The Inside Story on the Discover Canada Citizenship Guide

2 03 2010

In December, the federal government introduced Discover Canada, a new study guide for immigrants wishing to become Canadian citizens. At the time, I used this blog to point out some of the flaw of the historical sections of the guide. These flaws included factual errors and serious omissions. The guide says very little about the political history of Canada in the twentieth century and fails to mention such important Prime Ministers as Mackenzie King, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, and Brian Mulroney! How you can pretend to talk about Canadian history without mentioning these figures is beyond me.  Moreover, the guide says almost nothing about the social history of Canada, which is even more distressing because many immigrants come from countries with radically different social histories. Last December, people noticed that there was almost no information about the history of divorce, abortion, and homosexuality in Canada. I think that it is important that an immigrant from say India, which decriminalized homosexuality in 2009, should know that Canada made the same move back in the 1960s.

Thanks to a story in today’s Globe, we know that material on these controversial topics were included in the original version of the guide and were edited out by the immigration minister, Jason Kenney.

Le Devoir has also carried this story. I’m curious to know what the reaction in Quebec to this story is, since Quebec’s classes for immigrants do indeed stress the rights of women and gays.

One hopes that John Baird, Mr. Kenney’s cabinet colleague, will speak up on this important issue. Baird arguably represents the mainstream in Canadian society far more than Mr. Kenney.

It is clear that the guide will have to be revised so that it reflects the values of Canadian society rather than a small clique of people who do not represent the values of ordinary Canadians. However, we should give some thought as the best process for writing a guide of this nature. It would be wrong for the guide to reflect the values of either the far right (monarchists or some Airborne Regiment veteran) or the extreme left (Quebec Solidaire types) or any other small group be they snow-mobile drivers, ice fishers, or pipe fitters . The guide should reflect the values of the mainstream, the majority.  Obviously we can’t put this guide to the people of Canada in a referendum for approval, but by using Wikipedia-style technology the federal government empower ordinary Canadians to have a voice in the making of this guide. The government should cap the length of the guide and then let ordinary Canadians debate what sort of values should be fitted into the available space.

Let me just say that I find it very curious that the Canadian Historical Association, which is supposed to speak for the historical profession in this country, has had absolutely nothing to say about the atrociously bad historical sections in the Discover Canada guide. The only reasonable explanation for the appalling silence of the Canadian Historical Association is that the organization’s offices are located in a building owned by the federal government and they do not wish to antagonize their landlord.



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