This year’s Citizenship Week marks a sad occasion for the staff at the Victoria Immigration and Refugee Centre. That’s when the centre will end its highly successful citizenship training course, a government program to help permanent residents pass Canada’s citizenship exam.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada began funding the two-year pilot program at several agencies in January 2013.
But VIRC’s funding dried up in July this year, so the centre invested $100,000 of its own money to cover the costs and keep the program going.
However, VIRC’s executive director David Lau says that can no longer continue and the program will end on Oct. 17, a date that falls during Citizenship Week.
“It’s heartbreaking,” says Lau, noting that the staff and volunteers put a lot of effort into the program.
“We had to shut down the program before the end of our contract,” he adds. “We’ve been trying to reach Citizenship and Immigration Canada for months, but they’re not returning our calls.”
VIRC offered its Citizenship 101 course once a week for 10 weeks. The program ran five times and graduated 140 permanent residents.
“We had really good dialogue [with CIC]. We sent in regular reports on the program and it met or exceeded all our milestones,” Lau says. “We had a 100 percent success rate.”
Word about the pilot’s success spread and Lau and his team began training people to teach the course for use in other agencies. Twelve non-profits were involved—ten in B.C. and the other two in Winnipeg and New Brunswick.
Lau says other agencies are still receiving funding for the program. “Our course is the only one that has lost funding. The other organizations have had their funding extended.”
He says some of those agencies, such as Catholic Crosscultural Services in Toronto and CitizenshipNow.ca, operators of the Virtual Citizenship Resource Centre, offer the course online only.
“Our course is offered in the classroom instead of online,” he says. “VIRC builds citizenship in the community by bringing people together in a classroom. That’s really what citizenship is all about.”
An Epoch Times request seeking comment from CIC was not met by press deadline.
The citizenship exam is the final step in the immigration process to become a Canadian citizen.
Citizenship and Immigration revamped the exam last year when Ottawa amended the Citizenship Act and approved Bill C-24. The new exam is said to be tougher and calls for better knowledge of English or French.
The changes followed complaints about the waitlist to take the exam. Roughly 350,000 permanent residents were backlogged in 2013—more than the number of newcomers who arrive in Canada in a year.
Canada’s higher levels of immigration in the past eight years has meant the demand for citizenship has increased by 30 percent. Approximately 200,000 people become new citizens each year, according to CIC.
Citizenship courses help permanent residents answer the exam questions in the “Discover Canada” guide. Course participants learn about Canada’s history, geography, and symbols; how the Canadian government works; and citizens’ rights and responsibilities.
Yiura Lubaggi, VIRC’s client services coordinator, says that after the government funding ran out in July, staff met to discuss the issue.
“Everyone was talking about the course and saying they were so sad it was ending,” she says. “It was very popular and many students were scoring 20 over 20 on the citizenship exam.”
VIRC will host a party for the staff, volunteers, and graduates of the program on Oct. 9 to observe Citizenship Week and celebrate the success—and lament the demise—of Citizenship 101.
Susan L. Blanchard is a freelance reporter based in Calgary.