press secretary for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

He said the guide will include a section outlining the government’s attempts to compel Indigenous Peoples to adopt European customs through policies “designed to end Indigenous ways of life, languages and spiritual beliefs.”

“It includes thorough descriptions of the horrors of residential schools, like physical and sexual abuse, and the fact that many children died in residential schools and were buried in unmarked graves,” he said.

“It emphasizes the lasting effect of residential schools on both individuals and Indigenous communities writ-large, stressing that ‘these impacts will continue for generations.’”

The new guide will also touch on the history of slavery in Canada and the Underground Railroad; discrimination against Chinese immigrants through the head tax; the Komagata Maru incident that saw more than 350 South Asian migrants denied entry to Canada; the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War; the demolition of Africville, a community of Black Canadians in Halifax, in the 1960s; and Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.

It will also include an acknowledgment of the existence of systemic racism and efforts to combat it, as well as new information on a variety of historically under-represented groups, such as Francophones, women, Black Canadians, the LGBTQ2 community and Canadians with disabilities, Cohen said.

People profiled in the guide will include Olivier Le Jeune, one of the first enslaved Africans brought to New France; Boyd Whiskeyjack, board member of the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society; Indigenous leaders such as senators Murray Sinclair and Nora Bernard; prominent feminists, such as aircraft designer Elsie MacGill and Idola Saint-Jean, the Quebec journalist and champion of women’s suffrage; and refugees, such as Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella and Victoria City Coun. Sharmarke Dubow. 

As the government prepares to release the new guide, the Star decided to take a look back at previous iterations to see what sort of language the government has used to represent Canada’s history to newcomers and to define what it meant to be a responsible citizen.

1947

Prior to 1947, people living in Canada were British subjects. But that all changed at the end of the Second World War, when Paul Martin Sr., then a Liberal cabinet minister and secretary of state, visited the Canadian war cemetery in Dieppe, France. It is said that visit inspired him to create legislation that would formally recognize Canadian citizenship.

The first version of the citizenship guide boasts of Canada’s emergence from the war as a “great nation.”

“Her vast resources, her agricultural and industrial capacity, exercise a profound influence on world affairs,” the guide states. “Her people, drawn from every racial group, are welded into a mighty democratic force through their love of freedom, hatred of oppression, and the steadfast determination that the powers of government shall be exercised by and through the people for the common benefit of all.”

Would-be Canadians are told Canada has the distinction of being first in the world in the production of newsprint, nickel, radium, platinum and asbestos. The quality of life in Canada is also said to be one of the highest in the world, due to “substantial” wages for industrial workers and “outstanding” production of consumer goods.

There is a lengthy recitation of the arrival of European settlers but scant mention of their interaction with Indigenous Peoples.

Citizenship applicants are told they must have “adequate knowledge” of English or French or have resided in Canada for 20 years. It is up to a judge to determine what is “adequate.” It is also up to a judge to determine whether an applicant has demonstrated good character.

“The definition of ‘good character’ raises a point involving wide differences of opinion as some judges are more strict than others.” 

1964

The 1964 version of the citizenship guide highlights Canada as a “nation of immigrants.” 

“All have brought with them the traditions of their various countries and cultures. They have settled in Canada, have become a part of it but, at the same time, they have contributed to the cultural diversity which is characteristic of the country,” the guide states.

The guide notes that a “very small part” of the Canadian population is composed of “native Indians and Eskimos” who had been “living here for thousands of years before the first European arrived.” 

“In this sense they are the most truly Canadian of the country’s citizens.”

Despite this acknowledgment, Indigenous people are only briefly mentioned elsewhere in the guide in the context of the fur trade and “violent wars … among the Indian tribes who had allied themselves with either French or British settlers.”

With a population of 19 million, Canada is seeing a decline in agriculture and rapid growth in manufacturing, commerce and urban jobs, would-be Canadians are told. More people are moving to cities and towns. Women are working outside the home more often and “many of those who work are married.”

There is a rather large section devoted to Canada’s cultural expansion. Theatre, opera, music, ballet, painting and other arts are said to be “flourishing.” Summer cottages, camping and motor trips are said to be very popular with many Canadians, as is indoor bowling during winter months.

