Mulcair: A sneak attack on language rights

Of note for those who remember these “battles” and those who do not:

Quebec and the Constitution are back in the headlines and anyone who remembers Meech and Charlottetown will understandably want to duck and cover. This time around though,  no one is asking for consent from other provinces or from Canadians via a referendum.

Quebec has included what it claims to be unilateral amendments to the Constitution Act 1867 (the B.N.A. Act) in a sweeping proposal  (Bill 96) that seeks to reinforce the status of French there. Many of those changes are indeed provincial in nature and deal with things like labour and consumer rights. The scope and effect of those types of changes will be the object of a good debate in Quebec’s legislature, the National Assembly, and given Legault’s majority most will pass into law.

Because it also affects rights concerning the language of legislation and the courts, Bill 96 deserves a much more thorough review than the nodding approval party leaders in Ottawa have quickly given to that part of it that seeks to amend the constitution unilaterally.

This is a subject I’ve spent much of my career working on. My first job in the Legislative branch of the Quebec Justice Ministry included a memorable mad dash as everyone scrambled, in December of 1979, to react  to a Supreme Court decision that had just been rendered in the Blaikie case. We had to quickly prepare, for re-enactment, all of the Québec laws adopted since the original Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) went into force in August of 1977. Bill 101 removed the obligation that had existed since 1867, in that same B.N.A. Act,  to simultaneously enact all laws in English and in French.

The Blaikie case, as it is called, was important for several reasons. First, the judges unanimously ruled that section 133 of the B.N.A . Act, that requires English and French in laws and in the courts, was not part of Quebec’s constitution and therefore could not be amended unilaterally by the province. Second, the Supreme Court simultaneously corrected a much older illegal Act, the Manitoba Official Language Act of 1890, that removed the French-language rights that had been promised in the Manitoba Act of 1870.

Language rights go to the core of our nation because they deal with the promises we made as this great country of ours came together. It’s been a rocky road at times but the Official Languages Act provided, over 50 years ago, a fresh boost to those promises. Pierre Trudeau even lost one of his prominent Western ministers over the issue. That minister, James Richardson, was from one of the most prominent Winnipeg families and he stood firmly against official bilingualism.

I wound up working in Manitoba after the Supreme Court ruled, a second time,  that all the laws there had to be translated and French and English had equal standing in the courts. That second ruling, in 1985, had become necessary because the Manitoba  government had ignored the first one, arguing (without much of a straight face) that the prior ruling was directive and not mandatory. Keen observers will note that it took over 95 years for Manitoba francophones to have their rights restored and and barely two years for anglophones in Quebec to get theirs.

It was of course mandatory and right after that second Supreme Court ruling, I’d been hired to help oversee and revise the translation of some 10,000 pages of laws and regulations. It was a Herculean task and the Supreme Court was there to monitor and ensure compliance with its definitive ruling.

It’s that history that makes Justin Trudeau’s acquiescence so surprising. He appears to sincerely believe that section 45  of the 1982 Constitution applies to Quebec’s unilateral changes to the B.N.A. Act and that the proposal is legitimate because it only affects the province’s own constitution.

But there’s another section, 43, that says that if the changes affect the right to use English or French, then you need a debate and a motion from both the House of Commons  and the Senate before the change can take place.

Section 43 was ably used by former premier Lucien Bouchard to change Quebec’s constitutionally guaranteed Catholic and Protestant school boards into a French and English system. The House of Commons and the Senate had had to discuss and vote and the English-speaking community of Quebec was consulted and widely agreed. That’s how you change a constitution: you discuss, debate and vote.

Legault’s proposed changes to the B.N.A. Act do indeed affect language rights. Trudeau, Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh with their “move along, nothing to see here” attitude are trying to convince themselves and us that this is simply about Quebec amending its own constitution. That’s the argument Quebec had unsuccessfully argued before the Supreme Court in the Blaikie case back in the 1970’s. With these changes, it could win that case today.

What is and what is not part of the province’s constitution? To begin with, a few paragraphs above, I committed the unpardonable by referring to Quebec’s legislature as…a legislature! The Quebec National Assembly is called that because Quebec decided it preferred the terminology from France and it unilaterally changed the name of its legislature to l’Assemblée Nationale. Pas de problème.

So too when Quebec decided  (like every other province that had one) to deep-six its ‘Legislative Council’ decades ago. It had every right to axe its provincial senate. It was Quebec’s call as it was, indeed, purely the jurisdiction of the province.  Not so with the changes being proposed now by Quebec.

Here they are in detail: “Quebecers form a nation” and  “French shall be the only official language of Quebec. It is also the common language of the Quebec nation”.

When you go through Bill 96, you see proposals to change a series of laws including the Civil Code and the Code of Civil Procedure, to remove the right to produce certain official documents if they’re written in English. An English-language birth certificate from B.C. will henceforth have to be officially translated as if it were from some obscure corner of the world with a little-known language. This is not just the Quebec constitution. This is the right to use English and French as contemplated by section 43. It is impossible that the lawyers at the Justice Department in Ottawa didn’t see this.

