Last Thursday, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney revealed Canada’s new Immigration Guide, a 58-page document intended to assist immigrants in studying for their citizenship test. The new document, which replaces one created by Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government in 1995, is a very different text than its predecessor. Purporting to be a comprehensive portrait of Canada as a nation, the new citizenship Guide is amnesiac in its treatment of Canada’s history, hawkish in its fetish for Canadian war-making, and racist in its position toward immigrants from non-Western countries.
The new Guide seeks to reimagine Canadian identity, replacing the concepts of multicultural acceptance and pacifism with a homogenous and exclusive national identity. Under the heading “Introducing Canada,” the 1995 citizenship guide asserted that “the only people originally from Canada are the Aboriginal Peoples. They lived in Canada for thousands of years before the first immigrants came here.” In contrast, the new Guide informs the reader that “to understand what it means to be Canadian, it is important to know about our three founding peoples – Aboriginal, French, and English.” Throughout, references are made to a proud Canadian history dating back 400 years – before Confederation, but not before the arrival of European colonialists.
Such an approach to Canadian history is both bizarre and disturbingly revisionary. The idea that Canada has three founding “peoples” is incomprehensible: not only does it reduce the mosaic of Aboriginal cultures and civilizations that existed prior to colonization to one, homogeneous entity, it also implies that they participated on an equal footing with French and English colonists in the foundation of Canada. The violence with which most of the indigenous cultures were destroyed is swept under the rug.
The new Guide’s historical editing is not limited to the colonial period, however. Before the release of the new guide, Kenney criticized the old one for emphasizing peace and peacekeeping and devoting too little attention to Canada’s participation in 20th century wars. The new Guide devotes three pages to Canada’s military history, complete with romantic portraits of soldiers and battles. The history of suffragettes is confined to a box in a corner accompanied by the picture of a smiling military nurse. By failing to mention the contributions of immigrants, these pages efface the legacy of the foreign-born people of colour who have been living in this country for over a hundred years. The section on Canada’s modern international role details the Cold War, the Korean War, and NATO. Most troubling of all, on the ninth page of the document, before any discussion of Canada’s history or culture, the Guide contains a recruiting advertisement for the army, which states that enlisting is “a noble way to contribute to Canada and an excellent career choice.” The box contains the web sites of both the armed forces and cadets. This advertisement is disturbing: by prioritizing army recruitment in a document for immigrants, who are often in precarious financial situations, the ad preys on their vulnerability, offering them “easy money” in exchange for military service for their new homeland.
Also highly problematic in the new immigration Guide is a small passage entitled “The Equality of Women and Men.” This topic was dealt with extensively in the old guide – through a section about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which ensures equality of the sexes. An additional passage in the new Guide, however, states the “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutiliation, or other gender-based violence.”
This section smacks of racist contempt for specific societies, particularly those in the Middle East and parts of Africa. It is clearly targeted at non-white immigrants from those regions, and fosters the fear that these immigrants will bring this practice with them. Though female genital mutilation is a reprehensible practice, the fact that it merits mention, and serial killing or child molestation do not, reveals the underlying xenophobia of this Guide.
Spousal abuse, on the other hand, is and has been a widespread problem in Canada. The new Guide codes it as a foreign crime – the implication is that immigrants specifically must be warned against it, that they are somehow more prone to abuse than the average, native-born Canadian.
On a more fundamental level, this Guide creates a negative Canadian identity based on difference from cultures perceived as inferior. This document levels an unwarranted accusation at all immigrants, insulting people who are already on the defensive with the significant systemic barriers that make immigrating to Canada difficult enough.
The importance of these changes should not be underestimated. Nations imagine themselves into being – the visions countries project of themselves become self-fulfilling prophecies. The version of Canada found in the new Immigration Guide is a whitewashed, homogeneous delusion. If Kenney needs an example of positive contributions immigrants of colour have made to our society, he need only look around – our country was built on immigration.
If you’re dissatisfied with the vision of Canada the Immigration Minister is presenting to immigrants, why not give him a call? He can be reached at 403-225-3480 (his Calgary number) and 613-992-2235 (in Ottawa). You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.