Mr. Kenny wants to take a step back in Canada’s immigration policy. He would like to help insure that immigrants coming to Canada will more easily integrate into Canadian society without having to face a language issue on arrival. Being fluent in one of Canada’s two official languages allows the newly arrived persons to more easily explore this great country without having to settle into an area populated by those who speak a similar foreign language. Better opportunities for work and places to live. Being able to meet and greet their new neighbors. Integrating and becoming Canadian instead of being locked into a sub-culture in Montreal or Toronto. So a step back to a policy that was in place when I immigrated here in the late 60’s might be a step in the right direction.
Posted: March 24, 2009, 9:06 AM by National Post Editor : Original article by Rudyard Griffiths
Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, should be commended for kick-starting a much need public discussion about the language skills and civic literacy of aspiring Canadian citizens.
For too long Canada has avoided the kind of common sense dialogue about its settlement policies that Minister Kenney is galvanising. The reality is the “quietism” of successive federal governments about all things related to immigrant selection and recruitment is a public policy debacle of historic proportions: ten of thousands of newcomers languishing in dead end jobs, the out migration of up to 40 percent of professional male immigrants in the last decade alone, and the justifiable hardening of attitudes among visibility minority groups who rightly feel they are being exploited economically.
Minister Kenney is spot on in his assertion that the ability to speak one of Canada’s two official languages is fundamental to an immigrant’s economic success and overall social integration. In fact, detailed multi-decade research shows that language proficiency outstrips job experience and educational background as the factor which has the greatest positive impact on a newcomer’s ability to settle themselves successfully in Canada
That said, making proficiency in reading, writing and speaking either official language a prerequisite for every person applying to come to Canada is only part of the solution. Of the quarter million newcomers Canada welcomes each year less than a third have their language abilities assessed in the process of becoming permanent residents. The majority of newcomers begin the path to full citizenship as dependents of a ‘primary applicant’ or citizen and do not have to demonstrate they can speak French or English.
As I write in my just published book, Who We Are: A Citizens Manifesto, Canada needs to redouble its efforts to ensure that this much larger group of permanent residents attain basic language proficiency as quickly as possible.
Specifically, the adult-aged dependents of primary applicants should receive in-depth language testing before being admitted to the country and at yearly intervals. Based on these assessments they should have the opportunity to continue language training beyond the current three-year cut-off.
Basic language proficiency is especially important for immigrant women.
Having entered Canada as spouses of the primary applicant and therefore not pre-screened for language proficiency, women are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to lack a working knowledge of French or English. From a social-justice perspective, this is a situation that must be addressed so that every female newcomer, regardless of their socio-economic position, attains the basic fluency needed to participate in the civic life of their local community and country’s democratic institutions.
In addition to focussing on the language needs of women, the federal government should also put special emphasis on second language training for school-age children, particularly in the country’s major cities.
In Toronto, the city that attracts the majority of newcomers to Canada, the percentage of elementary schools with English-as-a-second-language instructors has declined from 41 to 29 percent in the last decade while the number of students requiring such instruction has doubled. Young people from non- French- or English-speaking countries desperately need additional support to master French and/or English. The federal government should find ways to work with the provinces to get more funding for language instruction into urban classroom to relieve overburdened ESL instructors.
There is one more vitally important policy reform which could encourage higher levels of language proficiency and civic literacy among newcomers: follow the leads of sister nations Australia, Britain the U.S. and overhaul the exam newcomers to Canada are required to pass to become full citizens.
According to Dominion Institute research, immigrants take the citizenship exam seriously and as a result attain levels of basic civic literacy as high or higher than native-born Canadians. Let’s build on this dedication and encourage the good things that come with high rates of civic literacy, such as voting and participation in formal politics, by designing a much more comprehensive exam that covers a range of subjects related to Canada’s history, political systems and the responsibilities of citizenship.