Bill 96 has to be read as a whole. Sections have to be construed in context, one with regards to the other in order to understand the overall effect. The context includes changes to existing language rights. The legislator is never presumed to be talking for no reason, the unilateral  changes to the B.N.À. Act are intended to produce and shield the desired overall result: less English in Justice, legislation and the courts.

Québec Justice minister Simon Jolin-Barrette was recently in a knock-down, drag-out fight with the Chief Justice of Quebec Court, Mme Justice Lucie Rondeau. Jolin-Barrette didn’t like the fact that the postings for new judicial appointments required a knowledge of English. She patiently pointed out that there is a constitutional right to a trial in English and that it’s up to the courts to ensure respect of that obligation. Jolin-Barrette didn’t agree and he’s using Bill 96 to remove  bilingualism as a systematic requirement for future judicial appointments even in areas with large anglophone populations. The right to a trial in English will rapidly become theoretical.

Years before Bill 101, Robert Bourassa’s Bill 22 had already proclaimed French to be the official language of Quebec. Stephen Harper had championed a motion in the House of Commons proclaiming Quebecers to be a nation. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that Bill 96 does indeed remove existing rights. Professionals, including lawyers, will lose their right to practise law if they fail to maintain what will become a new continuing requirement for a mandatory knowledge of French. Tests or other qualification at the beginning of their career (I had to take one to join the Bar) used to remain valid througout. They would henceforth be deemed to be subject to review and revocation of licensure in case of insufficient knowledge of French.

The big deal is that once those unilateral constitutional amendments are in place, the Quebec attorney general might succeed where their predecessors had failed in 1979. They could point to the new sections as proof that Quebec can indeed adopt its legislation in French only and provide an English translation later on. That could negatively effect everyone’s language rights across Canada as other provinces such as Manitoba and New Brunswick could take note and follow suit.

In 2019, the Quebec and Montréal Bar Associations settled lawsuits that sought to ensure that Quebec respect its constitutional obligation to produce an English version of statutes had equal footing with the French, especially in terms of preparation of amendments. The “Mulcair precedent” referred to in those proceedings was mine. Having worked in Manitoba and been part of the debates there, I knew what the Supreme Court required and I raised it repeatedly when I was a member of the National Assembly. That constitutionally guaranteed equivalent of the English and French versions is in peril with these changes being endorsed by Trudeau and his pliant justice minister David Lametti.

There is a constant whittling away of the status of French and of French-language institutions throughout Canada and all Canadians should  be aware of it and demand their governments help to right that wrong. The most recent heartbreaking example is the scuppering of key French-language programs at Laurentian University in Sudbury leaving many francophone Masters and PhD students high and dry. There is money in the most recent federal budget to come to the aid of minority francophone education in just such a case but so far language minister Melanie Joly has done nothing.

That type of continuing tragedy for the French minority in Canada is correctly pointed to as deux poids deux mesures when comparing the institutions of the English in Quebec and the French outside Quebec.

The essential question for our country’s future is this: do we want to aspire to greater rights for all Canadians or are we going to simply level things downwards, to the lowest common denominator?

Trudeau seems to have veered away from his often espoused vision of a bilingual multicultural Canada towards one where linguistic and religious minorities are on their own. When he and Lametti refused to lift their little fingers to help hard-pressed religious minorities fighting in court against Quebec’s discriminatory Bill 21, the writing was on the wall.

Rights are essential. Failure to defend those rights comes at a cost to our strength, unity and well-being as a country, long term. Short term electoral priorities are no substitute for thoughtful defence of fundamental values and rights.

It’s clear that neither Trudeau nor O’Toole nor Singh has given a great deal of thought to the substantive sections Bill 96. The great irony is that even if they went the route of the more demanding section 43, there’s absolutely no doubt that the House would pass a motion approving it. Trudeau has claimed that he has a legal opinion stating that Québec can indeed proceed on its own to amend the Canadian constitution without even bringing the issue before Parliament. When Lametti was asked on an English Montréal radio station if he was willing to share that legal opinion with Canadians, he skated.

Legault has a clear plan for pulling Québec away from, if not out of, Canada. That plan, as revealed by Legault himself, has three components: language, immigration and culture. He is running circles around our current crop of leaders in Ottawa.

Despite the historical long odds, if done right, there really is reason to hope that this could be turned into a rare opportunity for a deeper understanding of the real differences that exist between the two solitudes. But it can’t be done in a sneaky, backhanded way, without a proper debate as required by the Constitution.

Trudeau is wrong to say the constitution of Canada can be amended unilaterally by Québec. It is not wrong to follow the constitution to bring about change that can close a tough chapter in our history. After all, the much maligned 1982 Constitution, that Quebec never signed, could wind up being used by Québec to try to improve things for the future, as long as rights are guaranteed and respected from coast to coast to coast.

