Federal minister says integration of immigrants possible without loss of identity
By Bill Graveland
The Canadian Press
July 11, 2009
CALGARY Canada's citizenship minister says it's a challenge to get immigrants to fit into society when only one-quarter of them actually take advantage of free language training.
Jason Kenney was in Calgary on Friday to announced $9.5 million in federal funding for nine organizations offering such training.
“Only a quarter of newcomers are enrolling in the programs that are offered by organizations like these,” Kenney said. “Common sense just tells me that 25 per cent is too low and we'd like to see more people enrolling.”
Improving language skills makes life easier for immigrants, Kenney said. He also suggested that learning the language is key to integrating people from different ethnic backgrounds into Canadian society.
“Our new focus is on integration. We don't want to create a bunch of silo communities where kids grow up in a community that more resembles their parents' country of origin than Canada,” explained Kenney, who is also minister of immigration and multiculturalism.
“We want people to be Canadians first and foremost – to be proud of and maintain their own tradition and heritage, but not at the price of developing their Canadian identity.”
Kenney said integration must involve language and needs to ensure immigrants become familiar with Canada's history, values and institutions.
A few months ago, also in Calgary, Kenney suggested federal immigration officials should enforce rules that say immigrants who want to become Canadians be able to communicate in French or English. He said those without proper language skills should be denied citizenship.
His views don't appear to have changed.
“To quote former (British) labour prime minister Tony Blair, newcomers have a right to be different but a duty to integrate, so they have to take the initiative,” he said Friday. “It also requires the hard work of newcomers. They have to respond as well and take personal responsibility in the process of integration.”
The government will continue to provide more services to people, so they can learn one of the official languages, something Kenney said is “a critical pathway to success in Canada.”
The additional funding was welcomed by members of Calgary's immigrant community.
“Everyone knows that newcomers arriving here with a powerful desire to make a better life for themselves and their families,” said Din Ladak, executive director of Immigrant Services Calgary. “They're willing to work toward their goals but often need our help.”
“We're in the business of changing lives, one family after another, so that all newcomers become valuable and engaged contributing families.”
Houra Youssouf came to Canada from Chad in May 2008 and did take language training.
“I was completely lost because I did not know how to speak, read or write in English. I was frustrated all the time and used to sit at home,” she said.
But a year later she is now at Level 5 of her English training.
“My whole world has changed. Earlier, I was not confident at all but now everything is just perfect.”