The bad news, according to a new poll: Most Canadians would fail the citizenship test and don’t know the Queen is Canada’s head of state — but more than half know Gilles Duceppe is not a current party leader in the House of Commons. So that’s something.
Earlier this month, Forum Research asked more than 1,500 Canadians to answer a multiple-choice quiz based on the study guide prospective citizens use to prepare for the citizenship test. (Using actual questions from the test is illegal, a spokesperson noted.) To pass the formal test, you need to answer 15 of 20 questions correctly. But, based on that 75-per-cent standard, just 12 per cent of respondents would have made their citizenship ceremony, according to Forum’s 10-question test.
Mairi Cowan, a historian at the University of Toronto who studies how best to teach and learn history, said she’s not among “those who panic” about this sort of thing.
Citizenship tests are “an instrument to measure something, of course,” she said. “I think they’re interesting as evidence of what matters to the people who put together the tests.”
The ten questions were a mixture of history, geography, and civic responsibility.
When asked, “Who are the Métis?” more than half of the respondents correctly answered “a distinct people of mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry” — but many of the rest incorrectly said they were a “distinct Aboriginal people of Atlantic Canada,” and others said they were the first French settlers.
Canadians out west did best on that question, with about two-thirds living in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia answering correctly.
Cowan, who has looked at curriculums across the country, wasn’t surprised, saying the Métis likely come up more in the history taught in those regions.
Audrey Macklin, a law professor at University of Toronto who studies immigration law and citizenship, said the results suggest Canadians don’t know enough about their country — and if Canadians don’t know these facts, she said, one might ask why we are expecting this knowledge as a precondition to citizenship from people who have already worked hard and made sacrifices to come here.
Is this the most important information about the country’s history, political system and society, she asked?
The ability to pass the test might be more a measure of how “well you know how to write tests,” she said. Historically, the citizenship test had a “very high pass rate” among newcomers, but changes were made under the previous federal Conservative government, she said.
Macklin said she isn’t a “big proponent” of the tests, and noted they are largely symbolic.
“Even if you thought that they mattered, is it worth turning them into some kind of nationalist Trivial Pursuit?”
On Toronto’s waterfront Sunday, a number of people enjoying the sunshine and tall ships were stumped by two questions from the Forum poll.
Brandon Yim laughed when he went oh-for-two on what the word “Inuit” means and the year the Charter of Rights and Freedoms become part of the Constitution.
“I’m mostly a B student,” he joked, questioning the importance of knowing the charter’s birth year. “The fact that myself, a Canadian citizen, didn’t know the answer to that year … it’s not really relevant, right?”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Duggan and Jim Brogden didn’t need to hear the multiple-choice options to correctly answer “the People” and “1982” with game show speed.
Jennie Popova, who became a Canadian citizen in 2011, and now works as a special needs support teacher in a Toronto school, guessed and missed on the Charter question, but got the meaning of Inuit correct.
She said she doesn’t remember “any facts” from her citizenship test, but did well after studying for a couple of days beforehand.
She thinks the test is fair, but said there should be other criteria.
“If you come here you should not only take the benefits, you should make the country benefit from you and your knowledge,” she said as she waited in line with her friend and daughter for the ferry to the Toronto Islands.
The Forum poll was conducted between June 25 and June 27 using an interactive voice response telephone survey polling 1,645 voters. The polling firm considers their results accurate within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Would you pass the citizenship test? Here are some of the questions from the Forum poll…
1. What is the name of the Royal Anthem of Canada?
O Canada — 56 per cent
God Save the Queen – 36 per cent
Don’t know – 6 per cent
The Star-Spangled Banner – 1 per cent
La Marseillaise – 1 per cent
2. Which is not an official responsibility of a Canadian citizen?
Driving safely – 26 per cent
Don’t know – 26 per cent
Helping others in the community – 12 per cent
Voting in elections – 11 per cent
Protecting and enjoying our heritage and environment – 9 per cent
Serving on a jury – 7 per cent
Taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family – 6 per cent
Obeying the law – 3 per cent
3. Canada has five regions, which of the following is not one of them?
Midwest – 63 per cent
Don’t know – 14 per cent
West Coast – 7 per cent
Centre Canada – 6 per cent
The Prairies – 4 per cent
Northern Territories – 4 per cent
Atlantic Canada – 2 per cent
4. Who is Canada’s head of state?
The Prime Minister – 39 per cent
The Governor-General – 33 per cent
Her Majesty the Queen – 19 per cent
Don’t know – 6 per cent
The President – 3 per cent
5. Of these four people, who is not a currently a leader in the House of Commons: Gilles Duceppe, Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Elizabeth May
Gilles Duceppe – 53 per cent
Justin Trudeau – 20 per cent
Elizabeth May – 9 per cent
Andrew Scheer – 6 per cent
6. When did the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms become part of the Constitution?
1982 – 40 per cent
1867 – 26 per cent
1988 – 10 per cent
2000 – 2 per cent
Don’t know – 21 per cent
7. What does “Inuit” mean in the Inuktitut language?
“The people” – 56 per cent
Don’t know – 27 per cent
“The north” – 7 per cent
“Home” – 6 per cent
“Land” – 4 per cent
… and their answers:
1. God Save the Queen
2. Driving safely
4. Her Majesty the Queen
5. Gilles Duceppe
7. “The people”
Katie Daubs is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @kdaubs