"discover canada": the harper government's vision of canada and of immigrants

new cover
Cover of "Discover Canda," the CIC's new guide to citizenship

In November 2009, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced the release of a new study guide to help immigrants prepare for Canadian citizenship. The new guide, called "Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship" replaced a booklet called "A Look at Canada," first published by Jean Chrétien's Liberal government in 1997 and updated in 2005 by Paul Martin's Liberal government.

This is a comparison of the two guides and the differing visions of Canada they reflect.

A noticeable absence of peace

The new booklet was announced with much fanfare. In a media release chock full of praise, Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the ultra-conservative Dominion Institute, gives an enthusiastic "Two thumbs up!"; historian Margaret MacMillan says approvingly, "It is not easy to capture Canada — its geography, its people, its society and its history — in a brief document, but this one does a fine job." Military historian and war apologist Jack Granatstein says, "At last, Canada has a guide for prospective citizens that is not an embarrassment."

The CIC's media release also provided media with highlights of Canadian history and culture that were absent in the old guide but are included in the new.

[topic old guide new guide]
Responsible government No mention 3 paragraphs, page 18
The First World War No mention Featured section, page 21
Women's voting rights No mention Featured section, page 21
Remembrance Day No mention Featured sidebar, page 22
Second World War No mention Featured section, page 23

And so on.

But when "Discover Canada" was released, some media noted a change not mentioned by the CIC. This paragraph from the old guide--
Canada has a long tradition of welcoming newcomers because they increase the diversity and richness of Canadian society. Canadians are proud of the peaceful and tolerant society they have built.
--is absent from the new one. The two publications are organized differently, so one cannot point to a paragraph that specifically replaces this identifying description. The closest might be this:
Canada has welcomed generations of newcomers to our shores to help us build a free, law-abiding and prosperous society. For 400 years, settlers and immigrants have contributed to the diversity and richness of our country, which is built on a proud history and a strong identity.

One can debate whether either phrase is historically accurate, or which comes closer to Canadians' view of themselves, but that's a separate and more complex discussion. Indisputable, however, is that under the Harper government and the Ministry headed by Jason Kenney, law and order trump peace and tolerance.

The Globe and Mail put it this way:
The Conservative government will redefine what it means to be Canadian this week by introducing a new guide to citizenship, a rare and significant attempt to reshape the national image.

The new document, which will be the citizenship study guide for the 250,000 immigrants who arrive in Canada each year, instantly becomes one of the country's most widely read and potentially influential pieces of writing. It will replace a document created by the Liberals in 1997 that the Conservatives criticized for its anemic presentation of Canadian history and identity.

No longer will new Canadians be told that Canada is strictly a nation of peacekeepers, for example. The new guide places a much greater emphasis on Canada's military history, from the Great War to the present day.

We recently learned that Kenney took a personal interest in removing all references to Canada's leadership role in equal rights for gay and lesbian citizens from this guide. The CIC already had removed from its website references to Canada welcoming US war resisters during the Vietnam War.

I applied to emigrate to Canada in 2003, became a Permanent Resident in 2005, and applied for citizenship as soon as I was eligible, in 2008. Because of that timing, I eventually received both guides in the mail. In this post, I examine and compare the two booklets, to discover exactly what the Conservative government wants immigrants to know about their country of choice, how the government views immigrants, and how it views Canada.

You can read, order, listen to or download "Discover Canada" here.

A prettier package, but what's inside?

When one compares the old and new guides side-by-side, the first thing that jumps out is the much higher production values used in the new version. "Discover Canada" has a much more professional look and feel.