New citizens are encouraged to not only obey the law, but to advocate for changes to laws if they feel it’s in the public interest to do so. They are also told stay on top of public affairs, including by listening to political discussions on radio and TV, and urged to participate in community affairs by joining local organizations or running for office.

“It may be that by concentrating on his daily work he can best serve the good of the people and the welfare of the nation. This may be true of the mother of a family, the scientist or artist, for example.” 

1975

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Canada, under Pierre Elliott Trudeau, formally adopted policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism.

These developments are reflected in the opening pages of the 1975 citizenship guide. 

“Newcomers find it an advantage to learn at least one of these languages for their everyday use in Canada,” the guide states. 

“This does not mean by any means that you have to give up your own culture and traditions, as Canada is also officially a multicultural country. Through the Canadian government’s multicultural policy you can maintain your inherited culture and share it with your fellow-Canadians. In this way, all Canada will be richer, in developing a new identity that is drawn from all parts in the world.”

The guide goes on to define a “good citizen” as someone who has a keen interest in the community, a sense of responsibility for the common good, a respect for law, a respect for the rights of others, keeps up to date on public issues and is willing to share their talent, knowledge and experience to help solve local and national problems.

Besides voting, would-be citizens are encouraged to become engaged citizens by holding public meetings, writing letters to the editor, calling in to radio hotline shows and circulating petitions.

“In Canada such activities are not discouraged or forbidden by the government. Instead they are supported as a wholesome part of the democratic process.”

1995

Pride in the different cultural and ethnic groups that live and work “together in harmony” is emphasized in the opening pages of the 1995 citizenship guide. So is the idea of equality. “We have shown how much we value this idea by having it written into the Constitution as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

For the first time, would-be Canadians are introduced to some of Canada’s symbols, including the beaver, the red-and-white maple leaf flag and the Queen as head of state. 

The guide also devotes a section to the “Aboriginal Peoples of Canada.”

“When Europeans arrived in what is now Canada, they began to make agreements, or treaties, with Aboriginal Peoples. The treaty making process meant that Aboriginal people gave up their title to lands in exchange for certain rights and benefits. Most of the agreements included reserving pieces of land to be used only by Aboriginal Peoples. These pieces of land are called ‘reserves,’” the guide states.

“Today, Aboriginal groups and the Canadian government continue to negotiate new agreements for land and the recognition of other rights. Aboriginal Peoples in Canada are working to keep their unique cultures and languages alive. They are trying to regain control over decisions that affect their lives — in other words, to become self-governed. Aboriginal Peoples continue to play an active role in building the future of Canada.”

The guide expands on what it means to be a responsible citizen, urging people to, among other things, “express opinions freely while respecting the rights and freedoms of others,” “care for Canada’s heritage” and “eliminate discrimination and injustice.”

2000-2002

At the start of the 21st century, the citizenship guide’s opening pages highlight Canada’s “genius” for compromise and coexistence and for being a peaceful nation.

“Canadian history and traditions have created a country where our values include tolerance and respect for cultural differences, and a commitment to social justice,” the guide states. In the 2002 version, the word “tolerance” is dropped.

A nod is given to the millions of immigrants who have helped build the country. Indigenous people are said to constitute an important part of the country’s population and are described as “working to protect and promote their languages, cultures and traditions and acquire self-government.”

In describing the treaties that granted Indigenous people certain rights and benefits in exchange for giving up title to land, the 2002 version adds that each treaty is “unique and is seen as a solemn promise.”

For the first time, the guide devotes a section to the importance of sustainable development, noting that while economic growth is crucial for the future of Canada, “it cannot come at the expense of the environment.”

The notion of environmental citizenship is introduced. Individuals are encouraged to recycle, carpool and use public transit. The 2002 version tells people they should also conserve energy and water, plant trees and avoid using chemicals.

2009-2012 (the current Discover Canada)

The most recent version of the citizenship guide was produced under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.

Newcomers are told they “must” learn about Canada’s history, symbols, democratic institutions and geography. The guide also impresses upon would-be citizens the idea of “shared traditions, identities and values.”

It emphasizes in its opening pages the various responsibilities of new Canadians. 

