A promised revision of the Canadian Citizenship Guide remains a work in progress with a few months left in the mandate of the liberal government.
This leaves newcomers in the country the existing guide – which is full of historical gaps and obsolete information – as the main document for the preparation of the citizenship test.
The government is renewing the 68 pages Discover Canada document, updated in 2012, to better reflect diversity and include more "meaningful content" on the history and rights of indigenous peoples and on the residential school experience.
Just five months from the start of the federal elections, a spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, stated that a launch date has not yet been set and offered no specific explanation for the delay.
"We are committed to getting the right citizenship guide, and this includes consulting with as many stakeholders as possible (as much as possible) on the proposed changes. This work is ongoing," said Mathieu Genest. "We are listening to experts, stakeholders and representatives of the community, because what we want to do is take the policy out of the guide".
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Refugee Council, said it was "incomprehensible" that the guide was taking so long to roll out.
"Our main concern is that the newcomers are presented with a fair and balanced image of Canada that recognizes the problems in the Canadian and current reality, and how this affects the indigenous peoples and racialized people." When we do not provide an accurate picture of our country, it is a disservice to the country as a whole and to the new arrivals, "he said.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had recommended reviewing information material for newcomers and the citizenship test to reflect "a more inclusive history of different aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information on treaties and history of residential schools ".
Historical gaps, obsolete information
Up to the new guide, new arrivals will have to use the existing guide to study for the citizenship test. Contains limited information on the heritage of residential schools, obsolete information on things like population numbers and texts of the national anthem that have been modified by Parliament to make them more gender-neutral.
Calling the "staggering" delay, the NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said it was unacceptable that there was still incorrect and obsolete information in the guide.
"You want our newcomers to know the wording of our national anthem, it's embarrassing to have this kind of misinformation in our citizenship guide," he said.
Kwan said she was puzzled by the delay, as MPs were consulted two years ago and an initial draft was leaked last year for The Canadian press.
"I certainly think that with the citizenship guide, we can take the opportunity to ensure that the new Canadians, newcomers understand our history, the good, the bad and the bad, and … we fully appreciate the Canada's history, certainly around the problem of indigenous people, "he said. "To give full recognition to this, I think, it is very important."
The plan was to release the guide in 2017
A draft copy of the revised guide obtained from The Canadian press showed a reference to the illegal practice of female genital mutilation had been abandoned. CP also reported that the liberals hoped to have the new guide in force for Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017.
Last fall, CBC News reported that the updated citizenship guide would, in fact, include a warning to newbies on female genital mutilation.
The issue had become politically charged, with Michelle Rempel, the conservative critique of immigration, which repeatedly repeated Hussen on the subject. He also sponsored an e-petition in the House of Commons on this.
The Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, Zool Suleman, said the government probably believes the update would be easier than it turned out. He said the citizenship guide reflects the priorities and values of the government that writes it and helps define how people see the country.
Political inclination on fire
The previous conservative government inclined the formulation of the guide to history and military rights and the responsibilities of citizenship, while the liberal government seems inclined to explain indigenous reconciliation and multiculturalism, said Suleman.
"Given that we have an upcoming election, it's probably a calculation that a new guide is worth publishing, which will inevitably make some people happy and other people unhappy," he said.
Dory Jade, chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, said he believes it is better to take the time to do it well instead of rushing him for political reasons.
"I personally believe that the bureaucratic machine takes more time to do such work and the government has not foreseen this in their promise," he said, stressing that even the conservative government took a long time to finish its update.
Immigration, refugees and Canadian citizenship have stated that the renewal focuses on several key areas:
- Respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission request for a language that better reflects the perspectives and history of Canada's indigenous peoples.
- Show the cultural diversity of Canada and the commitment to the official languages.
- Present the social evolution of LGBT rights and civic freedoms, women and people with disabilities.
- Use a more accessible language for second language students and structure the document so that the newcomer can more easily identify the main points of each chapter.
The government has also committed to updating the materials for newcomers and changing the citizenship oath to reflect respect for indigenous rights. This change to the citizenship oath was also recommended by the TRC and included in Hussen's letter of mandate of 1 February 2017.
These initiatives are still ongoing, according to Hussen's office.