Becoming a Canadian Citizen

How many Canadian citizens could pass the test we give newcomers?

. . . You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people” (Eph.2:19).

In 1958, after having lived in Canada for seven years, my father decided that it was time for us to become Canadian citizens. My mother, with a Grade 5 Dutch education and limited English, was very worried that she would not pass the test. I remember coming home from school and finding my Mom ecstatic about having succeeded and now being a Canadian citizen. 

“So, what did the citizenship judge ask you about Canada?” I inquired. 

“He asked me, ‘How do you like living in Canada, Mrs. Bruinsma?’”

“And what did you say?”

“I said, ‘I like it very much, your Honour.’”

That was it. My father also passed the “test” and I, being a minor, became a Canadian citizen along with my parents.

Raising the bar
How different all of this is today. To become a Canadian citizen now you must be a permanent resident, have lived in Canada for three out of the last five years, prove your language skills in either English or French, pay $360 ($100 if you are a minor under 18 years of age), and pass a test on your rights, responsibilities and knowledge of Canada.

As an English language arts educator, I was particularly interested in this last requirement and thus I downloaded a copy of the government manual called Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship (hereafter, DC). DC is a 68-page booklet crammed with information about Canada’s history, geography and form of government. I performed a readability analysis on DC and found it to be written at a level somewhere from about Grade 12 to beginning university. 

And then there is the online test. It consists of 20 items of multiple choice and true/false questions of which 15 of 20 (75 percent) must be answered correctly to pass. (There is a pool of hundreds of questions based on DC from which the government constructs many test versions.) If you fail, you can repeat the test after waiting 4-8 weeks. If you fail again, you can ask to meet with an immigration officer for an oral examination and interview. I’m not sure what happens if you fail this third try. Not surprisingly, there is a flourishing private, for-profit industry eager to help aspiring applicants to study for the test.

Too difficult?
Would you pass the Canadian citizenship test today? You can test yourself with the sample of eight questions in the sidebar on this page. Did you pass? I took three of the actual 20-item tests and received scores of 65 percent, 80 percent and 90 percent. So I failed the first one. Don’t be too disappointed if you didn’t do very well; you are not alone. In July 2019, CTV reported on a poll by Forum Research in which a random sample of 1,645 voters (thus Canadian citizens) were given 10 test questions based on DC. Only 12 percent of the respondents got eight or more correct answers. The average score was five out of 10. My mother would also not have fared well were she to try to become a Canadian citizen today. 

At the very least, DC should be re-written in a much simpler form and many of the trivial and arcane test questions should be eliminated from the pool (for example, Who is on the $100 note? and What is “Habeus Corpus”?). In 2016, I sent a seven-page study on the readability of Discover Canada to the then Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. The minister’s representative replied that “your comments will be considered for any future updates.” To my knowledge, no substantial updates or revisions have been made to the 2020 edition.

What about you? If you or your parents immigrated to Canada, what do you remember about the experience? Have you or your church helped any new immigrants get settled in Canada today?

We’d love to hear your stories! Email ac.reiruocnaitsirhc@rotide.

How well do you know Canada?

The following questions are from the current citizenship test.

1. What are the three responsibilities of citizenship?
a) Being loyal to Canada, recycling newspapers, serving in the navy, army or air force.
b) Obeying the law, taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family, serving on a jury.
c) Learning both official languages, voting in elections, belonging to a union.
d) Buying Canadian products, owning your own business, using less water.

2. In what year did Canada become a country?
a) 1867
b) 1871
c) 1898
d) 1870

3. What are the three conditions to be able to vote in a federal election?
a) Canadian citizen, at least 18 years old, and on the voter’s list.
b) Canadian citizen, at least 21 years old, and on the voter’s list.
c) Living outside Canada for less than 5 years, Canadian citizen, and at least 21 years old.
d) Working for the government in the Canadian Armed Forces or another organization, at least 21 years old, and Canadian citizen.

4. What are the three main groups of Aboriginal people?
a) Iroquois, Haida, Inuit.
b) Inuit, First Nations, Métis.
c) Haida, Métis, Iroquois.
d) First Nations, Inuit, Mi’kmaq.

5. Which is the only officially bilingual province?
a) Quebec
b) Ontario
c) New Brunswick
d) Yukon

6. Which four provinces first formed Confederation?
a) Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia.
b) Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island.
c) Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia
d) Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island.

7. What are the three parts of Parliament?
a) The House of Commons, the Queen, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
b) The Prime Minister (PM), the Senate, the House of Commons.
c) The Queen, the House of Commons and the Senate.
d) The Queen, the Prime Minister and the Governor General.

8. Why are the Great Lakes important to Canada?
a) Fresh water and waterways
b) Fishing
c) Waterways
d) Water for agriculture

Answers: 1. b; 2. a; 3. a; 4. b; 5. c; 6. c; 7. c; 8. a

Author

  • Robert (Bob) Bruinsma is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton. He has interests in language and literature and loves birds and the outdoors. To help pass the time on long winter nights, he makes wine and beer (and drinks it in moderation) with his wife of 46 years (Louisa). Bob is a member of Fellowship CRC where he tells stories for children and happily participates in weekly communion. He and Louisa have three grown children and three little grandsons.

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