Civics and Citizenship


Welcome to Civics and Citizenship! Watch this short video for an introduction to the course.

Take a look at the following quotation related to the topic of civics:

Civics terms and definitions

New words and terms are briefly defined in the lessons. These terms (and related others) will be shown in boldface, and are listed in "Civics terms and definitions" (Opens in new window).”

Civics, politics, and government

Most people have a private life and a public life. Civics is part of a citizen’s public life. Civic life concerns the business of the community and nation. Watch the video “Everybody Plays a Part” to see how everyone has a part to play in their community.

Politics is the process that’s used to make formal, civic decisions.

People have different ideas about how a country should work. In an ideal world, it would be great to get everyone together to make a decision. However, even in a country like Canada (which has about 35 million people), that is unrealistic. When groups of people live together but have different opinions and interests, political systems are created to help them make collective decisions.

Early ideas on governance

In the 16th and 17th centuries, not every citizen could have a voice in every decision made, so different ideas developed about how to govern. These ideas were rooted in the different ways of thinking about human nature that predominated at that time.

Thinkers in other cultures took perspectives that were unique to their world view. Here you will touch on Western and Haudenosaunee ideas of governance, but you are encouraged to explore how communities are governed across the globe.

image of hands holding up Canadian flags

Politics in Canada originates in Indigenous and Western European understandings of leadership. While disagreements between these perspectives persist, each contributes to the Canadian understanding of good governance. Some notable influences include Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and the Haudenosaunee confederacy.

Press on each heading to find out more about the different ways in which Hobbes, Locke, and the Haudenosaunee people thought about humans and human nature.

A chemical spill from an industrial plant causing parts of a river to turn red.

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) felt that people tended to be selfish and were mainly interested in achieving their own interests. He regarded this “me-first” attitude as one that often led to conflict, violence, and war. Hobbes thought that people would be better off if they were taught obedience and followed rules enforced by a supreme ruler. He felt that obedience to a higher authority was the best way for society to avoid the chaos of continuous conflict.

A chemical spill from an industrial plant causing parts of a river to turn red.

John Locke (1632–1704) believed that humans were naturally good, tolerant, and intelligent. Locke agreed that selfishness and greed were part of human nature, but he felt that people also had a built-in sense of fairness and equality, making it necessary to build choice and participation into government.

A chemical spill from an industrial plant causing parts of a river to turn red.

Indigenous peoples in eastern North America developed their own political constitution and models for society. One of these models is known as the Great Law of Peace (Kaianere’kó:wa). The political and cultural alliance amongst the Haudenosaunee was built on the belief that all people had equal value and that, therefore, member nations should have equal representation in the alliance. The five-nation Haudenosaunee Confederacy – also known as the Iroquois League or League of the Five Nations – was founded sometime between 1142 and the mid-16th century.

What do you think? Do you agree more with Hobbes, Locke, or the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s view of people? Explain.

List three things in today’s society that support your perspective.

Citizens’ rights and responsibilities

There are a range of political systems in the world today. These typically fall along a political spectrum from authoritative regimes to democratic systems.

In non-democratic, authoritative systems, designated leaders make the decisions, rules, and laws. Citizens have limited rights and responsibilities, and are expected to obey.

Image of Young person holding a We want democracy sign

Image of Madeleine Dion Stout

Madeleine Dion Stout addressing guests at a dedication ceremony for a stained glass window in Parliament Hill to commemorate the legacy of Residential Schools as part of a movement to rectify First Nations peoples’ rights in Canada

Left: Young person holding a “We want democracy” sign at a 2009 Free Green Iran protest

In democratic systems, citizens have a voice in making decisions, rules, and laws. Decisions reflect the will of the majority. The government is limited in its power and must respect people’s rights.

Today, democracies come in many shapes and sizes, but most of them have these characteristics in common:

  • Living under the rule of law means that everyone must follow the same laws (leaders and government are subject to the law).
  • Laws should be known, predictable, and impartial
  • Political equality means that every citizen has the same right to vote and run for office, and to speak on public issues.
  • Citizens are meant to work toward the common good; that is, what will make the most people safe, secure, and happy. In addition, there’s a sense of responsibility and caring for others.
  • People enjoy personal freedoms, such as freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
  • Citizens are to respect the rights of others.
  • Citizens can communicate openly and participate individually and collectively in issues that shape their community, country, and world.
  • People can speak freely, form associations, run for office, and vote without being intimidated.
  • Citizens are to protect and uphold the dignity of all people.


