ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for the Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism at the launch of the new version of Discover Canada

Vancouver, British Columbia, March 14, 2011

As delivered

Congratulations. You are all new Canadians and we’re so proud of you. Congratulations to each and every one of you.

Well, today you join some 180,000 other newcomers who this year will become Canadian citizens, full members of our Canadian family. And last year, we welcomed into this country 280,000 new immigrants, most of whom will go on to become Canadian citizens because this is a land of openness, of generosity. It is also a land of freedom and the rule of law and respect for human rights and opportunity and prosperity.

So I encourage all of you who don’t speak French, some of you may want to still master your English language skills but French is our, is our other language and I encourage you to learn a little bit of that as well. But thank you Judge very much for your welcome to your court. Thank you to my Parliamentary Secretary Alice Wong, to Judge Watt, who is here, particularly to Constable Yakub and Lieutenant-Colonel Ng for making this a particularly special day.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ng and Constable Yakub both wear our country’s uniform. Lieutenant-Colonel did so in the Canadian Army and Constable Yakub does so through the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Both of them are the finest examples that we could have of the truest and deepest meaning of the Canadian citizenship that you have just acquired. Both of them are giving back, both of them are, have served our country and indeed those who enrol in our police and military are willing to put their lives on the line in the defence of Canada, her citizens and her values. And so we thank both, both of them and all of the members of our police forces and military for their service to Canada. Thank you.

You have chosen to become citizens of one of the greatest countries in the history of the world, a country of unlimited opportunity, prosperity, a country characterized by the rule of law and these things did not happen by accident. They didn’t just happen spontaneously. Canada did not become a model to the world by coincidence. It happened because others who came before us made enormous sacrifices to build this great country and they also brought with them values and institutions and traditions which have led to our stable democratic British parliamentary Westminster institutions, have led to our tradition of the rule of law, where all are treated equally and fairly under our law and led to our idea of openness to newcomers from around the world.

And so today, as you become a citizen, I hope that you will give a special thought to those who went before. Yes, our First Nations people, the founding nations of the French and British settlers and pioneers and immigrants over the decades, and most particularly those who paid the supreme sacrifice for Canada in the defence of our country, over 110,000 of whom never came back to Canada. They laid down their lives in the defence of this country so that you and your children might be able to live in peace and freedom.

Now I think, and I’m sure you agree, that it’s very important that all new Canadians like you, all Canadians whether they were born here or moved here know this history, these values and understand these democratic institutions. That is why Parliament has required that all new citizens pass the citizenship test to indicate if you have a basic knowledge of Canada, its political system, values, laws, institutions and symbols. Now, all of you took the citizenship test, unless there’s a couple of seniors here who might have been exempted, and, and these, these little guys here, they were too young to take the test, but most of you took the citizenship test and I congratulate you for passing.

Did most of you study Discover Canada closely? Great. Did anyone here get 20 out of 20? Oh you don’t know the results. Okay. Well, congratulations on passing the test. We believe it is so important that Canadians of all backgrounds know our common story, our common institutions, our common history and values. Because we come from all over the world, right? Here, we have how many countries represented of origin?

Twenty. And in Canada, over 180 countries of origin. So our big challenge in the future is making sure that all of those people come together with a shared understanding of our values, obligations, responsibilities and history. Yes, being proud about what is best in our own particular backgrounds, my particular background, I’m Irish and we’re coming up to St. Patrick’s Day for example, the, the great Irish feast, but each of us can celebrate our own backgrounds but we also have to come together on common ground as Canadians. And we try and discover Canada to describe that common ground in simple terms that everyone can grasp. And so I’m glad that you studied Discover Canada and you passed the citizenship test.

Now in the past, there was a much easier process to pass the test, and it was almost an automatic thing. Ninety-eight percent of applicants used to pass the old citizenship test, which was based on an old guide that, that preceded Discover Canada, which had frankly not very much information about that common ground, history, values and institutions.

For example, it, it didn’t even mention the sacrifice of Canadians in the First or Second world war, the 110,000 Canadians who served in our uniform like Lieutenant-Colonel Ng did. It didn’t mention Remembrance Day where we all come together in sacred memory of those who paid that ultimate price. It didn’t describe to people what the poppy represents, which we all wear, I hope, on November 11th in, in their, in their sacred memory. It didn’t really describe how our political institutions, our parliamentary democracy came to develop. It didn’t talk very much, it didn’t talk about the equality of men and women. It didn’t talk about many of the sadder moments in our history, one of which Judge Dillon referred to which was discriminatory practices against Chinese Canadians through the Chinese head tax and the Exclusion Act or the internment of Japanese Canadians.

And so we decided there was a need for much more information because we are ambitious for newcomers to succeed, to integrate successfully and to know as much as they can about the country that they are becoming members of through citizenship. And that’s why we published Discover Canada in 2009. And I’m pleased to tell you that it has been a tremendous success. It’s true that because of Discover Canada, the citizenship test is now a little bit more difficult. Instead of an almost automatic pass, we see about 80 to 85% of applicants passing and if they don’t get, get it on the first try, they can always study more and come back later when they’re ready to pass the test. And we think that means that all newcomers will have better information about the country they are joining.