Source: A sneak attack on language rights

Citizenship in Scandinavia – What are reasonable demands for full membership?

Interesting comparison, showing despite the different approaches, the underlying views on citizenship requirements in all three countries were very similar:

In 2018, together with our colleagues in the other Scandinavian countries, we undertook a representative survey in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Young people from ages 20 to 36 were interviewed – just over 7500 in total. Individuals from the majority populations, descendants of immigrants from Iraq, Pakistan, Poland, Somalia, Turkey, and Vietnam, were included. Immigrants from Iraq and Somalia also participated in the survey in all three countries, while immigrants from Pakistan, Poland and Turkey were included, in addition, in the Norwegian sample. All respondents were asked what they considered reasonable requirements for citizenship, what they thought of the existing rules in their respective countries, and to what extent they felt they were recognized as members of the national community.

Citizenship is the last stop on the way to formal membership in a new homeland. Before this, immigrants with legal status already enjoy many rights. New members of Scandinavian societies have access to some civil and social rights, from day one in the country. Still, citizenship is regarded as important and attractive, especially among those who come from countries with greater legal, economic, and political uncertainty. Citizenship in Scandinavia protects them from deportation, in principle at least. It bestows help overseas, grants the right to vote in parliamentary elections – and not least, gives access to a Scandinavian passport, with all the rights to travel freely and work in the entire EU region.

In the last few years there has been a trend to implement stricter requirements for citizenship in many European countries, such as knowledge tests (language, history, and society), proof of self-sufficiency, and longer waiting times.

Among researchers, these stricter requirements are often interpreted from either a control or an integration perspective: Recent increases in immigration have made authorities keen on finding legal ways to control access to citizenship. On the other hand, concerns over integration have raised the bar for competence in language and knowledge about society, and those who are permanent residents and seek citizenship are required to meet this higher bar in order to become full members.

Regardless of how one interprets the politics, these laws create indisputably higher barriers. There has been an (implicit) assumption among researchers that the stricter requirements are not in immigrants’ interest, but no empirical research has been done. This new survey is the first to investigate these issues empirically.

The three Scandinavian countries are interesting to compare because they cover the entire scale when it comes to citizenship requirements. Denmark is one of the strictest countries in Europe when it comes to citizenship. Sweden is on the liberal outer edge, while Norway – as is often the case with immigration and integration policies – finds itself somewhere in the middle.

We began our study with the assumption that these marked political differences would be mirrored in the immigrant groups and descendants’ attitudes in the three countries – that immigrants and descendants in Denmark would be more critical of the country’s rules, than corresponding groups would be to Swedish policies in Sweden, for example. We also thought the majority populations would want stricter requirements than the minorities would, especially in Denmark. The results did not meet our expectations though, and in many ways were very surprising.

Overall the survey does not show big differences between the three countries, and when it comes to attitudes toward how the rules are and should be, there are barely differences between the three groups (majority, immigrants, and descendants). The prevailing attitude is that it is legitimate to set requirements for new members of society who become citizens – the majority across groups believe these requirements should include five years of residence, a simple language and society test, an oath, and being part of the work force. At the same time, they think it should be legal to keep one’s original citizenship when naturalizing. In other words, there should be clear requirements to become a full member of a Scandinavian society, but these should be reasonable and possible to meet. The results paint a picture of consensus on what “reasonable” means – a framework that lies somewhere between the extremes represented by Denmark and Sweden.

Other institutions, like the education system, labor market, and health care system are probably more important as a basis for attitudes toward membership in society than citizenship.

How should we interpret these findings? The alignment in attitudes across our survey respondents is a pointer to the fact that life in Scandinavia is not so different across the three countries, despite the respective states’ different policies on immigration. In fact, other institutions, like the education system, labor market, and health care system are probably more important as a basis for attitudes toward membership in society than citizenship.

The survey does not tell us anything about emphasis placed on different institutions’ importance for feelings of membership, acceptance, and belonging. But we do see indications of experiences of both discrimination and of lower levels of trust among minority groups.

The consensus on requirements, nevertheless, suggests that the citizenship institution continues to matter as a framework for togetherness. The survey also indicates that minority members of society are reflected actors, alongside majority society members, when it comes to guarding the last ticket into society – and what should be demanded, in order to ensure the functioning of an increasingly diverse society.

Source: Citizenship in Scandinavia – What are reasonable demands for full membership?

Québec élargit l’accès à la francisation pour les immigrants

Noteworthy in the background of Bill 21 discrimination and the reduction in immigration levels:

Davantage d’immigrants auront accès à la francisation et ils seront mieux compensés pour se présenter en classe, a annoncé cet avant-midi le ministre de l’Immigration.

