With Canada’s 150th birthday looming, immigration groups and policymakers are already looking ahead to how new citizens can best mark such a milestone.
“One of the big things we’ve made an effort to do is deepen civic literacy for all Canadians, but particularly new Canadians in the citizenship process so when they reach Canada’s 150th anniversary, they’ll be able to understand the historical context,” said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in a recent interview.
Such an effort is most clearly illustrated in the recent changes to the citizenship test, which now focuses more attention on understanding Canadian history and values. All new Canadians must pass the exam if they wish to have full citizenship rights – including the right to vote.
While Kenney argues that immigrants are stepping up to the challenge and embracing the process of learning more about Canada’s heritage, independent immigrant groups are looking at how to celebrate the country’s delicate balance of diversity and unity.
“I’m not saying that we should not be tolerant but I’m saying we’re [getting] more politically correct. We are less (about) Canadian values. We look at how do we please everybody. We don’t look at what Canada is as one of the best countries to live in,” says Salma Siddiqui, president of Muslim Canada Conference, noting that today immigrants seem less and less inclined to integrate into the Canadian way of life.
For most of its history, integration in Canada was not a major concern, as the vast majority of immigrants were from European countries – places whose traditions and values were key in shaping the identity of Canada in the first place.
Recently, however, a wider variety of source countries has tipped the balance and by 2017 – the sesquicentennial year – experts predict that one in five Canadians will belong to a visible minority. Celebrations will have to acknowledge not only the history of minority communities in Canada, but also look at how bridges can be built across these communities to provide for a more understanding and more unified Canada moving ahead.