Rank these characteristics in order from most to least important. Explain why you have put them in the order you have chosen.

Pick three of these characteristics. How do you see them at work (or not) in your community?

What is the inquiry process?

In order to explore civics, you’ll use the inquiry process.

You’ll be using this process to investigate events, developments, and issues; find solutions to problems; reach supportable conclusions; and develop plans of action.

The inquiry process has five basic components. You usually begin the process by formulating questions. Although the following graphic outlines the process step by step, you won’t always follow these steps in this order.

For example, you can:

  • start with a question, and then gather and analyze information and evidence to investigate it;
  • start with evidence and analyze it to draw conclusions, and then ask questions to clarify your findings using the other steps; or
  • use the entire process.

When you do an inquiry using this process, you’ll find that it will not always result in one “right answer.”

In order to evaluate your effectiveness as your inquiry proceeds, you’ll need to pause and reflect after each step, as you may need to adjust your process before continuing.

For example:

  • When you formulate questions, check that they are relevant before moving on to the next step.
  • When you gather and organize information, check that your evidence is accurate.
  • When you interpret your evidence, verify the logic of your analysis.
  • When you begin to form conclusions, ensure that you can support them with strong evidence.
  • You will be communicating throughout the inquiry process, when sign questions, organizing and analysis information and critically evaluating your findings.

Political thinking concepts

Along with the inquiry process, you’ll use four concepts of political thinking as guides, to help you focus on relevant questions. The four political thinking concepts are: political significance; objectives and results; stability and change; and political perspective.

Each concept gives you a different lens through which to view and filter your information, allowing you to look at issues and evidence in a number of different lights. These concepts are explained in detail below.

Summary: Political thinking concepts

Here is a summary of the political thinking concepts you have just looked at.

Political significance Objectives and results
I can use the concept of Political Significance, through the inquiry process, to:
  • explain how people, ideas, and events contribute to political change in society
  • analyse the degree to which political decisions represent turning points
  • assess the impact of a political decision or action made by a governing organization on a variety of stakeholders
  • evaluate how the importance of political actions/decisions may shift for various people and over time
I can use the concept of Objectives and Results, through the inquiry process, to:
  • identify the intended rationale(s) or motive(s) for political responses to issues
  • explain how political events or developments can be caused by multiple factors
  • assess the intended or unintended effect(s) or outcome(s) of a decision
  • evaluate the consequences of a political decision on various groups in society
Stability and change Political perspective
I can use the concept of Stability and Change, through the inquiry process, to:
  • explain links between past and current political policies, decisions and responses
  • determine the degree to which government policies may create or prevent political change
  • analyse the reason(s) for political continuity and variation over time
  • assess alternative approaches to political institutions to resist or support change
I can use the concept of Political Perspective, through the inquiry process, to:
  • identify the influence of beliefs/values on people’s political viewpoints and actions
  • analyse the factors that influence how and why people push for political change
  • compare and contrast how different groups respond to the same political issue
  • evaluate political courses of action from the viewpoint of key stakeholders

Source: OHASSTA and OHHSSCA, Fall 2013

Walking through the inquiry process

The political inquiry process can help you explore a topic you are interested in, making it easier for you to have an impact when you become actively involved in an issue. To become better acquainted with the process, take a look at these steps in more detail below:

Examples of inquiry questions

Here are some examples of good civics inquiry questions:

  • Why is civics important?
  • If you didn’t live in Canada, would you want to? Why, or why not?
  • Am I a good citizen?
  • How should our government work?
  • How should we balance individual rights and the common good?
  • What do you think are the non-negotiable attributes of a democracy?

As you can see, with questions like these, there isn’t just one answer. You have to work to find your own. That process builds skills and abilities.

Choosing and creating an inquiry question

To get some practice in choosing and creating effective questions for inquiry, take a look at the following examples. Using the list of suggestions you have just looked at, which of the following questions would make a good inquiry question, and which are not so effective? Explain your decisions.

Who was the first Prime Minister of Canada?

Who do you think was the best (or worst) Prime Minister of Canada? Support your opinion with evidence.

How should Canada address historical wrongs done to Indigenous peoples?

How have government relations with Indigenous peoples affected Canada and Canadian identity?

An inquiry process is used in most subject areas and even in most business contexts. Following the process helps ensure that you’re asking meaningful questions and using appropriate sources to find the evidence and answers you need.

After you have formulated a good question, the next logical step in an inquiry is to gather and organize information, in order to find evidence to answer your question. Learn more about this step below.

