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New citizens receive Canadian flags after a citizenship ceremony. (Fernando Morales)
New citizens receive Canadian flags after a citizenship ceremony. (Fernando Morales)

Globe editorial

Being Canadian with vitality Add to ...

Canada has been shortchanging Canadian immigrants preparing for their citizenship tests with a bad guidebook. The federal government's newly revised preparatory booklet distributed to test-takers, to be released today, is a welcome move that places a new and appropriate emphasis on Canada's history and personalities.

The previous guide, first published in 1997, contains useful facts about Canadian government and geography, but it is eye-glazing and dated. "Canadians act as peacekeepers in many countries around the world" is a nice aspiration, perhaps, but not reflective of today's reality: Canada's external military focus is almost exclusively on Afghanistan, an operation in which the helmets are camouflage-coloured, not blue. The useful tip to "conserve energy and water by turning off lights and taps when they are not being used" is good for the bathroom wall, not relevant to the high calling of Canadian citizenship. Statements such as "People who help others without being paid are called volunteers. There are millions of volunteers across Canada" embarrass both the reader and the writer.

It is a saccharine document that papers over difference and personality. Prospective citizens learn about the Métis, but never meet Louis Riel. They get a briefing on the agricultural regions of Quebec, but hear no mention of René Lévesque or the Quebec sovereignty movement. Domestic achievements that Canadians recognize and value, such as the health-care system, get no mention.

The new guide, developed with the help of eminent Canadians and historians, finally tells some vital Canadian stories. There are sections on military achievements such as Canada's contributions in the First and Second World Wars (with references to Vimy Ridge, D-Day and the liberation of Italy) and on the role of Remembrance Day. Canadian heroes such as Terry Fox; scientists such as John Polanyi and Frederick Banting; and great artists such as Kenojuak Ashevak and Jean-Paul Riopelle, make appearances. Difficult or controversial moments in our national history - the residential-schools legacy; the struggle for women's enfranchisement; the Quiet Revolution - finally get a mention. And there is some cultural translation to help new Canadians: the statement that "Hockey is Canada's most popular spectator sport, and is considered Canada's winter sport"; descriptions of the Stanley Cup and the Canadian Football League.

Unlike the old guide, which felt like homework and landed with the thud of a bureaucratic public-service announcement, the new guide shows how the country is special, and does so with vigour. In telling Canada's stories, and the conflict, characters and challenges therein, it will enhance new Canadians' attachment to their country.

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