Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A look at the Canadian citizenship test

My tagline reads "American by birth, Canadian by choice," but I have to admit that I'm not quite there yet. It is true that I've chosen to be Canadian, but I'm actually still in the last stages of the citizenship process. This morning I finally got to take my citizenship test, which is the last step before being allowed to take the oath. I thought some of you Canadian-born Canadians might be interested in hearing what it's like for the rest of us, so I figured I'd write it up.

A few weeks ago (after over a year of patient thumb-twiddling), I received a letter telling me to be at the Edmonton Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices by 9:15 on August 17th. I was far from the only one, though; when I got there this morning at 8:55, the whole area outside was already filled with fresh-faced wannabe new Canadians, all clutching their "A Look At Canada" study guides. This is a little booklet that immigrants receive immediately upon applying for citizenship, to help us prepare for the test. It's written in very simple language, but it's actually pretty informative, and the ideologies behind it are really quite endearing (how much do I love that they actually have a sustainable development section?). In any case, I'd guess that there were about 75 people there in total, and they varied in age, but most looked to be in their thirties or forties. I was one of only two Caucasian faces in the bunch; most seemed to have been of Chinese, Korean, or Japanese origin, but the whole range of visible minorities were represented. Two were in wheelchairs: one older woman, and one woman about my age.

We'd been told to bring with us two pieces of picture ID, our permanent residence cards, and all of the passports we've ever had, current and expired. They let us in at 9:00, and we had to line up single-file (which made for a rather long line), and as we went up one-by-one, they checked our signatures against our driver's licenses and permanent residence cards, and our pictures against our faces. In my case, they also spent a lot of time checking the stamps in my various passports against the list of dates I'd said I'd been out of the country in the last eight years; apparently the sheer amount that I travel had set off some red flags! Eventually, though, I was given a clipboard with a pen and told to go in the other room and sit down in seat #90. I was one of the first people in, so I had about 45 minutes to sit there and read through my study guide again while the others filed in. They staggered the seating in the room so as to make cheating less likely.

Once everyone was inside, a CIC worker (most of whom seem to be immigrants themselves, incidentally) came around and told us that we were going to be given a written test that had twenty questions, and we were expected to get twelve right. We would have thirty minutes to complete it, and the questions were all multiple choice. We were told that we could ask questions before the test and after the test, but not during the test, so a few people asked things like how long they could expect to wait before taking the oath (1-4 months) and what would happen if they didn't pass the test (they could retake it orally with an immigration official). I raised my hand and asked if there was any chance that if a federal election was called within the next month or so, if they might put a rush on that oath thing. Everyone laughed, but unfortunately the answer was no. (Dammit.)

After all that, the actual test was uneventful, and in places, even funny. It was all based on information from the study guide, but it was mostly really basic stuff like "which provinces originally joined together in Confederation" and "what are the levels of government". My favourite question was the one about what the responsibilities of Canadian citizenship are (one of the possible answers was "be loyal to Canada and drive a car"). In any case, I was arrogant enough to stop by the passport office (conveniently located just downstairs from Citizenship and Immigration Canada) and pick up an application before heading back to my bus. Here's hoping.

Monday, August 08, 2005


I came home last night from the final evening of the best Edmonton Folk Music Festival I've been to in years, only to find that Peter Jennings had died. It put a bit of a damper on my post-folkfest bliss, let me tell you.

When I first found out he had lung cancer, I tried to articulate just what this man meant to me, but nothing worthy came out, so I'll state the obvious. He was an American and a Canadian, and intensely loved both countries in a way that proved to others that it was possible. He was a steady, compassionate presence in the worst moments of human history in a way no other journalist has managed to be. He never did manage to write any of the books he had in him, and our understanding of the world we live in (and especially of the relationship between Canada and the United States), is immeasurably poorer for that. I want to say I loved him, but of course I never met him, so I didn't--not really. But the admiration, adoration, and gratitude I felt for him had that sort of level of intensity.

He will be missed.