Research using primary sources

Primary source research can involve collecting raw data on a specific topic directly from the source. In other words, the researcher obtains the original data from the source first-hand. Tools used to collect data from primary sources include surveys, interviews, and participant observations.

Click here for an accessible version of Primary research tools (Opens in new window)

Research using secondary sources

Secondary research is so-called because the information you’re working with is not first-hand information; it was collected and reported by another researcher and comes to you second-hand.

You do secondary research by consulting resources such as books, journals, articles, or videos that have been developed by others. Based on what you find out, you can draw conclusions or develop plans for further research.

For example, if you’re interested in determining how a specific age group affects community participation, you could look for relevant information in articles found at libraries, or online. By consulting secondary sources, you’re studying what others have done and learned, before setting out to collect your own data.

Image of people doing research in a library using secondary sources

Check your understanding

Using what you’ve just learned, determine whether each of the items below would be considered a primary or a secondary source.

Click here for an accessible version of Primary and secondary sources (Opens in new window)

Looking for sources

Some primary source information, such as that found in original letters, diaries, or photos, is available in reference libraries or archives. You’ll find plenty of secondary sources in databases, in online articles, and in libraries.

Here is a list of common places to look for secondary sources:


Searching a database of scholarly articles will provide you with material that is more reputable and well written than doing a basic search on the Internet.

Articles on the Internet

When you find an article online that deals with your topic, look for background biographical information about the author. You can find this either at the top or the bottom of the article. Reading an author’s biographical information is a good way to tell whether he or she is a reliable, trustworthy source.


Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that is constantly updated and improved by users. Many people start their online research with Wikipedia when they want to quickly familiarize themselves with a topic. Currently, Wikipedia is acceptable as a starting point for research. You can use it to check facts, or to find “leads.” It can be a springboard to more in-depth research, because articles are usually supported with references or links to the sources.

However, Wikipedia is not acceptable as the main source for an academic research paper. This is because anyone can edit or add to the site, so the information found there could be inaccurate. If you start your research there, be sure to track down other credible primary and secondary sources if you plan to use the information in your own work. On the other hand, images from Wikipedia and Wikimedia are often acceptable sources in academic work as they are typically well documented, shareable, and sometimes copyright-free. Just use good judgement when using sources from any wiki site.

Checking sources

When you select secondary sources, you need to check that the information in them is valid and accurate.

You need to judge the sources you plan to use by asking questions about:

Accuracy means making sure that something is true, correct, and valid. If you refer to any false information, your interpretation of the information may also be questionable. Ask questions like these when trying to determine whether information is accurate:

  • Who produced the document? Do the authors have credibility or authority?
  • Where did the information come from? Was it from a reputable source?
  • Is the information first-hand knowledge from a primary source, or is it a summary created after the fact?
  • Does the information match or contradict information that you already have on the topic? If there are contradictions, are there logical reasons for this?

Facts are unbiased pieces of information about reality. Facts are objective; they have been proven and are not arguable. For example, it’s a fact that Indigenous people in early Canada governed themselves before Europeans arrived. That’s accepted as a fact because there is physical evidence to back it up.

Opinions are judgements, not facts. They are views or interpretations of events based on evidence, but they have not been proven beyond a doubt. Opinions are subjective and arguable. For example, “Indigenous peoples in early Canada welcomed Europeans” is an opinion, because arguments could be made to support or counter this statement.

Fact vs. opinion - example

Can you think of another example of a fact and an opinion?

Bias is the presentation of an issue from a single, subjective point of view. Biased statements can persuade uninformed people to adopt opinions they may not otherwise hold.Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether a source is biased:

  • Who wrote the document, and why? You’re looking for a credible author with no hidden agenda.
  • Where did the information come from? Was it from a reputable source?
  • Was the author or organization closely involved in the event being described? Could that have affected what was written?

Did you notice that some of the questions about bias are similar to those related to checking for accuracy? Misrepresentation caused by bias can easily result in an inaccurate or distorted understanding of a subject.

Identifying the author’s purpose is important, when judging sources. Ask some of these questions to clarify the author’s purpose:

  • Who are the authors?
  • Are they educated in the subject matter?
  • Are they qualified to write about their subject material because they attended the event, or because they got involved in the issue as a witness, participant, survivor, or beneficiary?
  • Are they employed by an objective institution, such as a university or research centre?

Citing sources

For this course, whenever you formally cite (acknowledge) sources that are not your own, use The Chicago Manual of Style method of citation.