"A Look at Canada" sports a full-colour, glossy cover, but when you flip it open, you find a very plain, black and white booklet, with some text highlighted in red. All the photographs are black and white.

old cover
Cover of "A Look at Canada," the old citizenship guide created by previous Liberal governments

The page layout is reminiscent of a grade-school workbook. The language is very simple, with key words and phrases highlighted in the margins.

old sample page
A sample page from "A Look at Canada," the old citizenship guide

Printing was much more expensive in the pre-digital era, and the old guide obviously was done on the cheap. That's not necessarily a bad thing. We can all imagine the headlines decrying a Liberal government's unnecessary spending on a slick, magazine-style booklet. Digital technology has made full-colour printing cost-effective, and the Conservatives were able to take advantage of that. The quality of the writing is improved, but the font size is smaller and the text is geared to a higher reading level than the old guide.

new sample page 02
A sample page from "Discover Canada," the new citizenship guide

Rights and responsibilities, contempt and distrust

"A Look at Canada" (the old guide) begins with the question "What Does Canadian Citizenship Mean?", and offers this answer:
Canadian values include freedom, respect for cultural differences and a commitment to social justice. We are proud of the fact that we are a peaceful nation. In fact, Canadians act as peacekeepers in many countries around the world.

Under this, bold-face type shows: democracy, democratic values, equality, respect for cultural differences, freedom, peace, and law and order. It suggests to readers:
As you reflect on these values, as yourself which responsibilities you will take on when you become a Canadian citizen.

Next (still in the old guide), the section "Introducing Canada" tells us:
Throughout Canada's history, millions of immigrants have helped build our country. We welcome people from more than 150 countries each year.

It immediately mentions the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the original people of Canada, and Canada's official bilingualism.

By contrast, the new guide begins with "Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship". In the summary of the rights of all Canadians, Canada's own Charter of Rights and Freedoms takes a back seat to Magna Carta. This is another frequent underlying theme: an emphasis on Canada's British (and somewhat French) heritage and colonial roots.

After a brief look at a few Charter rights, "Discover Canada" issues a warning.
In Canada, men and women are equal under the law. 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.

The reference to "barbaric cultural practices" fairly leaps from the page, its language completely out of step with the otherwise bland tone of the text. One would think that if it weren't for immigrants and their "barbaric cultural practices," violence against women would have been eradicated from Canadian society. As we are all aware, some people bred among the "English-speaking and French-speaking Christian civilizations" mentioned in this booklet also indulge in such barbarism.

Indeed, on the following page, there is a reference to a certain cultural practice that saw aboriginal Canadian children forcibly removed from their homes, forbidden to speak their own language or practice their own religion, and subjected to horrific abuse. Sounds pretty barbaric to me. And it was the ruling elite - the dominant immigrant culture, the "English-speaking . . . Christian civilizations" - that practiced this. Now we have the descendants of those ruling elites, warning that abuse of women by foreign immigrant cultures will not be tolerated.

It should be obvious that I abhor the abuse of women in all its many forms. But Canadian-born Canadians may abuse women, too, and they may or may not be punished for it. Whether it is the missing or murdered aboriginal women, the Canadian women who are murdered by a current or former partner (one or two each week), the murdered survival sex workers in Vancouver, or the millions of Canadian women who will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, violence against women knows no cultural boundaries. This Conservative government has shown nothing but contempt for women's rights, but here they are lecturing immigrants on equality. It speaks not only of the government's hypocrisy, but their fear and distrust of the people they are supposedly welcoming in this booklet.

Responsibility is also mentioned in the old guide, although not as prominently. Towards the back of the book, we are told that Canadians' rights are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (no mention of Magna Carta or Britain), with a brief summary of those rights. Then:
All Canadian citizens have the responsibility to:

- vote in elections;

- help others in the community;

- care for and protect our heritage and environment;

- obey Canada's laws;

- express opinions freely while respecting the rights and freedoms of others; and

- eliminate discrimination and injustice.

In the new guide, immediately following the warning about violence against women, there is a list of "Citizenship Responsibilities", with brief descriptions after each. I have included the descriptions of the first two.
- Obeying the law: One of Canada's founding principles is the rule of law. Individuals and governments are regulated by laws and not by arbitrary actions. No person or group is above the law.

- Taking responsibility for oneself and one's family: Getting a job, taking care of one's family, and working hard in keeping with one's abilities, are important Canadian values. Work contributes to personal dignity and self-respect, and to Canada's prosperity.

- Serving on a jury

- Voting in elections

- Helping others in the community

- Protecting and enjoying our heritage and environment

Social justice is gone. Respecting other people's opinions has also been deleted. The top two responsibilities are now: obey the law and get a job. The specifics of this list and its prominent placement speak to the Harper government's and the Kenney CIC's paternalistic, condescending disdain for immigrants. They must be lectured on responsibility. They must be warned that Canada will not tolerate their lazy, illegal habits.