Cet élargissement du programme est permis par un investissement supplémentaire de 70 millions décidé par le gouvernement.

« Au Québec, les personnes immigrantes doivent évoluer en français, a dit le ministre Simon Jolin-Barrette en conférence de presse au centre-ville de Montréal. C’est pourquoi nous devons mettre en place le meilleur système possible pour favoriser la francisation. »

Parmi les mesures annoncées :

• L’allocation pour les étudiants en francisation à temps plein passera à 185 $ par semaine (contre 141 $ actuellement)

• Les étudiants en francisation à temps partiel recevront une allocation de 15 $ par jour (contre 0 $ actuellement)

• Les frais de garde de ces derniers seront remboursés à hauteur de 9 $ par jour (contre 7 $ actuellement).

• Les étudiants étrangers et les travailleurs temporaires auront aussi accès à la francisation.

Par ailleurs, tous les Québécois d’adoption auront accès à la francisation, peu importe depuis combien de temps ils sont installés dans la province. Jusqu’à maintenant, seuls les immigrants arrivés depuis moins de cinq ans y avaient droit.

« En donnant la possibilité à toutes les personnes immigrantes de se franciser, nous améliorons leurs chances de se trouver un emploi correspondant à leurs compétences et à répondre aux besoins du marché du travail », a dit le ministre Jolin-Barrette. « L’immigration est l’une des solutions à la pénurie de main-d’oeuvre. »

Accueil positif

Des organismes actifs dans le domaine de la francisation se sont dits satisfaits des annonces du ministre, cet avant-midi.

« C’étaient des revendications qu’on faisait depuis de nombreuses années, a fait valoir Pablo Altamirano, directeur de l’Alliance pour l’accueil et l’intégration des immigrations. L’allocation pour les étudiants à temps partiel va aider énormément pour l’assiduité des étudiants : les gens ne pouvaient pas toujours se déplacer à cause du coût des transports. »

Anait Aleksanin, du Centre d’appui aux communautés immigrantes, s’est aussi réjouie de l’annonce. « C’est une très bonne nouvelle. Il y a beaucoup de mesures qu’on attendait depuis longtemps », a-t-elle dit.

La Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec a accueilli positivement l’annonce, particulièrement en ce qui a trait aux cours de francisation à temps partiel. « Les nouveaux arrivants pourront mettre leurs compétences à contribution plus rapidement, en plus de mettre en pratique leur apprentissage du français au quotidien, avec leurs collègues de travail », a déclaré le grand patron de l’organisation, Stéphane Forget, via communiqué.

La Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) s’est montrée plus ambivalente : elle a salué les améliorations annoncées, mais aimerait voir davantage de francisation dans les milieux de travail.

« Il faut que les travailleurs et travailleuses puissent être libérés de leurs tâches pendant les heures de travail afin de pouvoir assister à des cours de francisation tout en étant rémunérés », a indiqué la centrale syndicale dans un communiqué. « C’est un gros pari que de penser qu’après leur journée de travail, ces travailleurs […] vont être prédisposés à se déplacer pour aller suivre une formation en français. »

Source: Québec élargit l’accès à la francisation pour les immigrants

Sajid Javid urged to act in immigration scandal ‘bigger than Windrush’

Yet another Theresa May as Home Secretary legacy:

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, is under mounting pressure to head off an immigration scandal that MPs have warned could be “bigger than Windrush”.

About 34,000 foreign students have had their visas cancelled or curtailed and more than 1,000 people were forcibly removed from the UK as a result of the English language testing scandal, which involved the government accusing tens of thousands of students who sat a Home Office-approved test of cheating.

The drive to find and deport potential cheats began during Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary, when she promised to create a “hostile environment” for migrants deemed to be in the country illegally.

Thousands of students who have remained in the UK to fight to clear their reputations have spent the past five years attempting to prove that they are not guilty of cheating, but most have struggled because the Home Office has told them they have no right of appeal in the UK and must leave the country.

Amid criticism from MPs, Javid is expected to rule on the fate of thousands of the targeted students this week.

Undercover filming in a Panorama documentary broadcast in 2014 revealed clear evidence of fraud in at least two testing centres, as students took the test, which is required as part of the student visa-renewal process.

In one, the invigilator was seen reading out the answers to a multiple choice test, while in another, fake candidates arrived to take the test on behalf of those who were due to sit the exam, with the invigilators fully aware that the students were being assisted by paid proxies.

There is no doubt that there was a well-organised cheating system operating in those centres when filming took place; what is less clear is how many people were involved in the fraud.

The Panorama reporter showed the footage to May, then the home secretary, who commented: “What Panorama has uncovered is extremely important. It’s very shocking and I want to do something about it.”

The Home Office cancelled the visas of tens of thousands of students who had taken the Toeic test, large numbers of whom protest that they did not cheat. More than 4,000 have left the country without an opportunity to prove their innocence, having been told that they could be arrested if they did not leave. Immigration enforcement officers visited the homes of more than 3,600 students, as the Home Office attempted to round up all those accused of cheating.