“Getting a job, taking care of one’s family and working hard in keeping with one’s abilities” are described as “important Canadian values.” Serving on a jury is also highlighted.

Would-be citizens are told that there are different ways to help out in the community, including volunteering for a charity and “encouraging newcomers to integrate.”

Language reinforcing “the equality of women and men” is introduced for the first time.

“In Canada, men and women are equal under the law,” the guide states. “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws.”

Serving in the Canadian Forces is said to be a “noble” career choice.

For the first time, the guide touches on how the arrival of European traders, missionaries, soldiers and colonists “changed the native way of life forever.”

“Large numbers of Aboriginals died of European diseases to which they lacked immunity. However, Aboriginals and Europeans formed strong economic and military bonds in the first 200 years of coexistence, which laid the foundations of Canada.”

There is a passing reference to how treaties “were not always fully respected.” A paragraph is devoted to how the government “placed” Indigenous children in residential schools.

“The schools were poorly funded and inflicted hardship on the students; some students were physically abused,” the guide states. “Aboriginal languages and cultural practices were mostly prohibited. In 2008, Ottawa formally apologized to the former students.”

More words are devoted later in the guide to the importance of hockey in Canadian culture.

Would-be citizens are told that after the first Métis uprising, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald established the North West Mounted Police in 1873 to “pacify the West and assist in negotiations with the Indians.” The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are described as “one of Canada’s best-known symbols” that has produced “some of Canada’s most colourful heroes.” (Scholars have in recent years challenged this romanticized version of the force’s historical role, arguing that they were involved in colonial “containment and surveillance” of Indigenous people.)

The guide includes a list of notable Canadians behind great discoveries and inventions.

They are all men.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/06/26/canadas-citizenship-study-guide-for-newcomers-is-getting-an-unvarnished-makeover-heres-how-its-evolved-from-1947-to-today.html?li_source=LI&li_medium=thestar_canada

‘It’s about time’ to update citizenship guide, Assembly of First Nations Alberta chief says

Of note:

Assembly of First Nations Alberta regional chief Marlene Poitras hopes newcomers to Canada will learn more about Indigenous history and culture once the federal government updates its citizenship guide.

The 68-page document, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, prepares newcomers for the citizenship test. It has not been updated since 2012.

In its 93rd call to action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for revising the guide and citizenship test to “reflect a more inclusive history,” including material about treaties and residential schools.

Residential schools are mentioned briefly in the current guide.

“The schools were poorly funded and inflicted hardship on the students; some were physically abused,” one sentence reads.

The Liberal government promised in 2016 that changes to the guide were coming but they have not yet materialized.

“It’s about time — it should have happened a long time ago,” Poitras said Wednesday in an interview with CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

Beyond consultations for the guide itself, Poitras said she has recommended that elders participate in the ceremonies for new citizens.

“We have been hard at work over the past few years crafting a new citizenship guide that reflects contemporary Canada,” said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Nancy Caron in an emailed statement.

Caron said the process has included “extensive collaboration ” with leaders of Indigenous organizations as well as historians, academics, parliamentarians and groups representing racialized communities, women, francophones, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

The ministry hopes to share the new guide with Canadians later this year, Caron said.

“From what I understand, from talking to some people who know this better than I do, the new guide will have more extensive coverage of Indigenous history,” said Andrew Griffith, former director general of citizenship and multiculturalism for the IRCC.

On Thursday, the Senate passed Bill C-8, which would revise the citizenship oath newcomers take to include mention of treaties with Indigenous peoples.

“While getting the oath changed is really important, it will really be important to see how the next version of the guide — which apparently is fairly advanced — captures these issues,” Griffith said.

Source: ‘It’s about time’ to update citizenship guide, Assembly of First Nations Alberta chief says

Why Canada so urgently needs to update its citizenship materials

Kind of surprising that Postmedia has largely ignored these criticisms to date (unless I missed them) and that little effort appears to have to engage more than one advocate and one academic. And why pick a pharmacology professor rather than one with citizenship and immigration expertise (e.g., Ravi Pendakur, Elke Winter, Audrey Macklin to name but a few).

