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What are immigrants supposed to think?

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OTTAWA — When Citizenship and Immigration Canada couldn’t pull together a citizenship ceremony for Sun TV last year, they opted to have bureaucrats pose as new Canadians instead.

 Citizenship as reality television sullies journalists, bureaucrats and the solemnity of Canadian citizenship all at the same time.

 Many people noted just two months ago Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney himself stressed how solemn a citizenship ceremony should be when he barred women from wearing face coverings to the events. Yet his office was complicit in staging a fake citizenship ceremony just to appease a friendly media outlet. Manitoba MP Kevin Lamoureux says many of his constituents have been waiting more than a year for a citizenship ceremony. One wonders how they feel about the fake ceremony. But citizenship and immigration have long been pawns for political interests and partisan discourse Even the guidebook given to people who want to become Canadian takes on partisan tones, reflecting views of the government in power.

 The latest version, released in 2009 and updated last year, has been praised as a modern, accurate depiction of Canada, and roundly criticized as a right-leaning morals guide that stresses war and monarchy and downplays our social history.

 Two University of Manitoba history professors were so incensed at the official guide that they are releasing an alternative. The People’s Citizenship Guide, A Response to Conservative Canada, launches Feb. 13. If the government’s official version is overly rosy in its portrait of Canada, the alternative version is a little too sour.

 Readers of the People’s Citizenship Guide would think Canada is a racist, anti-labour, pro-war nation where social movements are beaten down and protesters arrested. It is a pessimistic portrait that ignores almost all the reasons Canada should be proud.

 Poutine gets a page and a half. The two world wars together warrant just a paragraph. The fact Canada was one of the first countries to legalize gay marriage isn’t praised, but criticized for taking too long.

 Jones says the goal was to generate debate. "We wanted to counter the elitist-dominated top-down approach to Canadian history," she says.

 But she also believes hers is more accurate than the government’s guide.

 Candice Malcolm, Kenney’s press secretary, dismisses the guidebook as a "catalogue of mouldy leftist myths."

 To be fair, there is little in the alternative guide that is not true. But the official citizenship guide is mostly just a list of facts. While singing Canada’s praises for being an open and multicultural society. it also addresses historical injustices such as the forced imprisonment and deportation of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War and the tragedy of residential schools. It is honest about the language tensions between Quebec and the rest of Canada, and to the government’s credit, last year it updated the guide to include a line noting gay rights in Canada.

 Both books select facts to paint a certain picture of Canada depending on the writers’ view. Neither is entirely right. Neither is entirely wrong.

 Nearly 60 years ago, Hugh MacLennan wrote of the "two solitudes" that exist between French and English identities in Canada. Just over six years ago, a refugee from Haiti by the name of Michaëlle Jean said "the time of ‘two solitudes’ had finished" when she was named governor general.

 That may be true as it relates to the French and English, but in terms of the right and left in this country, there is no coming together — which makes it tougher for immigrants to understand their new home.

 mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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