Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Canada, mon amour



A friend of mine, a Sea to Sky artist, got her Canadian citizenship just last week.

The swearing-in ceremony was in Vancouver, bright and early, before 9 a.m., and when I observed that maybe the government was giving her a final test to find out how punctual she is, her main concern was that new Canadians coming from more remote parts of B.C. would find it even harder to get to the ceremony than she did.

She's empathetic; a great addition to our clan.

And she is incredibly thrilled to become a hoser (eh); her friends all met up later in the day to celebrate wearing red and white garments in order to drink red and white wine. Gordon Lightfoot songs were sung. Maple leafs were prominent. A beautiful citizenship certificate was passed around and admired.

I was 12 when I took my own oath of citizenship with my family, 38 years ago. I vividly remember the classes beforehand, the tests and the excitement of the actual day as dozens of people crossed the Canadian Rubicon together in Winnipeg. I was proud and happy.

We emigrated from England when I was two, so I had no memory of any other country being home. That I could be anything other than who I was and who I continue to be — with my deepest identity wrapped up in this beautiful, young country — was and is unimaginable, though I recall being mildly worried that I'd somehow fail the test and would end up in some kind of citizenship limbo.

But in the end it was simple; they took me. We chose each other. The place that was already my only home was reaffirmed. I've seen this time and again with others. Many of my friends and their families who were born in other places go through a lot to settle here.

They feel lucky and most of the time, Canada reciprocates.

Flawed and flawless, Canada has been a consistent love of mine. When I lived away from it for 15 years, it became even more important as the creator of my worldview.

I want to see it prosper, I want it to grow. And for that we need people.

Five years ago the Canadian citizenship process was overhauled by the federal government with the aim of making it more meaningful to them. At least that was what was said at the time.

The thing is, the changes are backfiring.

Never mind the fact that today my family would not have made it here. In the late 1960s, skilled tradespeople were needed and my father, with eight years experience as a glazier at the age of 23, could bring his family.

My parents didn't have money or post-secondary educations. The invisible walls around Canada for people like us are much higher now.

But for those who do succeed at gaining permanent residency status, whether through the mainstream immigration system or as refugees, they are coming up against new, unnecessary problems.

The percentage of immigrants who becomes citizens has been dropping dramatically, according to the CBC's The Current and the Toronto Star — down from 79 per cent of those who arrived in 2000 to just 26 per cent for those who came to Canada in 2008. In 2007, the rate was 44 per cent, an 18-per-cent drop in one year.

Andrew Griffith, the former director general of the Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, flagged the issue at a national immigration and settlement conference in Vancouver last week.

He said the permanent-resident-to-citizen processing rates rise according to how long individuals have been in this country, but called the difference between 2007 and 2008 "alarming."

Griffith says raising the score needed to pass of the citizenship test, up from 60 per cent in 2010 to 75 per cent today, is one example.

Not surprisingly, Citizenship and Immigration Canada disputes this, saying Griffith does not account for those who haven't yet met all the requirements, and added that the average mark is 85 per cent.

So... could I pass the test? Yeah, but as I wrote above I'm bit of sentimental about this country and it's not just because I like Timbits and the Habs. I read our stories; I keep up with what's happening in Ottawa.

I wrote four out of 10 versions of the test that are offered and my lowest pass rate was 92 per cent.

It's a well-rounded test with questions about the constitutional monarchy, Vimy Ridge, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and even one about British Columbia's role as the Pacific Gateway.

I'd like to propose that we all take a crack at the test and that the federal government determine how new Canadians pass it by seeing how established Canadians do.

Why should immigrants be the only ones forced to think about who we are as a nation?

And if the test is found wanting then let's consider why.