OTTAWA – 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.
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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.
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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.