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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday, November 4, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday, November 4, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)

Ottawa to remodel Canada's image Add to ...

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. It also tackles other issues of historical significance, from Confederation to Quebec's separatist movement, that were barely mentioned by its predecessor.

"I think there's a growing sense that we need to have a deeper, thicker sense of our common citizenship and where we come from as Canadians," Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

"If all you knew about Canada was from the current guide it would be possible to become a citizen never having heard of Vimy Ridge, Dieppe or Juno Beach and not knowing what the poppy represents, which I think is scandalous."

The new guide was produced in consultation with a panel of experts that included former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson, historian Jack Granatstein, retired general John de Chastelain and historian Margaret MacMillan. Mr. Kenney said its goal is to foster a sense of cohesion, of a common past, shared values and obligations.

Try the practice citizenship test from the Richmond Public Library

"We've been pretty successful in our approach to diversity, but as we maintain the developed world's highest relative levels of immigration we can't be cavalier about social cohesion. We need to be very deliberate about integration now and in the future, that in part means having a common basis of knowledge about Canadian symbols, values and institutions," he said.

"We want to ensure that newcomers appreciate that citizenship is not just obtaining legal status, that it confers certain privileges and rights. It's joining the Canadian community and it's joining Canadian history."

Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the Historica-Dominion Institute and a member of the advisory panel, said he expects the new guide to generate debate when it's released on Thursday.

"The Bloc Quebecois will have their own reaction and take on this, which I'm sure is not going to be favourable," Mr. Griffiths said. "They will not probably like the amount of military history that's in this guide. I think that some of the focus on the institution of the monarchy and the Crown in Canada will probably rankle the BQ and sovereigntists, but I think these are the touchstones of a common Canadian identity. It's okay if that identity is contested but we have to have a common starting place."

He said it's very rare for a national government to take a comprehensive look at the messages that are being transmitted to its citizens about the country. This new guide, called "Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship," is a model for what students should be learning in Grade 10 and 11 history and civics classes, he said.

Antonia Maioni, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said the new guide fits with a Conservative strategy to redefine itself with regard to immigration, an issue that historically has been closely linked with the Liberal Party.

Mr. Kenney emphasizes that Discover Canada is not a rose-coloured view of the country's history. There are sections on Canada's dark periods, including the Chinese head tax and Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese and Eastern European immigrants in the world wars, as well as aboriginal residential schools.

It also highlights Canadian sporting heroes, from Terry Fox to Wayne Gretzky, Mark Tewksbury to Chantal Petitclerc, and includes a sidebar explaining Canadian football.

The guide forms part of the minister's broader citizen action plan, which will continue to look at ways to review and update aspects of the citizenship process.

It's expected that new immigrants will begin receiving the new document over the next several months.

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