This column is an opinion of Toronto writer Callum Wratten. For more information on CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
Most of the images surrounding Canadian citizenship ceremonies involve weeping immigrants holding flags, being joyfully accepted into this great nation. My experience was a bit different; a disheveled and reluctant presence during a massive Zoom call.
Too often, citizenship is given some sort of quasi-spiritual meaning, but for me it was a bureaucratic decision, like renewing a license plate sticker. I found the whole process deeply disturbing, from the citizenship test questions that dishonestly framed Canada’s history, to the requirement to swear allegiance to the Queen. I was troubled by how easy it was for me, as a middle-class white Australian, compared to those in other countries, especially agricultural workers.
Despite all my reluctance, the risk of being deported away from my family (permanent residents can be deported for non-violent crimes such as fleeing the police or traffic offenses which, if they result in a prison sentence of six months, are put in the same category as murder), in addition to not being able to vote, made me decide to become a citizen.
Who can (and cannot) become a citizen
To become a citizen, one must first be a permanent resident. I first came to Canada under the International Experience Canada program, but many agricultural workers come here under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Despite performing vital work, most of them have no way to permanent residence and therefore no path to citizenship.
Although I cannot prove it with a reliable journalistic source, I can assure you that these people work harder than me and are much more important than me to Canadian society. Any system that gives me a path to citizenship and they don’t is inherently discriminatory.
Once permanent residents have lived in Canada long enough and have filed their taxes, they can apply to become citizens. The first step to becoming Canadian is to pony. The cost of an adult citizenship application is $630 ($530 processing fee and $100 citizenship right fee). That’s a lot of money. That was more than I made in an entire week when I worked at Tim Hortons. By charging such a high amount for citizenship, Canada puts basic rights behind a paywall, and unlike Netflix, you can’t just borrow your friend’s password to vote.
Test (my limits)
The next step is to take a test on “rights, responsibilities and knowledge of Canada”, but I found some of this knowledge of Canada that goes against the reality of Canada.
For example, the test and study materials use the umbrella term First Nations to describe hundreds of nations with different languages, cultures, and systems of government. He never mentions John A. Macdonald’s involvement in residential schools. I had to answer several questions about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but the notwithstanding clause was never mentioned, which is a bit like doing a test on airships and not having questions about the Hindenburg.
It is disturbing that a government that prides itself on its democratic good faith forces hopeful citizens to memorize such a simplistic and sometimes dishonest framework of Canadian history.
The final step to becoming a citizen is to take the oath of citizenship. This includes the oath “to be faithful and to bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, to her heirs and successors”. I’m not a monarchist, but even though I believed that God had given a strange German family the divine right to rule over several nations, there are other problems with the Canadian monarchy.
For years, Queen Elizabeth has been accompanied in official taxpayer-funded duties by Prince Philip, whose views could sometimes make Don Cherry look like Martin Luther King Jr. One of those heirs to whom I swore loyalty was Prince Andrew. Sure, it would be one hell of a disaster at the Windsor family reunion to put the ninth in line to the throne, but it still seems wrong to ‘wear true allegiance’ to someone who just settled a sex abuse lawsuit. .
Why do it?
If the citizenship process is so problematic, why did I decide to become a citizen? Couldn’t I just stay a permanent resident indefinitely? In the end I did the most Canadian thing, I used my privilege to take advantage and protect myself. The time and money I had allowed me to protect myself from deportation and gave me the right to vote.
After the ceremony, I felt relieved that I would never be deported because I missed my PR card renewal, but I also felt uncomfortable that there were so many barriers to citizenship. and that I have to take an oath to an obsolete institution.
By the way, I’m sure there are some who are upset that I didn’t adopt a more grateful tone; that I didn’t at least say something positive about becoming a Canadian citizen. But I don’t have to, I just paid $630 for the right to complain about this country.
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