I'm aware of no evidence that shows immigrants are any less law-abiding than Canadian-born citizens, or that working hard is a particularly Canadian-born trait. Chinese and Irish labour built the Canadian national railroad in the 19th Century. Italian, Ukrainian, German and other European-born farmers toiled through the harsh climate to grow wheat and raise livestock. Today, Canada's cities and suburbs crackle with the energies of the children and grandchildren of immigrants, and immigrants themselves, working in health, law, finance, technology, education, the arts, and every other conceivable field.

It's difficult to emigrate to Canada. One needs education, employability, language skills and quite a bit of money. To emigrate anywhere requires intelligence, organization and not a little gumption. Why must such prospective citizens be warned about obeying the law and supporting their families? The selection of "responsibilities" in the guide, and their prominent placement, reflects underlying prejudice and the bigoted, mistaken belief that immigrants come to Canada to "live off the system". Combined with the reference to "barbaric cultural practices," this is evidence of the view of immigrants as coming from lawless, savage cultures, people who will need to be tamed by Canadian - an extension of British - society.

Environment out, military in

Early in the old guide, there is a two-page spread called "Protecting the Environment – Sustainable Development".
Economic growth is crucial for the future prosperity of Canada, but growth must be managed carefully so that it does not harm the environment. The Canadian government is committed to the goal of sustainable development, which means economic growth that is environmentally sound.

It lists several ways that Canadians can protect the environment, including recycling, reusing, composting, conserving home energy, car pooling or using public transit, planting trees and becoming active in local conservation groups.

In the new guide, the sole mention of the environment is under "Responsibilities".
- Protecting and enjoying our heritage and environment. Every citizen has a role to play in avoiding waste and pollution while protecting Canada's natural, cultural, and architectural heritage for future generations.

Clearly not a priority. My question is, does "every citizen" include the Prime Minister, his cabinet and their friends in industry?

Also on the "Responsibilities" page, under the heading "Defending Canada," new Canadians are encouraged to join the military.
There is no compulsory military service in Canada. However, serving in the regular Canadian Forces (navy, army and air force) is a noble way to contribute to Canada and an excellent career choice. You can serve in your local part-time navy, militia, and air reserves and gain valuable experience, skills, and contacts. Young people can learn discipline, responsibility, and skills by getting involved in the cadets.

You may also serve in the Coast Guard or emergency services in your community such as a police force or fire department. By helping to protect your community, you follow in the footsteps of Canadians before you who made sacrifices in the service of our country (page 9).

Below that, the proud, smiling faces of Canadian troops beam at us. No amputees here. No caskets. No PTSD. No mention that this "noble" career choice may require you to kill civilians in a mission that has nothing to do with "defending Canada".

The old guide does not mention military service. In the "Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities" section, it states:
Being a Canadian citizen is more than voting and obeying laws. Being a citizen also means getting involved in your community and your country. Everyone has something to give to make Canada a better place. Here are some ways to participate:

- join a community group such as an environmental group;

- volunteer to work on an election campaign for a candidate of your choice;

- help your neighbours;

- work with others to solve problems in your community; and

- become a candidate in an election.

There's nothing wrong with pairing rights and responsibilities. But while our rights as citizens are specific and codified in law, our responsibilities as citizens - whether Canadian-born or foreign-born - are more subjective. Obviously we all have a responsibility to obey the law. Presumably immigrants come from countries where citizens are also supposed to obey the law.

Do we have a legal responsibility to work hard? To vote? To volunteer in our community? Not really. We'd like everyone to do these things, but we can't compel them – not for New Canadians, and not for Canadian-born Canadians either. Canadian-born Canadians are not required to sign a loyalty oath, nor are they required to adhere to any government's Rules To Live By. Only immigrants are lectured and warned in this manner.

The references to "barbaric cultural practices," obeying the law and supporting one's family, and indeed the prominence of the "responsibilities" list must be seen in context of the Harper government's continued attacks on immigrants and refugees, represented by Minister Kenney.