But at least we have a glimpse of the revised guide themes: relationships, opportunity and commitment.

No public date yet set for release, and unclear whether it will be released before an expected election later this year:

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 part-truth, because it contains highly controversial statements that, critics say, have continued to whitewash the country’s historical treatment of First Nations and other minorities.

Source: Why Canada so urgently needs to update its citizenship materials

Quebec’s values test: Why not focus on everyday gender equality?

Another good and thoughtful column by Sheema Khan.

One point of interest is her call for the long-promised revision of the citizenship study guide to include everyday examples of what gender equality means, not the criminal ones cited in the current guide.

As the government did not manage to get its revision published during its first mandate, it should consider this suggestion if not already included in the revision:

Galloping from one controversial social policy to another, the government of Quebec recently unveiled its “Values Test” for prospective immigrants. Derided by some, the test requires newcomers to the province to be aware of a few “key” values. French is the official language of la belle province. Polygamy is illegal, whereas marriage between two individuals is not. Men and women are equal before the law. There’s nothing wrong in letting immigrants know what to expect about their future society. However, in view of Bill 21, one can’t help but be cynical about the Coalition Avenir Québec’s attempt to narrowly define who is – and who isn’t – vrai Québécois.

Quebec’s stance on gender equality is laughable in view of Bill 21 – hijab-clad Muslim women are barred from teaching in public schools, whereas Muslim men are not. Jewish men who sport a kippa or yarmulke cannot serve as prosecutors or clerks in a provincial court, while Jewish women face no such restrictions. The courts will decide if the notwithstanding clause overrides the violation of gender equality (as enshrined in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

Nevertheless, we should emphasize gender equality to those arriving from countries where women are accorded fewer resources and rights than men. According to the 2016 census, three of the top 10 countries of birth of recent immigrants were Pakistan, Iran and Syria – all of which finished in the bottom five (of 145 countries) of the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Index.

The culture shock can be great. I still remember my cousin’s surprise when he could not access his mother’s bank account as a matter of right, as he used to do in Saudi Arabia. Or one Middle Eastern relative who was dismayed that his wife was automatically a co-owner of the marital home. Or one husband’s disbelief that he would have to split marital assets 50-50 in the case of divorce. These are hard-won rights for women that should never be compromised. Immigrant men have complied and adapted to the new reality. And that’s a good thing.

While current guidelines from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reiterate the equality of women and men before the law, they might want to add a line or two referring to everyday examples – such as financial independence and property rights of women. Instead, these guidelines leap to examples of criminal behaviour, stating: “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.”

Such dramatic pronouncements, however, don’t help immigrants learn about the positive aspects of gender equality. And they lull Canadians into a sense of complacency that women in Canada are doing just fine. Not so fast.

In her compelling memoirs, Truth Be Told, Beverley McLachlin chronicles her own efforts to combat sexism within the legal profession but points to the broader fight for women’s equality throughout Canadian society. A fight that is by no means close to over.

According to the 2018 Gender Gap Index, Canada ranks 16th in the world (out of 149 countries) for its equitable distribution of resources between men and women. While we are tied for first in the field of education, we are 21st in political empowerment, 27th in economic participation and 104th in health/survival. The relatively high placements in politics and economics, however, mask absolute inequities.

For example, in 2018, Statistics Canada reported that Canadian women earned 87 cents for every $1 earned by men. A 2018 Angus Reid study indicated that women are more likely than men to experience poverty. Women in Canada live at greater risk than men of domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and sex trafficking. Even with the #MeToo movement, women still underreport sexual assault and harassment. Women and girls are often subject to online hate and sexualized abuse. While women make up roughly half the population, they are underrepresented in political and professional leadership positions. As MacLean’s Anne Kingston rightly observed, sexism permeated the 2019 election, culminating in a vicious, sexist slur painted on Catherine McKenna’s campaign office.

“Working toward gender equality is not only still relevant. It is urgent,” observes the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It’s a message we should all take to heart. The fight for gender equality begins here.

Tories Push Trudeau To Keep FGM Warning In Citizenship Guide

Of course, the citizenship guide should maintain a reference to FGM.

