It’s very refreshing indeed, to come across a citizenship guide so entirely different to the current version available to prospective new Canadians. The editors of A People’s Citizenship Guide: A Response to Conservative Canada are proposing that we recognize and acknowledge that Canada is still very much a colonial society built on indigenous land, and that since the early incursion of Europeans into what is now Canada, there has been an uneasy and often bigoted relationship with its original inhabitants. The “official” history, and most recently the former conservative government of Stephen Harper went to great lengths to offer a very narrow and reactionary view of our past and future. A People’s Citizenship Guide: A Response to Conservative Canada makes a compelling argument that through our history we can recognize a thread of oppression, repression, and exclusion at many levels. At the same time it celebrates a history of collective action that opposes the establishment, all with the aim to secure a more democratic and equitable society.
A People’s Citizenship Guide: A Response to Conservative Canada is divided into chapters dealing with very specific issues based around Canadian symbols. The authors’ approach is a far cry from the aristocratic, heraldic symbols of a bygone era. The symbols chosen are a bit more prosaic, if not more realistic: the small town Chinese restaurant, the Inuksuk on the side of the highway, Niagara Falls, The Community Rink, Poutine, and my all-time favourite Canadian song by the Guess Who American Woman, and its rejection of American pop culture and values. While I was basking in the glow of the “we are better than them” attitude, the author threw a bucket of cold water, bringing me down to earth with a sober reminder that we are very good at deflecting and ignoring our own “ghettos” and “war machines.”
The section dealing with multiculturalism is of particular interest. The authors, while recognizing that Canadians as a whole embrace multiculturalism as an official policy, note that the government (and to a great extent Canadians) support “veneer multiculturalism.” They are happy to celebrate the food and dances of diverse cultures in summer festivals, but ignore the more serious issues that immigrants are facing in Canadian society.
While the guide was written by a collective—many authors with different areas of expertise and points of view— there is a palpable cohesion between them that provides the reader with a different vision of what constitutes Canada: vision developed through a critical analysis and non-compliance with the official story.
I highly recommend the guide to anyone interested in Canadian history, politics, and immigration policies. In particular, the book could be an invaluable resource to Civics teachers.