For example, if you consulted information from the website called “,” you would record the reference information for this source in Chicago style, as follows:

“First Peoples Historical Overview.” Canada’s First Peoples. Accessed November 12, 2015.

Pay attention to the types of information that are included in the citation. Look at the order in which the information appears, as well as the punctuation and capitalization conventions used. All of these details are important when you're asked to use a specific citation style.

For more information on how to use The Chicago Manual of Style method, refer to "Chicago Documentation style" (Opens in new window)

Now that you have some background in how to gather information as part of your inquiry, here is your chance to give it a try.

Activity: Doing research using primary sources

Find three people in your community who are willing to participate in your research – in person, on the phone, or online. Conduct a short interview with each of them by asking the question, “What do you think are the five most critical issues affecting the world today?”

Use a data collection sheet to record their responses. For example, take a look at "Data collection sheet: Civics inquiry". (Opens in new window)

Note that, because this information is being gathered first-hand from participants in the inquiry, it is considered primary source data.

You’ll work with primary source data you collect, as you walk through the remaining steps in this inquiry.

How does recording the information in a chart help you to understand it? Next time, how will you change your chart so that it is easier for you to work with?

Once you’ve gathered and organized your information, the next step in the process is to interpret and analyze the findings.

Activity: Using a Venn diagram to compare information

Once you’ve gathered your information, you’ll organize it by creating a Venn diagram. On a piece of paper, reproduce the following three overlapping circles. Each circle will contain the interview responses from one of your subjects.

Record the similarities in the overlapping areas, and the differences in the non-overlapping areas. Once you have finished, answer the questions below.

Image of a Venn diagram

When you’ve filled in your Venn diagram, examine the results. Which issues did your subjects identify as being the most critical?

Did any of your subjects identify the same issues as being the most critical? If so, what do you think that indicates? If not, what do you think that indicates?

How could you revise or rerun your inquiry to check your results?

Did you get any insights into your subjects or the issues raised by conducting this basic research activity? What were they?

Now that you have a preliminary list of civic issues that are considered significant, you’ll come back to it from time to time, as you work through the course. After analyzing your information, the next step is to evaluate what you’ve found and draw conclusions, based on sound judgement of the evidence.

Check your understanding

What did the evidence tell you about the question being investigated, and which ideas have become clearer, after your inquiry?

Does the evidence support what you originally thought, or not?

What conclusions can be drawn?

How are your ideas about the issue changing?

Is there anything new you’ve learned that you would change or add to your position?


Once you have finalized your key findings, you need to think about what points to communicate. Remember …

Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.

– William Butler Yeats

Take a look at the information below about how to communicate findings and create a plan of action.

The inquiry process has five basic components and these steps are interrelated. Using the process in this lesson, you’ve documented the issues that a small group finds important in your community and/or globally.

Do you feel strongly about any of these issues? Are you motivated to investigate them further, or possibly become involved in them?

Jot down three or four civic issues that you’d like to contribute to. These might be ideas you’ll use in your final activity!

Moving into action

As this course progresses, you’ll choose issues and then use your inquiry tools, knowledge, and skills to investigate them.

By the end of the course, you will have:

  • selected one issue that you believe to be significant and interesting;
  • researched the issue;
  • found out how you can contribute towards the issue; and
  • created an action plan to help resolve the issue, or at least move it /in the right direction.

For example, you may decide to try to improve political participation /within your community; plan to resolve an issue in your neighbourhood; create a plan for an annual celebration in your community; improve recycling and exchange of used objects in your community; or clean up the waterfront. Alternatively, you could focus on a larger issue (such as hunger); a specific group of people (such as the elderly); the work of an organization (such as Habitat for Humanity); a common goal (such as reducing waste); a more effective practice (such as a non-violent protest); or a needed service (such as mental health care for children).

The type of civic issue chosen, and its scope, are up to you!

As you progress through the course, keep the nature of this final assessment in mind. Think about how you can use the processes, skills, knowledge, and tools that you acquire during the lessons to help you complete your final project.

Housing community service groups are common in many communities across the province


In this lesson, you’ve started to ask some civics-related questions. You:

  • read a definition of civics and saw how it relates to politics and government;
  • followed the steps in a political inquiry process and began to use it to investigate civic issues;
  • identified four political thinking concepts and received information on how they are used during the inquiry process;
  • distinguished between a number of data collection methods and used one to collect data as part of an inquiry; and
  • distinguished between different types of sources for inquiry.

You’re now ready to launch into the rest of the course!