Telling Edits Of Citizenship Guide Reveal Politics

Telling edits of citizenship guide reveal politics

By Dean Beeby (CP)
January 17, 2010

OTTAWA—-Dozens of significant changes were made to Canada's new citizenship guide before its splashy debut last November, some apparently to dampen controversy.

An internal summary of edits proposed by a group of distinguished Canadians suggests the process was partly driven by the politics of language, religion and ethnicity.

The blue-ribbon panel grappled, for example, with the touchy issues of Indian residential schools, Quebec's heritage, the historic role of Acadians and relations between church and state.

The result is a revamped study guide for citizenship tests that sometimes omits key elements and personalities in Canada's past and present, show documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

Exhibit No. 1: Early drafts of the guide said all of the Indian residential schools were run by churches.

The panel objected, noting some schools were not denominational. And in the final edit, the role of the churches is entirely absent as the published guide places responsibility for the abuse of aboriginal children on the federal government.

Exhibit No. 2: An early draft said “French is mainly spoken in Quebec and English mainly spoken in the rest of Canada.”

Some members of the panel called this “misleading … given that the government is obligated to provide services in both languages throughout Canada – (we) risk 'territorializing' language.”

The final version of the guide duly notes the bilingualism policy of Ottawa and says nothing about where English is spoken. The locations of francophones, however, is provided – mainly Quebec, but also Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.

The panel included 26 prominent Canadians, including historians such as Desmond Morton and Jack Granatstein, artist Alex Colville, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, and former general John de Chastelain.

The group never met, but members were canvassed individually for comment toward the end of the nine-month period during which the guide was written and revised.

Documents released by Citizenship and Immigration assemble these comments, but the material has been stripped of information about which individuals made them.

The panel offered dozens of suggestions, many in the arts and sciences, though not all were heeded:

-The original draft cited Julie Payette as the lone example of Canada's astronaut corps. Some members of the panel objected, saying all the names should be given. In the end, no names were provided, not even Payette's.

-Montreal visual artist Betty Goodwin was mentioned in the arts-and-culture section of the early drafts. At the urging of some in the panel, she was displaced by abstract painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, also from Montreal but who made his name in Paris.

-Some panel members wanted pianist Glenn Gould added to the musical artists listed, and David Cronenberg to the filmmakers. Neither appear in the final version.

-A key personality from 19th-century Quebec – George-Etienne Cartier – was described as a “rebel” in the original. At a panel member's suggestion, he became a “reformer” in the published version, notwithstanding his participation in the 1837-38 armed rebellions in Lower Canada.

Acadia, the name for early French settlements in what is now Nova Scotia, was given short shrift in the drafts, according to some panel members. “Need to make stronger reference to Acadians,” say the documents. The history section “currently begin(s) with Quebec, but should begin with Acadia.”

Some in the group called for more information about the expulsion of the Acadians from their homeland, between 1755 and 1763, but the final text gave the episode just one sentence.

The early drafts also failed to mention the 3,000 blacks who fled the United States to Canada alongside the United Empire Loyalists after the American Revolution in the late 18th century. The final version included the event – after the panel red-flagged the problem.

Canada's modern relations with the United States also came under scrutiny.

The draft text repeated the oft-cited claim that the Canada-U.S. boundary is the world's longest undefended border. Panel members questioned that assertion in light of post-9/11 security, and the final text softened the claim, saying only that it has been “traditionally” known as such.

Apart from many proposed revisions of content, some panel members also found the original text to be “dense” or “flippant.” It's not clear what changes, if any, resulted from those criticisms.

“Some people we consulted provided editorial or expert feedback, others only gave direction in the beginning of the process and reviewed it at the end,” said Melanie Carkner, a Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman.

“History is often controversial and it's difficult to capture in one document, but we think this study guide does a fair job of introducing readers to our richly layered story.

“When a newcomer becomes Canadian our history becomes their history – they should have a deeper appreciation of this history, both the positive and controversial elements.”

The 63-page study guide, which cost about $400,000 to create and print, is a substantial update to an earlier version created in 1995. About 500,000 copies have been printed.

The booklet is intended to help prepare immigrants planning to take a 24-question multiple-choice citizenship test starting in March this year.

The guide won wide praise when it was released Nov. 12, especially for its inclusions of much more information on military history, sports, women's rights, slavery and artists.