Canada’s citizenship process is a problematic piece of political theatre. Here’s why I did it anyway

This column is an opinion by Toronto-based writer Callum Wratten. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Most imagery surrounding Canadian citizenship ceremonies involves crying immigrants holding flags, being joyfully accepted into this great nation. My experience was a little different; a dishevelled, begrudging presence on 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 licence plate sticker. I found the whole process deeply troubling, from the questions on the citizenship test that disingenuously framed Canada’s history, to having to swear allegiance to the Queen. I was troubled by just how easy it was for me, as a middle class, white Australian, compared to those from other countries, particularly agricultural workers. 

Despite all my reservations, the chance of being deported away from my family (permanent residents can be deported for non-violent crimes such as fleeing police or traffic offences which, if they carry a prison sentence of six months, are put in the same category as murder), as well as not being able to vote, made me decide to become a citizen.

Who can (and can’t) become a citizen

To become a citizen you first have to be a permanent resident. I first came to Canada on the International Experience Canada Program, but many agricultural workers come here on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Despite performing vital labour, most of them have no pathway to permanent residence and hence no pathway to citizenship. 

Although I can’t prove it with a reputable journalistic source, I can assure you that these people work harder than me and are far more important to Canadian society than I am. Any system that gives me a route to citizenship and not them is intrinsically discriminatory.  

Once permanent residents have lived in Canada for long enough and filed their taxes they can apply to become a citizen. The first step to becoming a Canadian is to pony up. The cost for an adult citizenship application is $630 (a $530 processing fee and a $100 right of citizenship fee). That’s a lot of money. It was more than I would make in a whole week when I worked at Tim Hortons. By charging such a large amount for citizenship, Canada is putting basic rights behind a paywall, and unlike Netflix, you can’t just borrow your friend’s password to vote. 

Testing (my limits)

The next step is to pass a test on “rights, responsibilities and knowledge of Canada,” but I found some of this knowledge of Canada runs contrary to the reality of Canada. 

For example, the test and the study materials use the blanket term First Nations to describe hundreds of nations with different languages, cultures, and systems of government. It never mentions John A. Macdonald’s involvement in residential schools. I had to answer multiple questions on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but the notwithstanding clause was never mentioned, which is kind of like having a test on airships and not having questions about the Hindenburg. 

It is troubling that a government that boasts its democratic bona fides would force hopeful citizens to memorize such a simplistic and sometimes disingenuous framing of Canadian history.  

Swearing fealty

The final step to becoming a citizen is taking the oath of citizenship. This includes swearing to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors.” I’m not a monarchist, but even if I did believe that God had given a strange German family the divine right to rule over several nations, there are other issues with the Canadian monarchy. 

For years Queen Elizabeth was accompanied on her taxpayer-funded official duties by Prince Philip, whose views could sometimes make Don Cherry look like Martin Luther King Jr. One of those heirs I swore fealty to was Prince Andrew. Sure it would be a hell of a disaster at the Windsor family reunion to put the ninth-in-line on the throne, but it still feels wrong to “bear 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 benefit and protect myself. The time and money I had at my disposal allowed me to safeguard myself from deportation and give myself the vote. 

After the ceremony, I felt relieved that I would never be deported because I messed up renewing my PR card, but I also felt uneasy that there are so many barriers to citizenship, and that I had to take an oath to an outdated institution. 

By the way, I’m sure there are some who are angry that I didn’t strike 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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