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The Benefits of Canadian Citizenship

Many newcomers to Canada wish to become citizens. This is the goal of many immigrants because it means they become full members and participants in Canadian society and can take full advantage of the rights available to them. These rights are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, apply to all people living in Canada, and include:

  • democratic rights;
  • mobility rights;
  • legal rights;
  • equality rights; and
  • language rights.

The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship

By becoming a Canadian citizen, immigrants are afforded several new rights which allow them to fully participate in Canadian society. These new rights and privileges, as outlined on the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Department website, include the right to:

  • apply for a passport;
  • vote in elections; and
  • run for office

These are important rights as they open up new opportunities for immigrants. A passport enables Canadian citizens to take advantage of Canadian consular services such as emergency evacuation or legal help while overseas. Voting and standing for office allows citizens to have a say in the running of their country and on government policies. For many immigrants, this is a very important change, especially for those arriving from countries without democratic institutions.

Along with these rights, however, come responsibilities. These responsibilities, as outlined on the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Department website, include:

  • obeying Canada’s laws;
  • expressing opinions freely while respecting the rights and freedoms of others;
  • helping others in the community;
  • caring for and protecting Canada’s heritage and environment; and
  • eliminating discrimination and injustice.

Canadian citizens have an additional responsibility: to vote in elections.

Responsibilities are important because they state that if a citizens are able to derive benefits from society, they should also do their best to make a contribution to that society.

Integration and Contributing to One's Community

Painting of Métis New Years Day Celebration

In addition to the responsibilities noted above, being a good citizen can also include making a contribution by becoming involved in one's community. Examples of community involvement include:

  • volunteering (e.g, at a church, community league, or during an election campaign);
  • helping out (e.g., assisting neighbours move, planting a community garden, or becoming a block parent);
  • joining a group (e.g., a locals ports team, youth group, or charity); or
  • running for public office.

While important to all Canadians, for newcomers, such activities not only provide an opportunity to meet new people and to practise their English or French. but they are also an important way to learn about Canadian institutions, laws, and customs. While Canada is a multicultural country and people from different cultures are encouraged to celebrate their heritage and to maintain traditions even after immigrating, it is also expected that they follow Canadian laws and customs. It is important for immigrants to learn what Canadian society expects of them and about the behaviours that are appropriate in different situations. Often, what is acceptable in one country or culture is considered odd, rude, or offensive in another. Examples include:

In Canada, most people shake hands when greeting a friend. In other countries (e.g., Spain), people may kiss one another’s cheeks. For many Canadians unfamiliar with this tradition, this would feel like an invasion of personal space, especially among men who reserve such behaviours to interactions with the opposite sex.
Unfamiliarity with a new language
Newcomers to Canada may still be learning English or French. They may use a word incorrectly or a word not normally used in conversation. This could lead to a misunderstanding or embarrassment and could be as simple as confusing “Mister” with “Miss”.
Gender relations
In many countries (e.g., Iran) and cultures, interactions between females and males are different from what they are in Canada. Some newcomers may be uncomfortable talking to members of the opposite sex and may appear rude or curt when dealing with them.
Eating with one’s hands
Whiles ome foods, known as “finger-foods”, are eaten by hand in Canada, most foods require a fork, knife, or spoon. In some countries (e.g., Morocco), it is normal to eat with one’s hands but in Canada, many would find it odd or rude to see someone doing this.
Lining up
In some countries (e.g., Pakistan), it is acceptable to push or shove to get to the frontof a line while in Canada, it is expected that people will wait their turn.
Friendliness with strangers
In some countries (e.g., Ethiopia), it is normal to talk to people you don’t know while in public (e.g., on the bus or waiting in line at a post office). In Canada, however, most people speak only to people they know.
Holding hands
In somecountries (e.g., India), it is acceptable for friends to hold hands.

Newcomers also have to familiarize themselves with Canadian traditions or customs that might be rude or offensive in their country or culture. They adjust by realizing their actions are not intended to be rude and are acceptable behaviours in their new country. Examples of these include:

Touching of the head
In Canada. touching of another person’s head could be seen as a sign affection, but in other countries (e.g., Laos), this is seen as extremely rude as the head is the most important part of the body.
Eating with a fork
While almost all people in Canada use a fork to eat a meal, in some countries (e.g., Thailand), putting a fork in one’s mouth is akin to eating with a knife in Canada.
Touching food with the left hand
In many countries (e.g., Iraq), food is only to be touched with the right hand; touching food with the left is considered extremely rude, whereas in Canada there is no such norm.
In Canada, asking someone for a date usually involves a limited commitment over a single evening; it does not usually imply a continuing commitment. In other countries, dating may only take place with the intent of a serious, long-term commitment.
Compared to many countries, Canada is a very informal country. In Canada, people greet each other by first name and young people often address their elders in a casual manner. In other countries (e.g., Japan), respect for elders is very important and more formal ways of speaking are used when addressing them. When talking to younger Canadians, older immigrants may feel they are not being respected by the younger person even if this was not intended by the younger person.
Dutch immigrants outside CNR

Sometimes, cultural or societal practices in other countries are not only considered rude or offensive in Canada, but some are also illegal. By coming to Canada and by becoming citizens, immigrants not only gain membership in the society and politics of the country but the also agree to be bound by Canadian law. While some laws are standard around the world (such as laws that prohibit murder or stealing), others vary. For many newcomers, there are different and unfamiliar laws in Canada. It is important for immigrants to familiarize themselves with these new laws. For example, in Canada, children have certain rights. These rights include freedom from abuse. In Canada, neglect is a form of abuse. Part of this means not leaving children under the age of twelve alone to care for themselves. Some immigrants might be unfamiliar with such a meaning as they would associate the definition of abuse as the act of physically harming a child.

Also, some cultural practices — legal in someone’s homeland — might be illegal in Canada. One such example is the chewing of the khat (or qat) leaf. The leaf comes from a bush found in northeast Africa and in the Middle East. The leaf is chewed, often in social settings, for its stimulating and exhilarating effects. In Canada,the leaf is classed along with other stimulants such as cocaine and is therefore illegal. Immigrants from countries such as Somalia or Yemen who are used to this practice being legal in their home country may be surprised to find its use illegal in Canada. Nevertheless, as its use is prohibited, chewing the khat can lead to arrest and imprisonment; immigrating to Canada means sacrificing the ability to chew the khat leaf in order to enjoy the freedoms Canada offers.

Many newcomers to Canada may also experience freedoms they are not used to. Something that may be illegal in their home country might be legal here in Canada. One such example is homosexuality. In some countries around the world (e.g., Saudi Arabia or Iran), homosexuality is illegal. Immigrants from these countries may find it odd that the laws permit not only homosexuality, but that gay and lesbian people are considered equal to their heterosexual counterparts.


Studying Toward Canadian Citizenship: Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities

Khat, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Multiculturalism and Immigration in Canada (219-220)

Homosexuality laws of the world, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fact Sheet: Rights and Responsibilities, a resource by Citizenship and Immigration Canada

A Newcomer's Introduction to Canada: Personal rights and freedoms, a resource by Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Albertasource Website Resources

Constitutional rights and responsibilities


Voting Rights

St. Vincent and St. Paul: 1960s to Present

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