Many of those who believe they have been wrongly targeted have asked for an opportunity to sit a new English test, pointing out that they had no need to cheat as they speak fluent English. Some were studying for degrees in English literature, others were PhD students, and some were nearing the end of accountancy and law degrees.

Those who remained in the UK have been prevented from continuing to study and are unable to work while they attempt to prove their innocence. They are also unable to open bank accounts or rent properties. Many have had to rely on their families, who helped pay fees for their unfinished courses in the UK and are now funding their attempts to have their visas reinstated so that they can continue with their studies.

The allegation of cheating in the UK makes applying to study elsewhere extremely difficult. Most chose to study in the UK because of Britain’s international reputation as a country with good universities and a reliable justice system. Because the Toeic issue has never become headline news, many say their families at home have begun to believe they must have cheated, convinced the UK government could not make such an error.

Campaigners representing students contesting the Home Office’s allegation of cheating say most of those affected have been made unwell by the prolonged strain of attempting to prove their innocence. Many have been pushed into destitution. The organisation Migrant Voice, which has worked with dozens of those affected, says many have contemplated or attempted suicide.

Mike Gapes, the MP for Ilford South, who has advised a number of affected people in his constituency, describes this as “a bigger scandal than Windrush in terms of the number of individuals removed from the country and whose livelihoods are being destroyed by anguish and despair”. The issue has its roots in the same period at the Home Office under May, when officials were developing the hostile environment, under pressure to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands and show voters that the government was taking firm steps to control illegal immigration.

The American company that administered the test, Educational Testing Service (ETS), told the Home Office that it had conducted a voice analysis of recordings of all 58,458 tests taken in 96 test centres in the UK between 2011 and 2014 and concluded that 33,725 people cheated, and a further 22,694 people had “questionable results”. Only about 2,000 were found not to have cheated.

Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, is sceptical about these findings. “It think it’s nonsense. There is no way that 90% of those who sat the test were cheating. Do they really believe they were presiding over a system in which over 90% were cheating? It doesn’t make sense. It’s completely implausible.

“Panorama established that a few dozen people cheated, but the way the government has responded has blighted the lives of thousands and thousands who did not cheat. All the people I’ve met feel mortified that anyone would think they would cheat.

“A number of them haven’t dared to tell their family at home they have been accused of cheating because the shame is so great. They are all in the most terrible situation. A lot of the victims are living in the shadows and are ashamed to talk about it. It is surprising there hasn’t been more uproar.”

Hundreds of court hearings have subsequently questioned the reliability of the evidence provided by ETS and the Home Office. Some students have been accused of sitting a test in one centre but have clear proof that they sat it in another. At least one of those accused never sat the Toeic test but has nevertheless had his visa cancelled with no opportunity to appeal.

Timms has been told by Javid’s office that the home secretary is still waiting for some answers before deciding how to proceed. During a meeting at the end of last year, Javid told Timms and two other MPs: “I am sympathetic.”

An all-party parliamentary group has been set up to campaign on the issue and will have its first meeting in May; MPs will talk to students, lawyers and immigration judges, researching a new investigation.

Javid told Timms in the Commons on 1 April that he was taking “this issue very seriously. I have asked my officials to review it.” Campaigners are hopeful that the home secretary may finally be on the brink of taking steps to rectify the matter.

Nazek Ramadan, the director of Migrant Voice, said: “It’s an outrage that thousands of students are still suffering, five years after the first wrongful allegations. In this country, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty – but for these students, that principle was thrown out of the window.

“We’ve heard from students, lawyers and judges that the Home Office has failed to present any evidence at all in most cases. In other cases, the evidence they’ve presented has been totally flawed. The only solution now is a political one. This was a Windrush-style textbook example of bad decision-making, but the home secretary has the power to put some of it right and give these students their futures back.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The 2014 investigation into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating which was indicative of significant organised fraud … The home secretary has listened to the points raised by MPs and other groups and has asked for further advice from the department.”

ETS was contacted for comment.

Source: Sajid Javid urged to act in immigration scandal ‘bigger than Windrush’

Citizenship Numbers 2018

The final 2018 citizenship numbers are out showing the impact of the Liberal government changes in C-6 on residency (from four out of six years to three out of five years) and the reduced language and knowledge requirements (from requiring testing of 14 to 64 year olds to testing for 18 to 54 year olds). Theses changes came into force 11 October 2017 and thus applied to the full 2018 year).

The number of both applications (259,047) and new citizens (176,303) is accordingly up significantly from previous years.

As I have noted earlier, the residency changes essentially have a one-time effect while the language and knowledge requirement changes have both a one-time effect (55-64 year olds who had been holding off applying until reaching 65) and an ongoing effect. Historically, 55 to 64 year olds are about six percent of applications (pre C-24 changes).

