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Canada’s citizenship study guide for newcomers is getting an ‘unvarnished’ makeover. Here’s how it’s evolved

September 5, 2021

By Toronto Star |

For more than seven decades, the federal government has published a citizenship study guide for wannabe Canadians — a booklet that touches on Canada’s history and geography, its political structure and key tenets of what it means to be a good citizen.

The current version, however, hasn’t been updated in more than a decade, drawing criticism for using outdated terminology and leaving out or sanitizing darker moments of Canada’s past, including attempts to forcibly assimilate Indigneous Peoples.

In 2015, one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “calls to action” included that the information kit for newcomers “reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools.”

The current guide includes only one paragraph on residential schools.

After years of delay, and in the wake of the recent revelations of hundreds of unmarked graves being found at the site of former residential schools in Kamloops, B.C., and Marieval, Sask., the federal government now says it expects to roll out later this year a revamped study guide that will present a more “honest” portrait of the country’s past and present.

“The new guide will give aspiring Canadians an unvarnished picture of our country’s history, including extensive information (on) its darker moments,” said Alexander Cohen, press secretary for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

He said the guide will include a section outlining the government’s attempts to compel Indigenous Peoples to adopt European customs through policies “designed to end Indigenous ways of life, languages and spiritual beliefs.”

“It includes thorough descriptions of the horrors of residential schools, like physical and sexual abuse, and the fact that many children died in residential schools and were buried in unmarked graves,” he said.

“It emphasizes the lasting effect of residential schools on both individuals and Indigenous communities writ-large, stressing that ‘these impacts will continue for generations.’”

The new guide will also touch on the history of slavery in Canada and the Underground Railroad; discrimination against Chinese immigrants through the head tax; the Komagata Maru incident that saw more than 350 South Asian migrants denied entry to Canada; the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War; the demolition of Africville, a community of Black Canadians in Halifax, in the 1960s; and Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.

It will also include an acknowledgment of the existence of systemic racism and efforts to combat it, as well as new information on a variety of historically under-represented groups, such as Francophones, women, Black Canadians, the LGBTQ2 community and Canadians with disabilities, Cohen said.

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