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Ottawa's latest citizenship guide restores reference to same-sex rights

University students protest against reopening the equal marriage debate on Parliament Hill on Dec. 7, 2006.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

New Canadians learn about forced marriage, gay marriage and more about the War of 1812 in the latest edition of the Conservative government's citizenship guide.

The handbook, released Monday, is designed to equip people preparing for their citizenship test with a solid background in Canada's history, institutions and values.

When the first edition of Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship came out in 2009, it raised eyebrows on two fronts: It was far more robust in celebrating the role of the Queen and in promoting Canadian history and patriotism than were previous guides. This, on the whole, was seen as a positive development, though some on the left smelled conservative revisionism in the rewrite.

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More controversially, reference to the equality of rights for gays and lesbians, including the right to marry, was excised from the first edition, although Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney insisted it was an accidental oversight. The reference is back in for the second edition, though without any historical context, along with an expanded section on the War of 1812. (Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the war.)

The new version of the guide also adds "forced marriage" to honour killings and female genital mutilation as "gender-based violence" that is "severely punished under Canada's criminal laws."

In recent years, voices have questioned whether new Canadians sufficiently understand and embrace the idea of what it means to be Canadian. But immigrants may well know more about the country's history and values than many people born here.

For example, the very first page of the guide points out that every new Canadian must swear or affirm "that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen."

"It is a remarkably simple yet powerful principle," the guide explains. "Canada is personified by the Sovereign just as the Sovereign is personified by Canada."

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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