As always, IRCC’s management of citizenship is characterized by its roller coaster ride of deep drops and steep increases, in sharp contrast with IRCC’s steady management of immigration, with only minor fluctuations and a steady increase.

Of note as well, previous steep increases correlated with upcoming elections as suddenly resources are found to deal with backlogs (2006 and 2015 elections).

In contrast the increase prior to the 2019 election reflects policy changes (viewed of course in part through a political positioning lens).

The 2019 full-year citizenship application statistics will isolate the effects of the steep citizenship fee increases in 2014 and 2015 from the effects of the policy changes.

Lastly, IRCC has officially discontinued the quarterly management reports given other reporting requirements and the provision of more monthly reports. Unfortunately, for citizenship, the monthly reports only include the number of new citizens and not the number of applications, which are a key leading indicator.

One year later, Citizenship Act improvements lead to more new citizens – The numbers

Almost one year after the changes to residency requirements (from 4 to 3 years) and fewer applicants having to be tested for language and knowledge (from 14-64 to 18-54), the number of applications has increased.

As noted before, the residency requirement change is a one time impact, with this year being a “double year” with 3 and 4 year cohorts combined. The reduced testing requirements, primarily the 55-64 year olds, has both a one-time impact (those who put off getting citizenship) as well as ongoing.

The new “normal” will be known with the 2019 numbers:

This year, Citizenship Week (October 8 to 14, 2018) will be celebrated with 72 special citizenship ceremonies across the country. Citizenship Week also marks the 1 year anniversary of Bill C 6, which brought in important changes to the Citizenship Act, helping qualified applicants get citizenship faster.

The changes from Bill C 6 came into effect on October 11, 2017, and provided those wanting to become Canadian citizens with greater flexibility to meet the requirements. In particular, the changes reduced the time permanent residents must be physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship from 4 out of 6 years to 3 out of 5 years.

By the end of October 2018, an estimated 152,000 people will have obtained Canadian citizenship since the changes came into effect, an increase of 40%, compared to the 108,000 people who obtained citizenship in the same period the year before.

Bill C 6 has allowed more permanent residents to apply for citizenship. In the 9 month period from October 2017 to June 2018, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) received 242,680 applications, more than double the 102,261 applications that were received in the same period the year before. Despite the increase in applications, processing times for routine citizenship applications remain under 12 months.

Source: Taking Canadian Citizenship to New Heights This Citizenship Week

Lost for words: One in every 20 Torontonians can’t speak English or French, study finds

Interesting data, although it appears that in percentage terms, no significant change. As one would expect, lack of official language more prevalent among seniors, women, and low-income.

Will be including this data in my upcoming riding-based analysis:

One in 20 Torontonians can’t speak English or French and the language barrier has greatly impeded their ability to find a job, be active in the community and enjoy a decent life, says a new study.

More than 132,700 Toronto residents are unable to have a conversation in either official language and they account for 20.5 per cent of the 648,970 non-English and non-French-speaking population across Canada, according to the Social Planning Toronto report which is believed to be the first ever to profile this cohort.

Census data collected between 1996 and 2016 found the number of people without knowledge of either official language has increased by more than 175,000 in Canada over the two decades, though it fluctuated only slightly as a percentage of the total population. In Toronto, the number of people who don’t speak English or French shrank by 10,000 in the same period.

In the GTA, Toronto’s percentage of non-English and non-French speakers ranks second to York Region (5.6 per cent) and is followed by Peel (4 per cent), Hamilton (1.8 per cent) and Durham (0.8 per cent).

Within the city, this population mostly resides in the west end of North York, throughout the former city of York, in the old city of Toronto and in northwestern Scarborough, which alone is home to more than 30,000 residents with no English or French.

The report found a total of 43.5 per cent of Toronto residents who do not speak an official language reported a Chinese language as their mother tongue, followed by Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Tamil, Vietnamese, Korean, Persian, Russian and Arabic. These residents also tend to live in areas where their mother tongue is common, it said.

“There is a range of diversity within the group, but we have an overrepresentation of seniors and women who don’t speak English or French,” said Peter Clutterbuck, interim executive director of Social Planning Toronto, a non-profit group that works to improve equity, social justice and quality of life. “You can’t get employment without some capacity of an official language or access services if you are unable to communicate with others. It limits your ability to be active in the community and to feel connected.”

The report, titled Talking Access & Equity, said women and girls make up almost 60 per cent of Toronto residents who speak neither official language, though they only account for 51.9 per cent of the city’s population.

While only 15.6 per cent of Toronto residents are 65 and above, 44.6 per cent of the city’s non-English, non-French-speaking population belong to this age group.

The report said both women and seniors are more likely to come to Canada as dependants and hence may lack the same official-language skills required of the principal applicants or sponsors.

