Printer Friendly

Group identity: unless you are born in Canada, becoming a Canadian citizen is a long and involved process.

Citizenship as we know it is tied tightly to democracy. In states operated as absolute monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, Brunei) or dictatorships (North Korea, Turkmenistan, Cuba) the people may be citizens but they are without fights. They certainly can't change their government and they must give their allegiance to a single leader. They have little protection from being jailed or even executed at the whim of their leader. Such states are the remnants of what used to be the dominant form of social organization.

There have been a number of false starts towards what we think of as citizenship today. During the time of the lawmaker and poet Solon (639-559 BCE) the idea of citizenship first appeared in Ancient Greece.

There was another flowering of the concept during the early Roman Republic several decades after Solon's death. In 507 BCE, the Roman monarchy was abolished when ordinary folk pressed for and got rights previously enjoyed only by a privileged class.

During the late 11th and early 12th centuries communities were set up in Italian city-states where democracy and citizenship briefly took root. None of these examples lasted long. Dictators and monarchs seized back the power that had been taken from them. The ordinary people went back to their miserable condition of oppression.

The most recent outbreak of democracy and citizenship came with the French Revolution (1789-99). Peasants, wage-earners, and a growing middle class were finding life a real struggle. At the same time, the extravagant lifestyles of French monarchs and nobles had run the country into massive debt.

Philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and David Hume were writing about remodeling the way states worked. Their ideas were part of what historians call The Enlightenment. They called for power to be transferred into the hands of the people from unelected kings and queens and the church.

Inspired by the Enlightenment philosophers French revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy. All French citizens were declared equal. King Louis XVI was guillotined in public on a chilly and wet January morning in 1793. At his execution, the once all-powerful absolute monarch was referred to only as Citizen Louis Capet.

The revolution sputtered a few times--there was the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte and a brief return of the monarchy--but the concept of citizenship among equals kept coming back. With the establishment of the Third Republic in 1870 the old order was buried for good--at least, so far.

Others took note of the French Revolution. Aristocrats and royals, not wishing to lose their heads in the way their French cousins had, yielded to the demands of general populations everywhere. Democracy spread across Europe and with it the notion of citizenship bound up in fights and responsibilities.

Now, the people ran the government and were able to define citizenship. Different countries viewed citizenship in different ways but most followed the same broad outlines.

The sociologist Thomas Marshall wrote the book on this subject. Citizenship and Social Class was first published in 1950 and it's still considered a core text on the subject today. Mr. Marshall described how citizenship developed in England. He saw three phases:

* The 18th century brought civil citizenship in the form off equality before the law, liberty of the person, freedom of speech, thought, and faith, the right to own property, and the right to enter into contracts;

* In the 19th century, political citizenship developed. Increasing numbers of people were able to vote in elections and stand for office;

* The 20th century saw the growth of social citizenship giving people the right to enjoy a certain standard of economic and social welfare.

At the same time, wrote Mr. Marshall, four sets of public institutions matured to protect these rights: the courts, elected legislatures, the social services, and schools.

Canadians today enjoy the fullest basket of citizenship rights outlined by Mr. Marshall.

There are two ways that people can enjoy the benefits of Canadian citizenship. You can be born here, and none of us have any control over that happy event. This is described by the Latin phrase jus soli, which is translated as "right of the soil." It is the fight to citizenship or nationality that comes from having been born within the territory of a state. (The only exception to this rule in Canada is that children born to foreign diplomats serving in Canada are not granted Canadian citizenship.)

A child born outside Canada can still be a Canadian citizen if one of his or her parents is a Canadian citizen.

The other way to achieve Canadian citizenship is to come here from another country and meet certain qualifications. The second road to citizenship is called naturalization and there are a number of stops along the way.

The first stop for would-be citizens is the Canadian immigration office in their home country.

There are forms to fill out. Proof must be provided that the applicant doesn't have a criminal record. The applicant must have skills needed in Canada and be in good health. There are fees to be paid and interviews to pass through. A good knowledge of either French or English is needed as well as a security clearance. There is also an application fee of $550. Processing the information takes time: a lot of time.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada says the current wait time for applications to be finalized is 54 months. But, the waiting times vary around the world. Eighty percent of applications through Lima, Peru are dealt with in 12 months. The longest wait is for applicants through Warsaw, Poland; there, it takes 67 months to finalize 80 percent of applications.

The immigrant who clears all these hurdles and arrives in Canada is not yet a citizen. They have what is called permanent resident status, and they get a permanent resident card. This is a photo ID card that costs $50. Without the card, permanent residents returning to Canada after a trip abroad are going to run into all sorts of re-entry hassles.

Permanent residents enjoy most of the privileges under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that citizens have. However, they cannot vote in elections nor can they run for political office. A permanent resident cannot hold a Canadian passport either and must live in Canada for a minimum of two years out of every five-year period.

After living in Canada for at least three years, the permanent resident can apply to become a citizen. That means more forms, background checks, and a $200 fee. Processing the application takes 12 to 15 months to complete. (People in prison or with recent criminal records need not apply.)

