Didactic Administrative Law: Becoming a Canadian Citizen

I took the Canadian citizenship test recently. This is great fun for an administrative lawyer. For example, when the regulations say that citizenship is dependent in part on responding accurately to questions “prepared by the minister”, I am not fooled into thinking that Mr. Alexander composed the test himself on a sunny Sunday afternoon at his cottage because I know that the Carltona principle applies to permit his underlings to set the questionnaire in his name.

Sadly, I cannot give any details of the test. Section 22 of the Access to Information Act prevents me from doing so (perhaps ironically!) because the questions can be repeated on future exams. But I think I can safely say that the test serves an educational purpose. Not only do prospective citizens need to carefully read the Discover Canada guide provided for free by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, but the questions themselves focus the test-taker’s mind on the foundational principles of liberal democracy and Canadian society, some of which would not be familiar to those who grew up in less liberal, less democratic societies.

This provoked a general reflection: too often we think of laws and regulations as top-down exercises of coercive power — the form-wielding-civil-servant scenario writ large, perhaps — whereas administrative action may serve much broader and softer purposes. Didactic administrative law, I suppose we could call it.

This content has been updated on March 10, 2015 at 14:49.