Speak our language, or stay out
French or English should be must for immigrants who want citisenship, minister says
By BILL GRAVELAND
The Canadian Press
March 21, 2009
CALGARY – Immigrants who can't speak English or French well enough should be denied citisenship, says a federal politician.
Canada needs to improve its efforts to integrate newcomers, Jason Kenney, minister of citisenship, immigrations and multiculturalism, said Friday.
“I believe one area that we can ask immigrants in the country to make a greater effort (in) is that of language,” Kenney said in a speech to an immigration conference in Calgary.
“Last January I was in Delhi and sat in on a few immigration interviewers. I encountered a woman who has lived in Canada for 15 years and been a Canadian citisen for nearly 12 years,” he said.
“This woman was sponsoring a spouse to come to Canada but she could not conduct the interview with an official in either of our official languages. It made me wonder – is this an isolated example? Regrettably I don't think it's isolated enough.”
Kenney later told reporters that immigration needs an overhaul and a key effort must be to ensure that immigrants and those who want to become new Canadians speak a competent level of French or English.
He said the requirement is already there but isn't being enforced strictly enough.
“In terms of citisenship, if you can't complete the test in one of those two languages, you're not supposed to become a citisen, which I don't think is harsh,” he said.
“It's just basically saying go back and study more and come back to us when you can get by in one of those languages.”
Kenney worries that granting citisenship without guaranteeing language skills puts a new Canadian at an economic and social disadvantage.
And he wants to know some people who can't speak either of Canada's official languages got through the system.
“All I can say is if someone can't conduct an immigration interview in English or French they don't have basic competences.”
I have citisenship judges tell me that frequently people are given a pass even though they don't have that ability.”
The NDP immigration critic, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, said language is important, but it shouldn't be the only criterion.
“If the government is saying if you're not fluent in English or French then you can't be citisens, I have a real problem with that,” said Chow, who sat in on Kenney's speech.
“My mother's not very fluent in English but she makes a very good citisen. She's been in Canada since 1970 but she had to work in a hotel for many years to raise her family, even though she was a school teacher,” Chow said. “Is it her fault her English isn't fluent? No. Does she make a good citisen? Yes, I think so.”
Chow argues there should be subsidies available for immigrants so they can attend language classes but not have to worry about missing work so they can feed their families.
A conference organiser chose her words carefully when reacting to Kenney's speech.
“I think it probably raised a few eyebrows,” said Tracey Derwing, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta. Her area of expertise is how people learn second languages.
“The (citisenship) test is a multiple choice test so people are expected to get 12 out of the 20 questions right. And if they're not able to do it, then they're interviewed by a judge and asked the questions orally,” she said.