Fahmeeda Qureshi was sponsored by her husband to Canada from Pakistan in 1972 when she was 18, and never attended English classes because she was busy caring for her three children, parents and in-laws.

“I was too busy to learn English because I had to look after everyone else,” said the now 66-year-old, who spoke little English when she arrived and later picked up the language informally from her husband and children. “It is very important to learn English so you can communicate and do anything you want and be independent.”

Robert Koil, who came to Canada in 1992 and later founded a Tamil seniors group in Rexdale, said older immigrants without English proficiency are forced to rely on their children in their day-to-day lives as they’re often isolated from the world outside of their family.

“They don’t know other people and need help for mobility issues and health issues,” said Koil, 88, whose group organizes monthly seminars and meetings at Rexdale Women’s Centre for non-English-speaking Tamil seniors about health, diet and well-being.

“They speak in their mother tongue at home, stay with their children and are afraid to speak English because they are embarrassed by their English,” added Koil, who unlike many of the people he helps, spoke flawless English when he arrived in Canada.

Jenny Huang moved to Canada from China in 2009 with her daughter and husband.

“I only started learning English in junior high (in China) and knew just a few English words when I came,” Huang said in Cantonese. “I go to English classes but it’s hard to learn a new language as an adult. I can understand better than I speak.”

With limited English, Huang said she also has limited job opportunities and gets by working in restaurants and garment factories.

The report found 35.7 per cent of Torontonians with no English or French had a household income below the poverty line compared to 20.2 per cent of residents overall. The unemployment rate for residents without official-language ability was three percentage points higher than the Toronto average.

Source: Lost for words: One in every 20 Torontonians can’t speak English or French, study finds

Australia’s citizenship program should focus on Indigenous introduction, Darwin linguistics teacher says

As IRCC prepares the revised citizenship study guide, with what I understand extensive consultations with Indigenous peoples (to be released later this year?), some interesting reflections from Australia on improving the understanding of Indigenous peoples and new citizens, and language:

As Ganesh Koramannil passed through Sydney Central train station in 2004, a man approached and asked him for $2.

It was an interaction he would have long forgotten, except the man was the first Indigenous Australian Mr Koramannil had ever met.

It could have remained among his only insights to a culture with more than 60,000 years of history, had his wife not turned down a job in Canberra to take up one in Maningrida, 500 kilometres east of Darwin.

After moving to the Arnhem land community four years after arriving in Australia to study English, Mr Koramannil was finally introduced to “the most welcoming culture” he had ever come across, which he said had unprecedented similarities with his own.

“You give an Aboriginal language speaker any Indian name, they will pronounce it very clearly without any accent. Give it to the Europeans, they will give you six varieties,” he said.

“There’s linguistic similarities between Aboriginal languages and Indian languages. My mother tongue for example is Malayalam. There are sounds that are very much part of Yolngu language.

At the time of publishing, Mr Koramannil was the only Territorian to write a submission to the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, which aims to toughen the eligibility requirement for new migrants to become citizens.

But Mr Koramannil said that for many migrants, their knowledge of Indigenous Australia would never extend far beyond his experience at the Sydney train station.

He said Australia’s immigration program offered no systemic way of introducing newcomers to Indigenous culture.

Instead of introducing stricter tests and eligibility requirements, Mr Koramannil has called for an “experiential” citizenship pathway, where migrants were taught about culture, history and values in dedicated sessions.

“The link to our Indigenous past and its present and future relevance [should] be included as a mandatory requirement for citizenship,” he said.

Tougher citizenship test proposed

The original bill to toughen up citizenship requirements was struck down 2017, when the Government missed the deadline for the Senate which saw it struck off by default.

The Greens, Labor and the Nick Xenophon Team had all opposed the changes.

But One Nation senator Pauline Hanson introduced it again 2018 and it was referred to a committee for inquiry.

Among the proposed changes will be a separate English language test, which will check for a ‘competent level’ of listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.

It would also increase the general residence requirement, meaning newcomers will need to live in Australia for eight years before applying for citizenship.

The citizenship test would also include questions about Australian values and the privileges, and responsibilities of Australian citizenship.

In April 2017, when the first bill was launched, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Federal Government was “putting Australian values at the heart of citizenship processes and requirements”.

The Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory wrote a submission to last year’s bill, stating that while it was important for migrants to learn English, proficiency should not be an indicator for a person’s ability to make a positive contribution.

It said the idea may have adverse impacts for those from non-English speaking backgrounds and humanitarian entrants.

“It is our experience that fluency in English to the level proposed for migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds in a stand-alone English language test is not usually gained within the period of settlement, but can be viewed as a lifelong skill,” it said.

It said many of the proposals were “at best, unnecessary and, at worst, divisive and counterproductive”.

‘Language cannot be devoid of racial identity’

During Mr Koramannil’s time in Maningrida, he said Indigenous children, who had seldom met an Indian person before, would come up to and say “You are from India”.