But this needs to be placed in the broader context of violence against women and the history of how Canadian society has evolved in terms of women’s rights, definition of sexual assault, employment equity and the like, not just with an identity politics bumper sticker of “barbaric cultural practices”:

Federal Conservatives are pressuring the Liberal government to ensure that the final draft of the new citizenship guide includes a warning that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a crime in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not speak to the guide when pressed about the issue in question period Wednesday, but said he is committed to ending the “barbaric practice” around the world.

Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel noted in the House of Commons that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — better known as UN Women — tweeted about FGM as part of its “16 days of activism.”

The UN group called FGM — the intentional cutting of female genital organs for non-medical reasons — a human rights violation that has been perpetuated against 200 million women and girls.

“Canada’s citizenship guide informs newcomers that FGM is a crime in Canada. However Canada’s prime minister has decided to delete this information,” Rempel charged.

The MP was referencing a working copy of the new citizenship guide the government is preparing. The draft, which was obtained by The Canadian Press in the summer, reportedly omits lines stating that certain “barbaric cultural practices,” such as FGM and honour killings, are illegal in Canada. The previous Tory government included those warnings in their overhauls of the guide.

Rempel urged Trudeau in the House to stand with FGM survivors and the UN by reversing what she called his “decision.” She made similar comments on Twitter shortly after question period.

Trudeau responded that he “personally brought up this issue” during a visit to Liberia last year, “challenging local leaders and governments to step up on the fight against FGM.”

Then he said something that drew an immediate reaction from Tories.

“We will continue to lead the way pushing for an end to these barbaric practices of female genital mutilation everywhere around the world. This is something… and here in Canada… this is something we take very seriously.”

Tories bashed Trudeau over comments in 2011

The use of the word “barbaric” harkens back to a controversy in 2011, when Trudeau was serving as the immigration critic of the then-opposition Liberals. He initially took exception to the way the Tories’ revamped citizenship guide described honour killings as “barbaric.”

Trudeau said at the time that the government should have instead called all violence against women “absolutely unacceptable” and made a better “attempt at responsible neutrality.” Top Tories, including then-immigration minister Jason Kenney, relentlessly blasted Trudeau over his remarks.

Trudeau later apologized and retracted his initial take on the guide.

“I want to make it clear that I think the acts described are heinous, barbaric acts that are totally unacceptable in our society,” he said in a statement at the time, according to CBC News.

The debate over so-called “barbaric cultural practices” also factored heavily in the 2015 election, when the Tories famously pledged to create a tip line for Canadians to call if they suspected a child or woman could fall victim to forced marriage, FGM, or polygamy. Liberals said then that the Conservatives’ campaign pledge was really about stoking “fear and division.”

PM brings up lessons from 2015 election

Trudeau referenced that ill-fated Tory promise in the House Tuesday while responding to Conservative questions about how his government is handling suspected ISIS terrorists after they return to Canada. The prime minister said Tories have learned nothing from the results of the last federal vote.

“They ran an election on snitch lines against Muslims, they ran an election on Islamophobia and division, and still they play the same games, trying to scare Canadians,” Trudeau shouted.

“The fact is we always focus on the security of Canadians, and we always will. They play the politics of fear, and Canadians reject that.”

via Tories Push Trudeau To Keep FGM Warning In Citizenship Guide

Proposed citizenship test guide will only mislead new Canadians: Tom Flanagan

Focused commentary by Flanagan on how Indigenous obligations are reflected in the current language of the draft new citizenship study guide (Discover Canada).

Surprising he did not mention the planned revision to the oath (TRC recommendation 94) that will include: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples.”

The federal government is currently working on a revision of Discover Canada, the study guide for the test that immigrants must pass before obtaining citizenship. To judge from a recent Canadian Press story, the new manual will read like a Liberal campaign platform. Perhaps that’s not surprising, because the Liberals control the government. Maybe it’s even fair, because the Conservatives revised the manual in 2011, when they controlled the government. But it would be nice if those who are politicizing the Canadian citizenship manual would at least represent Canadian law accurately.