We've heard that immigrants who can't speak English or French well enough should be denied citizenship.

We've seen public denigration of refugee claimants as "bogus" and "clogging up the system".

We've seen the persistent under-funding and under-staffing of the Immigration and Refugee Board, and the sharply decreasing numbers of refugee claimants admitted to Canada.

We've seen the Conservatives create a backlog of immigration applications, then throw all the cases out.

We've seen them refuse entry to Canada to prominent foreign citizens whose opinions they don't agree with.

We've seen them cut funding to immigrant settlement groups that teach the language skills Kenney claimed immigrants need.

We've seen them repeatedly refuse to help Canadian citizens - all brown, all Muslim - trapped in other countries, even in concentration camps or prisons. And so on.

Seen in this context, this list of the responsibilities of citizenship looks ever more odious. Jason Kenney has said many times that Canadian citizenship has been devalued by being too easily acquired. Yet most people acquire it by accident of birth, and are asked very little in return. Only immigrants are singled out for lectures on responsibilities. The government seems to fear these newcomers will not know the basic requirements of adulthood.

A monarchy or a democracy?

In the old guide, the Oath of Citizenship, which all New Canadians are required to recite, appears at the end of the book. In the new guide, the Oath is the first thing you see when you open the cover. Along with pride of place on the inside cover, the Oath is accompanied by a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, and another of a cute brown child, smartly dressed, raising his hand, presumably as he recites the Oath. If it weren't for the Maple Leaf flag in both pictures, you might think you were seeing Queen Victoria inspect one the jewels in her empire crown.

This is significant. On the very first page, we read, "Canada is a constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary democracy and a federal state." The new guide includes three pictures of Queen Elizabeth II and a full 30 references to the monarchy or the Queen - including the lyrics to "God Save the Queen," which I've never heard sung in Canada. (It also includes the lyrics in French. Why do I think that song is not very popular among Francophones?)

In the old guide, Canada's political system is described this way:
Canada is a democracy. It has a system of parliamentary government. Parliament has three parts: the Queen, the House of Commons and the Senate.

Democracy is listed first. There is no mention of the monarchy. I count only three references to the Queen. The new guide has ten times the number of references to the Queen as the old guide.

The new guide gives ample, respectful mention to the original inhabitants of the land now called Canada. It then tells us that:
Canadian society today stems largely from the English-speaking and French-speaking Christian civilizations that were brought here from Europe by settlers (page 11).

That might be a fair description of the roots of modern Canada. But does it reflect "Canadian society today"? On page 25, we read, "By the 1960s, one-third of Canadians had origins that were neither British nor French, and took pride in preserving their distinct culture in the Canadian fabric."

According to Statistics Canada, by 2031, 46% of Canadians aged 15 and older will be either foreign born or with at least one foreign-born parent (up from 39% in 2006). It's true that Canada was founded by British and French settlers who took the land from aboriginal people, and it's important to know your new country's history. But how relevant is that British, Christian background to modern immigrants? Or, for that matter, most Canadian-born Canadians?

Under "Diversity in Canada," the new guide tells us:
The majority of Canadians were born in this country and this has been true since the 1800s. However, Canada is often referred to as a land of immigrants because, over the past 200 years, millions of newcomers have helped to build and defend our way of life.

Today, many ethnic and religious groups live and work in peace as proud Canadians. The largest groups are the English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, Chinese, Aboriginal, Ukrainian, Dutch, South Asian, and Scandinavian. Since the 1970s, most immigrants have come from Asian countries.

Non-official languages are widely spoken in Canadian homes. Chinese languages are the second most-spoken at home, after English, in two of Canada’s biggest cities. In Vancouver, 13% of the population speaks Chinese languages at home; in Toronto, the number is 7%.

The great majority of Canadians identify as Christians. The largest religious affiliation is Roman Catholic, followed by various Protestant churches. The numbers of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and members of other religions, as well as atheists, are also growing. In Canada the state has traditionally partnered with faith communities to promote social welfare, harmony and mutual respect; to provide schools and health care; to resettle refugees; and to uphold religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

Together, these diverse groups, sharing a common Canadian identity, make up today's multicultural society.

