Learning to be a citizen

Posted on October 19, 2009 in Equality Delivery System

TheStar.com – news/gta -Learning to be a citizen: Newcomers study hard to pass citizenship test with questions on rights, history, government
October 19, 2009.   Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter

On a chilly evening, 15 people crowd into a cluttered classroom at the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office near Don Mills Rd. to learn all they can about Canada: its history, geography, Confederation, aboriginal peoples, national symbols, government structures and most important, the rights and responsibilities of being Canadian.

Canadian is what each wants to be. These citizenship candidates are here for a six-week class, one of many run daily by community groups in Toronto and across the country. More than 500 prospective citizens attend Thorncliffe’s citizenship classes annually.

Despite a 45-page A to Z booklet on Canada, the mandatory citizenship test they are preparing for can be hard, particularly for newcomers who arrive here as adults.

Still, the failure rate is low. In 2008, 145,000 people took the citizenship test and 96 per cent passed. The same can’t be said for the final stage – an interview by a citizenship judge.

About 14,250 people had to go through an interview last year; 20 per cent were refused.

“It’s hard, because I’m a housekeeper and I have to look after my two children at home,” said Safia Parveen, one of the Thorncliffe students and a Pakistani teacher who came here two years ago after living in the United States.

“You are distracted by so many other things at home. You don’t have time to read this book. But I want to know and need to know each and everything about Canada because we are here.”

Her classmate, Shazia Sharif, says she finds the classes invaluable.

“You only learn bits and pieces from the media about Canada. This is way more structured,” said Sharif, also from Pakistan, who came to Canada in 2003 and carried her 11-month-old daughter to the class.

“But it’s not that difficult because anything we don’t understand, the teachers will explain to us in Urdu or other languages.”

Settlement worker Nawal Ateeq said her students generally have more trouble with questions related to other provinces and cities because most have never been to those places.

Yet, everyone is eager to become a citizen, a milestone on the path to becoming a true Canadian – at least on paper.

“The citizenship card is just a piece of identification,” said Ateeq, who has taught the class for two years.

“Becoming Canadian is an ongoing journey. For me, citizenship really means a sense of belonging and being passionate about where you live, feeling that this is your home.”

Eighty per cent of all immigrants become citizens.

< http://www.thestar.com/printarticle/712232 >.

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