According to The Canadian Press, the draft revision says, “Today, Canadians, for example, can own their own homes and buy land thanks to treaties that the government negotiated.” But a moment’s reflection shows that this statement can’t be correct. Land-cession treaties have never been negotiated in the Atlantic provinces, most of Quebec, and most of British Columbia. Yet, Canadians can own homes and buy land in those provinces, just as they can in Ontario and the Prairie provinces, where land-cession treaties were signed with First Nations.

The ability of Canadians to own land and homes depends upon grants of land from the sovereign. In the English legal tradition, sovereignty includes the title to land, which the sovereign can subsequently grant to individuals or corporations. Modern Canadian sovereignty rests upon earlier French and British sovereignty, founded upon discovery, (occasional) conquest, establishment of governments able to enforce territorial boundaries and administer law and recognition by other sovereign states.

Even while recognizing Indigenous land rights, including full ownership in certain circumstances, the Supreme Court of Canada has consistently upheld Canadian sovereignty as the basis of the Constitution. Chief Justice Antonio Lamer in Van der Peet phrased this as “the reconciliation of the pre-existence of aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown.” From the beginning, French, British and Canadian sovereigns have made grants of land upon which our system of private land ownership has developed. Those grants did not depend upon prior negotiation of treaties with First Nations, otherwise there would be no private property today in much of Canada.

Ironically, private property in land does not exist on most Indigenous reserves today. That deficiency in the Indian Act is only one of the many ways in which the property rights of First Nations have been abused. But mistakes in that area do not mean the private-property rights of other Canadians depend upon treaties.

Another misleading statement in the revision is this advice to new Canadians about their legal obligations: “Obeying the law, serving on a jury, paying taxes, filling out the census and respecting treaties with Indigenous Peoples are mandatory.” But treaties were legal agreements between the Crown (advised by cabinet) and First Nations (represented by their chiefs). They imposed obligations on the Crown to set aside land and provide assistance of various types. But they don’t impose any specific obligations upon citizens other than the general obligation to obey the law, which incidentally is also imposed upon First Nations by the text of the treaties.

These wording changes, if the government follows through with them, won’t have any immediate legal effect. But we should be clear about what’s happening. In the past election campaign, the Liberals made many irredeemable promises to Indigenous voters, such as adopting the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. Now, instead of impossible legal changes, they are offering words – and words matter in the long run. As the great philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, “Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon with them, but they are the money of fools.” These foolish words will tend to make new Canadians, and indeed all Canadians, feel like interlopers in their own country.

Source: Proposed citizenship test guide will only mislead new Canadians – The Globe and Mail

C.P. Champion: ‘New’ citizenship guide shows Liberals are the copy cats

Chris Champion, the Jason Kenney staffer with whom I and my team worked with closely  in 2009, provides useful background and understanding of the Conservative’s approach.

My account of the process and issues can be found on pp 20-25 of my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism – relevant excerpt here.

While Discover Canada was a vast improvement on the somewhat insipid previous guide (A Look at Canada), with DC’s references to the role of the Crown and historic wrongs and injustices, one can have differing opinions as to how “readable, balanced, inclusive” it is. The absence of mentioning the equality rights of the Charter is but one example.

It is telling that, following the introduction of the new guide and related citizenship test, pass rates fell from the (overly) high rate of 96 percent to 83 percent (2010-13), in part  given that the guide and test questions were written at a more advanced level than the formal requirement of Canada Language Benchmark 4.

Lastly, it should come as no surprise to Chris that the change of government would result in a change to the guide. In discussing some of the language and content of the guide, I raised the concern that the guide would not survive a change of government and my consequent advice for more neutral language (and in some cases content).

That being said, I share some of his fears regarding a guide with a weakened sense of how Canada came to be, but prefer to defer more detailed commentary and analysis until  I have read the new guide:

It is no surprise that the Trudeau Liberals intend to replace the Conservatives’ citizenship test study guide this year for Canada’s 150th, or more likely sometime next year, or whenever it’s ready. The only surprise is that it’s taking them so long. After all, there’s very little about it that needs to change. Indeed, the whole idea of changing it, and the ideas they’re including in it, are borrowed from more original thinkers.

Back in 2008, the Conservatives had the idea to create a readable, balanced, inclusive, highly-varied, all-colour guide that showcases Canada’s diversity and values, our history’s triumphs and disasters, including the First Nations experience.