If Citizenship and Immigration Canada decides the applicant has behaved well and contributed to society she or he passes on to the next step. That's the Citizenship Test.

Each applicant gets a book of information about Canada to study. They then go before a Citizenship Judge to take the test. Here are a few typical questions:

* Which group of Aboriginal peoples makes up more than half the population of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut?

* What three industries helped the early settlers build communities in the Atlantic region?

* When is Canada Day, and what does it celebrate?

* Name three legal rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

* Which province is the only officially bilingual province?

* Which mountain range is on the border between Alberta and British Columbia?

* Which region of Canada is known for both its fertile agricultural land and valuable energy resources?

* Explain how the levels of government are different.

* Name all the federal political parties in the House of Commons and their leaders.

Passing this test is not a slam dunk. It's a safe bet a lot of Canadian-born citizens would fail it. But, with a passing grade the applicant gets to wait a few more weeks for the best part of the process--the Citizenship Ceremony.

Dignitaries often turn out for the event. The Citizenship Judge is there in full regalia. And there's always a Mountie in red serge uniform. Family and friends are invited to attend. New citizens take the Oath of Citizenship and receive their Certificate of Citizenship. They must attend the ceremony to complete the process.

There are often tears of joy. Some people have come from war-torn countries or have fled persecution. Becoming a Canadian citizen, something most of us take for granted, can be a very moving experience. They finally belong somewhere and can live the rest of their lives in peace and security.

Here's how Citizenship and Immigration Canada puts it:

"For many individuals and families, the citizenship ceremony is the realization of a dream. It is a formalized rite of passage that marks your entry into the Canadian family."


Nationality is not quite the same thing as citizenship; it's possible to be legally the subject of a state and entitled to its protection (nationality) without having rights of political participation in it (citizenship). It is also possible to have political rights without being a national of a state.


Citizenship Week is celebrated each year in Canada during the third week of October.

There was no such thing as Canadian citizenship until 1 January 1947 when the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946 took effect. Prior to date, people born in Canada were "British subjects."


A recent development has been extending the idea of citizenship internationally. One example is the European Union (EU). In 2005, citizens of any EU member country automatically became "citizens of the Union" as well. This wider citizenship does not outrank national citizenship but adds to it. Citizens of the Union now have the right to move to and live in any member state and to vote in municipal elections.

Canadians also enjoy a wider citizenship: that of the Commonwealth of Nation. of 53 mostly former British colonies, including form of citizenship offers certain privileges within some Commonwealth countries. Canadians are able to vote in the local and national elections of some Commonwealth countries if they are resident there. Commonwealth citizens usually enjoy fewer travel and work restrictions to and in other member states.


Sometimes, a baby might be born in Canada to non-Canadian parents. This might happen to a couple on vacation here when junior makes an unexpectedly early appearance. However, the little bundle of joy is more likely to have arrived on time under a plan by its parents to beat the system.

Such a child is often referred to as an "anchor" or "jackpot" baby. That's because the baby is a Canadian citizen by virtue of having been born in the country (that jus soli thing). The anchor baby can then sponsor its non-citizen family to come to Canada to settle.

The United States and Canada are two of only a very few countries that allow this practice.


Former South African President Nelson Mandela (top) is a Canadian citizen. So too is the Dalai Lama (middle right), the supreme leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Both men have been granted honourary Canadian citizenship because of their exceptional services to humanity. The honour has been given to only one other person, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (lower right).

Towards the end of World War II, Mr. Wallenberg risked his life to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis, He was captured by the Soviet Union in 1945 and held on suspicion of being a U.S. spy. He is thought to have died in Soviet custody but mystery surrounds when this happened.

In 1985, the Parliament of Canada made Mr. Wallenberg an honourary citizen of Canada. This came at a time when stories were circulating that he might still be alive.

Honourary citizenship is symbolic only. It does not give the recipient any rights, privileges, or duties typically held by a Canadian citizen.


1. Through class discussion, draw up a list of five living people you think are deserving of honourary Canadian citizenship.

2. As a class project write a Citizenship Oath.


Canadian Citizenship--

Citizenship Test questions--
COPYRIGHT 2006 Canada & the World
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Previous Article:What a strange country.
Next Article:Best of both worlds: Canada allows its immigrants to have dual citizenship; they can be Canadian citizens and still retain the citizenship of the...

Related Articles
Protecting immigrants against discrimination.
The soil and the blood.
Taking the oath. (The Immigrant Experience--Citizenship).
Visa rules on the border: facilities awaiting impact of immigration law.
Not giving up on immigration control: when it comes to immigration reforms and tight immigration controls, many say it can't be done. But they are...
A bold remedy to a grave threat: because the 14th Amendment's original intent has been ignored and the amendment has been used to grant citizenship...
Should the U.S. end birthright citizenship: Congress is considering a bill that would end the longtime practice of granting citizenship to children...
Best of both worlds: Canada allows its immigrants to have dual citizenship; they can be Canadian citizens and still retain the citizenship of the...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters