By Sharon Taylor –
Canada celebrated Citizenship Week from October 10 to 16 this year, and it was a good time for all Canadians, whether by birth or choice, to reflect on what it means to be a Canadian in today’s complex world.
To become a citizen, a person must pay a fee (presently $630), meet certain eligibility requirements, and take a test to “demonstrate an adequate knowledge of Canada and responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.” Most people in the Cariboo region have to take the test in Prince George. They must pass the 30-minute test with at least 16 correct out of 20 questions. The questions can come from any part of the Discover Canada text provided by the federal government, including charts and illustrations.
In the past three years, Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society has worked with nearly 20 people in Williams Lake who have become Canadian citizens. We help fill out forms, make payments to the federal government online, and prepare for the test. The 70-page Discover Canada booklet is full of information the government thinks all Canadians should know, but the reality is that lots of us born and educated here probably don’t know as much as we think we do, and certainly many of us would have trouble passing the test without studying.
The first page of the booklet describes the Oath of Citizenship, which all new citizens take as part of their ceremony:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her Heirs and Successors
And that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Although it looks like a pledge of loyalty to a person (Queen Elizabeth), new Canadians commit to the “Sovereign”: the person representing the constitutional monarchy. According to the Discover Canada text, “Canada is personified by the Sovereign just as the Sovereign is personified by Canada.”
Canadian law is informed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which in turn is based on the Magna Carta (the Great Charter) signed by King John of England in 1215. It identified the following as significant rights for all.
- freedom of conscience and religion;
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of speech and of the press;
- freedom of peaceful assembly; and,
freedom of association.
These rights became entrenched in the
1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For those following along in the Discover Canada text, we are only on page 8. We have Equality of Women and Men to talk about, Citizenship Responsibilities, and Defending Canada (p. 9). And then we have highlights of 400 years of Canada’s history, with a brief stop to acknowledge the many Aboriginal people who lived in this area before colonization (p. 10-23).
We have to talk about Modern Canada, our trading partners, economic base, and inventions and discoveries (p. 24-27). Next, we have the complicated chapter on How Canadians Govern Themselves (p. 28-35), the Justice System, Canadian Symbols, and Canada’s Economy (p. 36, 38, and 42).
Finally, as Canadian history is closely linked to our geography, we have six pages on Canada’s Regions, including some key facts about each province and territory. People taking the test are expected to know a little extra about where they live: for example, BC has Canada’s most extensive park system, with approximately 600 parks, and Chinese and Punjabi are the most commonly spoken languages after English.
If that all seems like a lot of material to cover, we aren’t done yet. On every fewpages are tiny illustrations with “fun facts”: jazz musician Oscar Peterson receiving his Order of Canada and hockey player Paul Henderson scoring the winning goal in the 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series.
Becoming a Canadian citizen used to be a simple process. People have told me about speaking to an immigration officer on the phone and then receiving their citizenship certificate in the mail. But nothing is as simple as it was in the past. And some rules haven’t changed: you cannot become a citizen by marrying a Canadian, and only children younger than 14 become citizens when their parents do. Becoming a citizen of Canada requires thought and commitment.
I wonder how many of us born here in Canada take our citizenship seriously. A citizen can do three things a permanent resident cannot: hold a Canadian passport, run for political office, and vote. Although the 2016 federal election saw a rise in voting numbers, it was still less than 70 per cent of the eligible population. Voting is our primary responsibility as Canadians, and 1 in 3 people in Canada do not participate.
You can bet the people who choose to become citizens do.
Sharon Taylor has lived in Williams Lake most of the past 35 years with her husband Rob. Together they have raised four loving and compassionate children, have taught hundreds of students in elementary school and at the university, and have been leaders in the Anglican church here and in Vancouver. Sharon now works with the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society to help newcomers to Canada settle in the Cariboo.