October 1, 2003
|Do you like to compost? Ride public transit? Garden without chemicals? If so, you are deserving of becoming a Canadian, says Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the federal department that decides who’s worthy and who’s not. If you’re not into organic gardening, it makes clear, you don’t meet a basic test of Canadian citizenship.||
For immigrants to become citizens, they must pass a test that displays their knowledge of the meaning of being Canadian. To help them pass, the government provides a Coles Notes of citizenship, a 45-page booklet entitled A Look at Canada that provides all they need know. “The questions in the citizenship test are based on information provided in this booklet,” it matter-of-factly admits.
What is at Canada’s essential core that our government imparts to newcomers, to awe and inspire them as they take the momentous step of adopting a new land as their own? To the bewilderment of would-be citizens, the booklet explains that Canada is about composting, recycling, planting trees and being environmentally friendly – these four concepts are singled out for memorization in the first chapter’s “Key words” section. The text of the first chapter, which is called “Protecting the Environment – Sustainable Development,” then elaborates on what people need to study in order to become citizens. “All citizens should act in a responsible manner toward the environment so that our children have the opportunity to live in a country that is clean and prosperous,” it states.
The government does its part, too, by fostering a “carefully managed” economy, the booklet explains to our immigrants, many of whom fled controlled economies for the democracy and economic freedom we offer. “The Canadian government is committed to the goal of sustainable development, which means economic growth that is environmentally sound.”
Nothing in this guide to Canadian citizenship celebrates Canada’s history as a British colony, or our role as a Commonwealth country, or our heroism in the First and Second World War – defining attributes of our nationhood. John Cabot, who discovered Canada on behalf of the British Crown, is described only as an Italian explorer. The role of Great Britain and the English, in fact, is trivialized throughout. A Look at Canada explains that the French “were the first Europeans to settle permanently in Canada. Over time, they were joined by settlers from the British Isles and Germany.” The United Empire Loyalists? “They had various ethnic backgrounds, including English, Irish, Scottish, German, Swiss, Dutch, Italian, Jewish and African-American.”
What does the guide stress? Aboriginals, First Nations and the Inuit, followed by farmers, loggers and miners. It persists in the stereotype of Canada as a nation of resource workers, although upwards of 90% of the population depends on the urban economy for its livelihood and the resource economy has all but vanished – resource industries now account for about 6% of Canada’s GDP and almost none of its wealth.
If misleading soon-to-be-Canadians about the nature of the Canadian economy weren’t bad enough, the guide also confuses them as to their rights and responsibilities. Canadians have the right to vote; we do not have the responsibility to vote, as the guide claims. Unlike the totalitarian countries that require citizens to vote, in our democracy we are allowed to boycott an election by not showing up, or to spoil our ballot if we do. Similarly, it is not a responsibility of citizenship to “volunteer to work on an election campaign” or “care for and protect our heritage and environment.”
Worst of all, perhaps, the guide misunderstands the difference between one’s humanity and one’s citizenship. Immigrants do not need a lesson from our federal government about the need to “help your neighbours” or “work with others to solve problems in your community.” Immigrants do these things, as do we all, not because we wish to be good citizens of Canada but because we wish to be good citizens of the world. Our federal government’s arrogance in assuming that it has something to teach us about our responsibility toward one another as human beings is breathtaking.
A Look at Canada is part conceit, part deceit, part distortion. Few Canadians would recognize the country the booklet describes or subscribe to its pap. Through its politically correct portrayal of Canada, it demeans all Canadians by stripping us of our history, our culture, our distinctiveness and our values. Through the charade that it requires of those who would become citizens of our country, it denies the ennobling experience that should be the act of joining Canada.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Toronto-based Urban Renaissance Institute. www.urban.probeinternational.org, E-mail: LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.
How to become a Canadian citizen
Achieving sustainable development is a long-term goal. Reaching it will require many changes in the way people act. Individuals can do many things in their daily lives to help protect the development and move toward sustainable development. Here are some examples:
- Throw waste paper or other garbage in designated public garbage containers.
- Compost, recycle, and re-use as many products as possible, such as paper, glass and cans.
- Conserve energy and water by turning off lights and taps when they are not being used.
- Walk, join a car pool, or use a bicycle or public transit whenever possible.
- Use products that are environmentally friendly.
- Plant trees and grow a garden. Avoid using chemicals.
- Get involved with a local group to protect our natural and cultural heritage.Good environmental citizenship means making sure that groups and individuals have the information they need and understand how to use it to take responsible environmental action.
Excerpted from A Look At Canada, published by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.