We’ve done other things to, and by the way this has been very successful. We, we distributed over a million copies, either online or, or directly to interested Canadians. And we want to make sure this is not just a resource for new Canadians but for all Canadians because quite frankly, immigrants to Canada tend to know more about Canadian history and values and institutions than young native born Canadians because they’re not studying history. And so, you, I want you now, having passed this test, to pass on your knowledge of our values, our symbols, our history to some of the native born Canadians because you’ll find you know more about Canada than they do.

And so please share that enthusiasm we hope you have for our country’s identity. We’re trying to do that through special programs with kids. We published Discover Canada material for children in Canada’s history magazine for children called Kayak. We have special on, web, web tools for, for youth and for teachers. We have worked on a program with the Historica Dominion Institute called the Canadian Citizenship Challenge which administers the test that you took in our high schools for native born Canadian kids to ensure that they know as much as you do about our country.

Now, today I am releasing a revised version of Discover Canada. And it’s, they’re not dramatic changes. We’re building on the strengths of our initial version with, and we’re taking nothing out. We’re adding a few things, following consultations and, and having received suggestions from new Canadians and others in order to ensure that this is a, an expanded and more comprehensive guide.

Among these changes in t his new version, you’ll find a new pullout text that we’re calling Becoming Canadian which emphasizes that newcomers are expected, and I’ll read the section for you, you’re not going to be tested on this, don’t worry, you’ve already passed the test, it says that “Some Canadians immigrate from places where they have experienced warfare or conflict. Such experiences do not justify bringing to Canada violent, extreme or hateful prejudices. In Becoming Canadian, newcomers are expected to embrace democratic principles such as the rule of law.”

Now, why did we put that in there? Because sadly over the years, we have sometimes seen people who had conflicts in their countries of origin bring those conflicts to Canada and sometimes violence, sometimes even terrible violence has resulted, and we want to be sure that people know that they are welcome to come to Canada from any country or culture of origin but they are expected to respect our principle of the rule of law and if they dislike people because of their religion or their culture or their political views in their country of origin, they should leave that dislike, that prejudice in their country of origin and as the Judge said, see everyone here as an equal Canadian.

And this is very important. I recently visited a, a Buddhist monastery in Toronto that had been firebombed from, by people coming from the same country. I recently visited a mosque in Montreal which had been vandalized by people coming from the same country. Tragically, 25 years ago, we had an airplane of, with, with, with 329 people aboard it that was bombed by people from within Canada based on a political conflict overseas. And we want to be absolutely clear that everyone knows that such practices of course are not acceptable in Canada.

Secondly, we have added to the section on diversity in Canada, the fact, the well established fact that gay and lesbian Canadians enjoy the full protection of, and equal treatment under the law.

We’ve also added the fact that forced marriage is not tolerated in Canada and that has been added to the section called The Equality of Women and Men. Because I want to be clear about this, as the Minister responsible for Multiculturalism, we encourage people to maintain pride in what is best about their culture of origin, but multiculturalism does not justify in Canada certain cultural practices that we consider inappropriate, illegal or violation of others’ rights. And so we need to be clear about what multiculturalism does and does not mean.

As I say, there are other things that we, we have added into the, the new book, including more information on the important role of, of significant women in Canadian history like Agnes Macphail, our first woman Member of Parliament, like Laura Secord, a heroine of Canada’s independence during the war of 1812. We have more information about that war for Canada’s independence that, whose bicentenary we will be celebrating next year. And happily, we have a new picture on the back page, which is Canada’s, Team Canada Hockey men’s winning the world gold championship at the Olympics here in Vancouver last year. So we think it’s a guide that colourfully and interestingly presents the basic facts about Canada to help all Canadians know our country better.

We’re doing other things to strengthen the value of the citizenship that you just acquired. We have, there is a bill before Parliament that would, that would do so. We are taking measures to address residency fraud where sometimes people unfortunately don’t tell us the truth about how long they’ve lived here and we’re also ensuring that there’s a consistent standard for us to assess the legal requirement for new citizens to speak English or French. We’re not increasing the standard, we just want to make sure that it’s fairly applied.

So friends, Canada’s future depends on all of us growing together through our shared values, our shared history, our common institutions and preserving our traditions. This is a gift that we must entrust to future generations like the children who are here today. What we have been responsible for will become their responsibility.

In closing, on behalf of the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, I would like to thank each and every one of you for choosing Canada because I know that you are people who have made, left behind things in your country of origin, family, things that you’re familiar with in order to take a risk, in order to take a chance to come here. And like the vast majority of newcomers to Canada, you understand that by working hard and respecting our laws, that, that the future in Canada is unlimited.

You know, our last Governor General was a woman who arrived in Canada as a refugee from violence and persecution in her country of origin with very little and she went on to become the representative of our queen. The CEO of one of the largest companies in Canada arrived as a refugee with very little, a Muslim refugee from East Africa and he is now CEO of a multibillion dollar corporation.

This is a land where whether you’re born here or not, what matters more is where you’re headed than where you came from. Today, you are all Canadians. This is a special gift, it represents a special responsibility. We thank you for taking that responsibility so seriously and we wish you in your life as Canadians every success, particularly for your children and, and their children.

Thank you. Long live Canada.

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