Jason Kenney, the then-minister of citizenship, had the insight that immigrants would welcome the opportunity to learn from a good civics primer that provided a non-boring overview of Canada’s history, warts and all.

I had a front seat in this process, since I was Kenney’s citizenship policy director at the time. Without (I hope) boasting, everything in the book, every word and every spread, photo placement, and caption, crossed my desk (as well as others’, of course, including those of my brilliant colleagues, Alykhan Velshi and Howard Anglin). We consulted Canadians of all political persuasions on it, like former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, NDP historian Desmond Morton, and former Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Lynda Haverstock, who was also a former Saskatchewan Liberal Party leader.

André Pratte, the former editor of the liberal Montreal paper La Presse (who was subsequently appointed to the Senate by Justin Trudeau), endorsed the Tories’ guide, Discover Canada, as “a fine piece of work.” One immigrant from Sri Lanka told us, “I was always proud to be Canadian. But this was the first time anyone told me why I should be.”

The previous guide, A Look at Canada, authorized in the 1980s and unaltered until 2009, contained only a brief paragraph on constitutional monarchy and one on Remembrance Day. Immigrants were left wondering what sort of country they were joining, apart from knowing it was a “nice” place. Citizenship was a right that entailed few clear responsibilities, beyond recycling plastics and paper. Thanks to Kenney’s initiative, applicants for citizenship began learning about the pageant of Canada’s past, including the historic achievements of women, blacks and the disabled.

For the first time, immigrants began learning about the steps that were taken to abolish slavery in Canada in 1793, the wartime imprisonment of Ukrainians, the relocation of Canadian Japanese, the Chinese head tax, residential schools abuse, and the rejection of Jewish refugees in the 1930s.

The notion that Discover Canada contained “too much” about the War of 1812 is a red herring. One recent article said Conservatives added “increased detail” about that war. In reality, we upped the coverage from zero to one paragraph.

The Liberals are being disingenuous when they say respect for treaties with First Nations will be “mandatory” for citizens. In fact, treaties are between First Nations and the Crown, not citizens. It is the Crown (meaning the Government of Canada) that must respect treaties. Yet, in the Liberals’ topsy turvy illogic, it will be “mandatory” for citizens to respect treaties, but “respecting the human rights of others” will be merely “voluntary.”

By the sound of it, the new text will read like Quotations from Justin Trudeau: “Canada has learned how to be strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.” This platitude was already amply and more informatively manifested in the Conservative version.

More important than merely reproducing bon mots is the need to explain why. Why is Canada a successful society, why do we enjoy “ordered liberty,” and why do we have “unity in diversity,” as Kenney often said in his speeches. Immigrants seeking the freedom and order of Western societies like to be told why. The United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands all improved their citizenship guides around the same time as we did.

The Tories’ guide was an effort to show that our tradition of rights and freedoms was not born of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pluralism in Canada is deeply rooted in history and laws — a “tradition of accommodation” founded on English tradition, including the Magna Carta of 1215, the Royal Proclamation respecting native rights in 1763, and the Quebec Act of 1774. The guide recognizes that the early centuries of relations between natives and newcomers were largely positive thanks to “strong economic, religious, and military bonds in the first 200 years of coexistence which laid the foundations of Canada.”

What matters is not the mere fact of diversity but why it has worked in Canada. Will the Grits be able to come up with a better explanation? Will they attempt any explanation at all?

Source: C.P. Champion: ‘New’ citizenship guide shows Liberals are the copy cats

Newcomers – Reconciliation Needs You Too – New Canadian Media

One of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and one that will likely be implemented to some degree.

As Adrienne Clarkson notes in her book, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, when immigrants become citizens they inherit both the good and bad parts of our history, and thus better knowledge of the history of Indigenous Peoples and their treatment is essential.

It is likely, should the Liberal government revise the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, (almost a certainty), the overall diversity and inclusion theme will feature prominently, including with respect to Indigenous Peoples:

Canada’s Indigenous people are asking immigrants to join the nationwide process of reconciliation by learning about and celebrating Indigenous culture.