It is disingenuous to say "the majority of Canadians were born in this country," as a huge percentage of Canadians have parents or grandparents born elsewhere. The majority may be Canadian-born, but not necessarily descended from British or French ancestry.

Statements like "the great majority of Canadians identify as Christians" and "Canadian society today stems largely from the English-speaking and French-speaking Christian civilizations" send a subtle but clear message to immigrants of colour and those who are not Christian. Despite what you may have heard from your friends and family, if you are not Christian, and you don't speak English, you will always be an outsider. Are you sure this is the country for you?

Lots of history and culture, but who's not included?

As noted by several hand-picked historians in the CIC media release, the new guide offers a capsule version of Canadian history that the old guide didn't attempt. Like much official history, it's a story largely defined by war: the War of 1812, World War I, World War II. Similarly, under "Canadian Symbols" (pages 38-41), the Victoria Cross gets pride of place over the "Order of Canada and other honours", using a lot more real estate and many prominent photos. A small margin photo of jazz great Oscar Peterson receiving the Order of Canada is dwarfed by six prominent photos of men (including one person of colour) who have received "the highest honour available to Canadians," "awarded for the most conspicuous bravery, a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."

I give the authors of the new guide a lot of credit for including some of the shameful episodes in Canada's history: aboriginal residential schools, detention and forced relocation of Japanese-Canadians during World War II, legal discrimination against Chinese immigrants, turning away Jews fleeing Nazi genocide. There is significant attention to aboriginal peoples, and although the language is bland, as one would expect in such a document, the content has not been sanitized. One may say that the government is forced to do this these days, but regardless of motive, these facts are included. It's a very positive development that would not have been seen in previous generations.

Along with history, there is a celebration of Canadian cultural achievements: art, film, science, sports. In sports we see Donovan Bailey, Chantal Petitclerc, Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky. A margin photo of Olympic gold-medalist Mark Tewksbury is captioned as a "prominent activist for gay and lesbian Canadians" (the guide's only mention of queer culture). The nine "discovery and invention" highlights are all male.

In the section "Modern Canada," we learn that:
Canada welcomed thousands of refugees from Communist oppression, including 50,000 who escaped Soviet tyranny in Hungary in 1956. Rules that gave preference to Europeans were removed from immigration laws in the 1960s. With the victory of North Vietnam in 1975, many Vietnamese fled from Communism, including over 50,000 who sought refuge in Canada. (24)

Interesting. Fifty thousand Vietnamese refugees escaping "Communist oppression" are highlighted, but no mention is made of another major influx of immigrants - who also wanted to leave or avoid Vietnam! In his book Northern Passage, John Hagan shows that between 50,000 and 100,000 American men and women came to Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That is a very sizeable number relative to the total population of Canada at the time, and the Vietnam war resisters had a profound influence on Canadian society. Canada was hailed throughout the world as a safe haven for military resistance; the Prime Minister publicly declared Canada "should be a refuge from militarism". That piece of Canadian history is absent from this guide. You can be sure Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau is not quoted here!

Speaking of politics, "Discover Canada" includes a bit of unintentional humour, or at least irony. When describing Parliamentary Democracy on page 28, the guide says: "Cabinet ministers are responsible to the elected representatives, which means they must retain the "confidence of the House" and have to resign if they are defeated in a non-confidence vote." Perhaps there's an invisible asterisk: Liberal governments only.

The old guide included two-page profiles of each region of Canada. The new guide has shortened these considerably, putting two or three regions on a page, giving the profiles more photographs and less text. The "for more information" section is expanded, and there are travel and tourism website URLs listed by region and province.

Stephen Harper's Canada

This, in brief, is Stephen Harper's, Jason Kenney's and the Conservative Government's Canada. A country that: does not value peace and tolerance; measures its history by armed conflict; does not encourage its citizens to work for social justice; is not concerned with protecting the environment; reveres the monarchy; is mostly Christian; warns immigrants to tame their savage ways; and emphasizes obedience to authority.

One last quote from "Discover Canada": "Help us serve you better! Tell us what you think of this publication at www.cic.gc.ca/feedback."

No comments: