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Fatima, from Tunisia, takes part in a Canadian citizenship class Jun 28, 2012 at the Afghan Women's Organization in Toronto. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Fatima, from Tunisia, takes part in a Canadian citizenship class Jun 28, 2012 at the Afghan Women's Organization in Toronto. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Inside a Canadian citizenship class Add to ...

Eleven people sat around a small table last Friday afternoon, on the fifth floor of an office building not far from the Univeristy of Toronto. Scattered on the table, beside maple leaf cookies and a Tim Hortons cup, were copies of Discover Canada, the guidebook to becoming Canadian.

For two hours each week the class meets. Instructor Julia Jia does her best to teach her students what they need to pass the test. But inevitably, some will fail. Since the new test was introduced, Ms. Jia says she has noticed significantly more students are failing, particularly from China.

It’s among the countries that has a pass rate above the average but has seen a significant increase, making an increased risk of failure top of mind for test takers. In 2005, about two per cent of test-takers who were born in China, failed. In 2011, more than 10 per cent failed across Canada.

In class, Ms. Jia covered Canadian symbols covered in the book that could come up on the test, including the Crown, Stanley Cup, fleur-de-lys and Parliament buildings. She said she hates to see her students fail but the more difficult test does push them to learn about the intricacies of Canadian life, which she thinks will help them with Canadian life in the long-term. "They’re more willing to listen to me now," she said.

The symbols were some of the more challenging questions for Tinghui (Alex) Ye, who was in the class for the last time before he wrote the test Wednesday. The questions with that require memorization of names and trivia-like information trip him up, said Mr. Ye, who moved from Wenzhou, China, five years ago.

He’ll likely have to wait months before he knows whether he passed. "Some questions are tricky... some questions aren’t very important about Canada, in my opinion," Mr. Ye said before writing the test. "Everything important about Canada... history, knowledge, justice, the federal government, we have to know. We must learn, to qualify to be Canadian, but some questions aren’t concerning [those topics]."

He said running a clothing store, plus speaking some English back when he was in China, has given Mr. Ye an advantage over some of his friends who failed the test. "It’s very important for me and my family," he said. "It’s not only for a Canadian passport. Becoming a citizen is about identity."

Other new Canadians say moving to Canada to study gave them an advantage when it came to writing the test.

Afrooz Lahsaee, who was born in Iran, passed the test on her first try two years ago, after studying at a Canadian university. "When I got my citizenship, I felt like, ‘Okay, I’m someone now... I’m considered to be a Canadian where I have equal rights like everyone else,’" she said.

Her mom recently got Canadian citizenship without taking the test because she’s over 54, exempting her from that requirement. But Ms. Lahsaee said she’s not sure if her mom, who wasn’t educated in Canada, would have been able to pass. "It’s not basic stuff," she said.

Editor's Note: Afrooz Lahsaee was born in Iran. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.

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