Citizenship test should be about chemistry not just geograpy

Pradip Rodrigues

A decade or so ago when I took my citizenship test, I recall feeling rather underwhelmed by thetest scope of the questions. They seemed to be designed to ensure everyone had a beyond superficial understanding of the country. Then in 2010 the test got harder, with good reason and the effect seems to have troubled former citizenship director-general Andrew Griffith who presented his study Multiculturalism in Canada at a three-day national immigration and settlement conference in Vancouver recently. There is a fear that if many newcomers fail the test it would lead to them feeling disengaged and alienated. I could not disagree more strongly. Earlier when the test was so easy and the pass rate was so high, too many “Canadians” I know took citizenship for granted. They just did it for the passport which itself was fast losing value.
The study shows that percentage of immigrants who become citizens has been dropping dramatically in recent years — from 79 per cent to 26 per cent among people who arrived between 2000 and 2008.

Even the new test does not go far enough

The new test was introduced in 2010 and the idea was to strengthen the understanding of Canada and make it more meaningful. From my understanding, the citizenship test is about geography, history, politics and an overview of Canadian customs and traditions. But what would really help is a section that evaluates the chemistry a new Canadian shares with Canada.
Too many new Canadians especially we South Asians believe we are morally, socially and culturally superior to those “Canadians”, this is despite the fact they too are Canadian citizens.
The current controversy over the sex-ed curriculum is just one example of the social divide and points to a major fault line that exists between Canada and its newcomers. Many newcomers come from societies and cultures that are hostile toward gays, lesbians and the idea of sex outside of marriage. Many South Asian women and men got their first sex-ed education on their wedding night, they can’t comprehend the idea of their children learning about these things in a classroom setting.

Newcomers often don’t understand Western society

The fact that we are even discussing the merits of updating an outdated sex-ed curriculum is baffling to Canadians. These were the discussions and debates that were had and settled back in the anti-revolutionary movements of the 60s which saw the suburban family along with its morality of self restraint, hard work and moral puritanism as an expression of class domination and hypocrisy. It was a time when the youth challenged the prevailing morality and injustices, the revolution made society more inclusive. The women liberation movement really took off, gays and lesbians got rights, the Pill ushered in the sexual revolution that along with legalized abortions transformed society and social ferment ushered in much social change.

Need to keep an open mind

New immigrants would find so much in common with the 50s society in North America. Those were the days when people were more bigoted, religious and held values and beliefs more aligned with many new immigrants.
To understand the west’s attitude toward sex requires an understanding of history, otherwise it is easy for new Canadians to dismiss other Canadians as morally and spiritually debauched.
Coming back to the citizenship test, it would be nice if there was a section with the following questions:
1. Are you active in your community, (not to be confused with people of your own kind) eg, residents association, school.
2. Have you attended any events and festivals held by other cultural groups?
3. Have you visited any other provinces in Canada or explored other cities and towns?
4. Have you sampled any other cuisine, caught a play or learnt anything about any other culture?
Now no new immigrant should have to fail their citizenship test on account of giving the wrong answers on the Chemistry section of the test, but it should simply indicate what efforts have or have not been made by the newcomer to integrate, understand and love the new country he or she has come to call home.


Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

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