What defines a “Canadian Citizen”? Survey reports

Most of us may remember the facetious and widely-acclaimed book entitled, How to Be a Canadian (written by the award-winning Ferguson brothers, Will and Ian), that gave non-Canadians an inside look into our northern culture, while reminding Canadians of their whimsical, yet inherent, nature. Sure, Canadians, may talk funny, over-apologize at inappropriate times, and passionately enjoy holding the door open for complete strangers, but whether you are a native-born or foreign-born Canadian, have you ever wondered what it truly means to be a genuine Canadian citizen?

Pondering on the same question, the Environics Institute—in collaboration with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (“ICC”), the Maytree Foundation, the CBC and RBC—conducted the first-ever national public opinion survey to ask Canadians what it means to be a good citizen in their country. The research focused on three pertinent themes:

  1. How Canadians define what it means to be a “good citizen”
  2. How comfortable are Canadians with the state of citizenship in this country?
  3. How do the views of native-born and foreign-born Canadians compare?

Between November 19 and December 17, 2011, 2,375 Canadian residents (aged 18 or older) participated in the survey and provided their insight on what it means to be a Canadian citizen. The findings were published in a final report titled, Canadians on Citizenship on February 15, 2012.

From the Report, it can be easily deduced that the majority of Canadians take pride in the country’s advancement in gender equality issues, its citizens’ open-mindedness, its principles of democracy, its engagement in volunteer work, and its active commitment in protecting the environment.

As an immigration consultant, what sparked my interest was the discussion on residency requirements. Currently, an estimated 3 million Canadians live abroad in other countries, most of whom hold a dual citizenship. While this statistic may not alert your conscience, many Canadians aren’t so happy about this reality. According to the study, 52 per cent of Canadians believe that there should be conditions placed on Canadians who live abroad in order to keep their citizenship, such as requiring them to return to live in Canada on a regular basis. Section 28 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, 2001 (IRPA) and section 61 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, 2002 (IRPR) do not state any residency requirements for Canadian citizens; however, both sections do require that permanent residents remain in Canada for at least 730 days in a five-year period, unless excluded under certain circumstances.

The likelihood of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) amending the Act and Regulation on the grounds of published survey may be slim, but if it does occur, it would most likely go unnoticed amid the myriad policy changes that are happening to the immigration system.

Highlights from the survey

  • Being a good citizen is more than having a passport, obeying the law and paying taxes. These are widely seen as key aspects of citizenship, but just as important are being active participants in one’s community, helping others and accepting differences. Gender equality and environmental responsibility are also widely seen as very important aspects of being a good citizen in Canada.
  • Canadians are confident in citizenship as they define it. They agree that everyone – regardless of where they are born – can be a good citizen. Canadians expect newcomers to adapt to become good citizens, but many also believe society needs to play a greater role in supporting this process.
  • Most Canadians are comfortable with the current requirements for legal citizenship, and have no problem with dual citizenship or Canadians who have some residency history in the country living abroad.
  • Canadian-born and foreign-born citizens hold strikingly similar views about what it means to be a good citizen in this country. Most foreign-born citizens become citizens out of a commitment to be Canadian. They are as likely as native-born individuals to feel fully like a good citizen, and even prouder to be Canadian.

Got a minute or two? Take CBC’s interactive quiz and find out if you have the characteristics of a good citizen!

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