A textbook for Canada

The new citizenship guide better conveys what it means to be Canadian

A textbook for CanadaIf you want to pass the test, study the textbook. Any teacher or student will tell you that. So it is with becoming a Canadian citizen.

Yet the booklet given to potential new Canadians to study for their citizenship test has always been a dreary and incomplete affair. Last revised in 1995, “A Look at Canada” takes an antiseptic approach to Canadian life, ignores most of our past and is lacking in passion for this great country. If we want to provide immigrants with a full appreciation of Canadian rights and responsibilities, we ought to start by fixing the textbook.

This week Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney unveiled a brand-new citizenship guide, called “Discover Canada.” This new textbook for new Canadians is a timely improvement that will better convey to immigrants our shared history, as well as the expectations of life in Canada.

The teaching of Canadian history has long suffered from terminal dullness. The old citizenship booklet, for instance, starts in 1867 and suggests Canada began as a series of constitutional discussions. The new version provides ample detail on the backstory to Confederation. There is even mention of the fact the British won the Battle of Quebec in 1759, which has become anathema for some governments lately.

Dashing historical figures such as Sir Sam Steele of the Northwest Mounted Police share the page with the Cirque du Soleil, Terry Fox, Emily Carr and the Montreal Canadiens. Little-known historical highlights, such as Canada’s curtailment of slavery in 1793, are included alongside less glorious moments from the past, including the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.

Written with input from many notable Canadian historians, this new citizenship booklet is much more entertaining and comprehensive than the old one, and succeeds in making Canada’s history seem both relevant and necessary. As such, it should be recommended reading for any current Canadian who has forgotten the facts on Vimy Ridge, the suffragette movement or the Riel Rebellion.

Beyond remedying the historical oversights of previous versions, the new citizenship study guide also provides a clear-eyed and forceful statement of the expectations of current Canadian values. Not to put too fine a point on it, but page nine of the 62-page booklet 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.” It also reinforces the responsibilities of all Canadian adult citizens: including jury duty, getting a job and obeying the law. This was inexplicably missing from the old booklet.

At a time when many foreign cultures are viewed with some suspicion, it makes good sense to lay out the meaning and significance of the Canadian values we all must share. Ottawa’s new citizenship guide properly ensures every new immigrant will know what it really means to be a Canadian. But understanding our history and way of life is not something only new arrivals need to learn. Ottawa ought to give every Canadian a copy of its new citizenship booklet.

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