One of the many recommendations that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published in their final report calls on the government to incorporate more information on the history of Canada’s diverse Indigenous communities in information kits for newcomers and in citizenship tests.

This includes information on residential schools and the Treaties through which settlers dispossessed the Indigenous peoples of their land.

The recommendation is just one 94 outlined in the report from the TRC, whose work on restoring the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous communities culminated with the report’s delivery on Dec. 15, 2015.

Learning the true history of Canada

“I really think it’s important to realize that this was not an empty land when people came here. There were thriving nations in this land,” says Jane Hubbard, acting director of operations of the Legacy of Hope Foundation.

Her organization works to raise awareness about the history of residential schools in Canada and to promote reconciliation among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

“I think it’s very important that the true history be told, so that people understand that Canada did not start in 1867. There was a long history before contact as well,” she says.

Hubbard says Aboriginal peoples’ present-day contributions to society should also be included and celebrated.

“Often in a lot of government materials, Aboriginal peoples are referred to in such a way as to make someone think that perhaps they are a historical entity,” she says.

It is vital that newcomers do independent research to learn about Indigenous culture, instead of absorbing the misinterpretations of the general narrative.

“We would like to see more of the current-day representation. Thriving cultures, restoration of language. That people are here and walking amongst us and that they are lively contributors to society.”

Andrew Tataj is a second-generation Canadian whose parents came to Canada in the 1970s from Ireland and former Yugoslavia. “Learning about our history is important, because it can help newcomers assimilate into our culture, especially knowing about the country’s past – good and bad things,” says the computer engineer.

However, he is skeptical about the positive effect of providing more information. “I don’t think much can be changed when it comes to awareness. … It won’t get their land back,” he says.

Participating in reconciliation

Heather Igloliorte, an Inuit professor and chair in Indigenous art history and community engagement at Concordia University, outlines some ways in which newcomers can participate actively in the process of reconciliation.

“I think that one of the things that new Canadians could do is attend festivals and celebrations and Aboriginal peoples’ day and other events, so that they have an opportunity to meet and converse with Indigenous people. So that their understanding does not come only from literature, but also from first-person experience,” she says.

One of the primary focuses of the TRC was to expose the truths of the residential-school system.

Igloliorte says that it is vital that newcomers do independent research to learn about Indigenous culture, instead of absorbing the misinterpretations of the general narrative about them.

“It’s incredibly important for newcomers to Canada to understand the history of how we got to where we are today, so that they do not simply absorb the stereotypes and the racist perspectives towards Indigenous people that we still have in Canada right now,” says Igloliorte.

“I think Aboriginal people did not receive enough respect from the very beginning,” says Khaled Elrodesly, a biomedical engineer from Egypt who recently took his citizenship test. “They are supposed to be the first settlers of the Americas and everyone else that comes after them should respect their thoughts and ideas and try to connect with them.”

Source: Newcomers – Reconciliation Needs You Too – New Canadian Media

Thérèse Casgrain, feminist icon, quietly shunted by Harper government

Governments unfortunately have a tendency to remake history in their own image, as this vignette about the Thérèse Casgrain indicates:

Michèle Nadeau, Casgrains granddaughter, says her family and the Montreal-based Thérèse Casgrain Foundation, which she heads, were not consulted about whether the award should be eliminated.

“We were informed of a sort of internal review that was done by the Human Resources Department, and they decided to discontinue. But we were never consulted.

“Basically, we were advised that at some point the award would be discontinued … Members of the family, the grandchildren, etc., the great grandchildren, were rather upset.”

An image of Casgrain and her namesake volunteer-award medal also disappeared from Canadas $50 bank note in 2012, replaced by the image of an icebreaker on a new currency series.

An image of the so-called Famous Five women was removed from the same bank note.

The Casgrain Award was killed once before by the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1990, but was revived in 2001 by the Chretien Liberals.

During preparations for Discover Canada, officials recommended including the Famous Five as part of the historical narrative and to reinforce the some of the values messages but this was not accepted.

Never completely understood why removal rather than appropriating but there is a consistent thread to these and related actions.

Thérèse Casgrain, feminist icon, quietly shunted by Harper government – Montreal – CBC News.