How do ‘we’ know our fellow citizens? This paper considers two processes where recognition occurs in the Canadian context: passports and naturalisation. Using document and policy analysis we argue there are two major forms of knowledge called upon to sort insiders from outsiders. Mechanical knowledge involves tests and evaluations driven by document-matching, biometrics and fact-checking exercises. Moral knowledge concerns the kind of lives we live among our peers and our intentions towards the political community. We note that in the Canadian case tensions exist between expectation and reality around citizen recognition. The state increasingly aspires to know the citizen through procedural checks or material observation yet encounters limitations that require some form of interpersonal knowledge rooted in human-to-human relationships. Drawing on these processes, in conclusion we suggest that how knowledge about citizenship is framed serves to sort outsiders from insiders, endorses specific behaviours over others, and empowers the state to redefine the meaning of citizenship.