McCallum promises ‘radical changes’ to Citizenship Act | hilltimes.com

No details yet on the ‘radical changes’ promised but a strong indication of Liberal caucus concerns, which seem primarily around language assessment.

However, Minister McCallum’s mandate letter only had three commitments:

  • Work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act that give the government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals.
  • Eliminate regulations that remove the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada and regulations that require new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.

But a clear signal of intent to do more.

I find it somewhat amusing that after being critical of some of the changes to citizenship made by the previous government, I now find myself defending them on language assessment:

Immigration Minister John McCallum says the government will be “producing radical changes” to the Citizenship Act in the next few weeks. Liberals have been telling him that the government should eliminate the language requirement for new immigrants to apply for Canadian citizenship, which was brought in by the Conservatives in 2014 as part of the controversial Bill C-24.

Mr. McCallum (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.) told The Hill Times that he’s aware of the concerns and will make an announcement in a few weeks. We’re going to be producing radical changes to the citizenship bill,” Mr. McCallum said. “We’re going to be announcing the details of those changes in just a few weeks.”

Liberal MPs told The Hill Times that although they want new immigrants to acquire proficiency in both or at least one of the two official languages of Canada, it’s also a question of fairness, saying the language requirements disenfranchise new immigrants from their right to take part in the political process.

“It’s a big problem the way the system has been set up under the previous government for language requirements,” said rookie Liberal MP Shaun Chen (Scarborough North, Ont.) whose riding has the highest visible minority population of 90.1 per cent, in the country.

But in some cases MPs said new immigrants fail to achieve the required proficiency for a variety of reasons. For example, some immigrants come to Canada under the family sponsorship program, as parents or grandparents and may not have any knowledge or a limited understanding of English or French. At that age, MPs said, it becomes an uphill battle, for some, to learn a new language. Also, when new immigrants move to Canada, the first priority for them is to provide for their family and take care of the expenses and a significant number take up any odd job to earn a living which can mean they don’t have the time to learn a new language, MPs said.

“Often times, families are sponsoring elders and grandparents at a very elderly age. It’s very challenging and difficult for them to be at such a high proficiency of English or French. To me, it makes sense for us to [adopt a system] that’s more inclusive,” said Mr. Chen. “It’s helpful to families that need to sponsor, for example, grandparents. Those new Canadians play an important role to look after children to be there and to support the family and, absolutely, it’s something that we will need to revisit and look at.”

Canadian citizens have a significant number of advantages over permanent residents, including the ability to work, participating in the political process by voting and running for political office, having a passport that makes it easy to travel internationally, and having the right to get consular support overseas.

….Liberal MPs Darshan Kang (Calgary Skyview, Alta.) and Sukh Dhaliwal (Surrey-Newton, B.C.) also told The Hill Times that they are in favour of eliminating the language proficiency test as a requirement to apply for Canadian citizenship.

“Why don’t we let those individuals who are part and parcel of this economy, that are part and parcel of building Canada, the Canada we all aspire, why should they be denied a right to participate in our democratic process which is the fundamental difference that Canadians have over many other countries that we have come from,” said Mr. Dhaliwal, who came to Canada as an immigrant from India and whose riding has a 70.2 per cent of visible minority population. Mr. Kang’s riding has a 59.6 per cent of visible minority population.

Mr. Griffith, however, said that language proficiency is a critical element of a new immigrant’s integration and success in a new country. He said that he’s in favour of requiring new immigrants to learn English or French but also said that if new immigrants over the age of 54 are not able to learn either of the languages, this requirement should be waived.

“If you don’t learn English or French, depending on where you are, you’re basically hurting yourself. It means you’re not going to be able to integrate properly, you’re not going to be able to help your kids with school work, and everything like that. If you start to waive the language completely, you’re basically not helping people succeed in the society,” said Mr. Griffith.

Source: McCallum promises ‘radical changes’ to Citizenship Act | hilltimes.com

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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