It fascinated him.

“I said ‘How did they know?’ You know Maningrida — 600 or 700km away from here, one of the largest standalone Aboriginal communities — and kids of six years old [recognised me],” he said.

Looking back on it, he said he believed the children had sensed a familiarity between the two ancient cultures, just as people who spoke more than one language could recognise features of languages they didn’t speak.

In his opinion, if citizenship tests focussed so closely on English proficiency, it would come at a cultural and linguistic cost.

Mr Koramannil now works in Darwin teaching linguistics at a tertiary level.

The way he sees it, language is so deeply ingrained in a person’s racial identity that selecting citizens based on their language skills is tantamount to profiling.

“[Selecting people based on] language is profiling. And these days we speak multiple languages. And especially people trying to come to Australia, very few people won’t be bilingual.”

As a linguistics professional, and former IELTS examiner, he said he’d seen many “monolingual anglophone Australian professionals” fail to get their band score in writing.

The only reason he could see for such a test was to keep people of certain backgrounds away.

“The question is why are you trying to keep people away? Do keep people away on character for example, criminal background and that. But language is racially profiling,” he said.

Mr Koramannil said forming connections with Australia’s culture, values and history should instead form the basis of citizenship.

He believes newcomers should spend some of their time in Australia prior to becoming citizens learning about the country’s past, culture and values.

He has suggested ‘cultural welcome centres’, where Indigenous people could meet new migrants and explain their perspective of Australia to them, acting as “cultural translators” and helping forge connections.

Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is due to file a report by December.

The ABC has contacted the committee for comment.

Source: Australia’s citizenship program should focus on Indigenous introduction, Darwin linguistics teacher says

Australia: Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge wants new English language test for migrants

Unclear exactly who this will apply to beyond economic immigrants who most likely largely meet this requirement already given their version of express entry (which Canada largely was inspired by). Dependents of economic immigrants? Refugees?

But a shift from international tests to testing for conversational English has merit. But as always, the devil is in the details:

MIGRANTS could face a primary school level conversational English test as a requirement to becoming permanent Australian residents and citizens.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said speaking English was the key to integrating in society and engaging with the economy and education.

“Everyone should recognise we all have a vested interest in being able to converse and engage in the national language,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Hobart on Thursday.

He said the initial goal of primary school-level English was reasonable, saying it was an obvious measure to help migrants achieve in Australia.

“It is plainly in everybody’s interest that everyone, ideally, should have English language skills,” Mr Turnbull said.

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge said Australia could move to a locally designed test focusing on conversational English, rather than using international exams.

“If you have a lot of people not speaking the language then you start to get social fragmentation and we don’t want to see that happen,” Mr Tudge told Sky News.

He said the government was considering extending the test to make it a requirement for permanent residency.

“We’re looking at whether or not we can have a reasonable, basic conversational English language requirement at that stage,” Mr Tudge said.

“We want people to be able to interact with one another, work together, play together and continue to contribute to Australian society.”

Australia is approaching a million non-English speakers and the increase is concerning, Mr Tudge said.

He wants to avoid “parallel communities” developing, which he said were an issue in some European countries.

“The secret to our success is we’ve largely had integrated communities where people have blended together regardless of where they’ve come from,” he said.

It’s not the first time Mr Tudge has flagged the importance of English for migrants.

In March he suggested migrants must demonstrate they’ve made an effort to integrate before becoming citizens, steps which could include joining a Rotary Club or a soccer team.

Any changes would need to pass parliament, but that is by no means guaranteed.

Previous changes to citizenship laws were blocked in the Senate last year and fresh talks with cross bench senators would be needed.

Source: Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge wants new English language test for migrants

Des examens de français mieux adaptés

Appears to have been a comprehensive and thoughtful revision:

Finis les corrections trop sévères et les thèmes trop vagues. Mieux adapté au candidat, l’examen de français obligatoire que les immigrants doivent réussir pour devenir membres d’un ordre professionnel vient d’être entièrement revu pour faciliter la réussite. Et déjouer les tricheurs.

« L’ancien examen n’était pas conçu pour évaluer la compétence langagière liée à la profession », reconnaît Danielle Turcotte, directrice générale des services linguistiques à l’Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF). « Alors que maintenant, tout est conçu pour que les candidats se sentent directement impliqués dans un processus lié à leur profession, à travers une étude de cas. »

Autre changement important : la grille d’évaluation sera plus souple pour la correction de la production écrite, la « bête noire » des candidats, a reconnu Mme Turcotte. Ainsi, on tolérera « de nombreuses erreurs liées à la qualité de la langue », pourvu qu’elles ne nuisent pas à la compréhension. « Les virgules et les accents, ça ne compte pas [comme des fautes] », a-t-elle souligné. Si un candidat écrit « malhreuse » au lieu de « malheureuse », on comprend ce qu’il veut dire, ajoute-t-elle. De la même façon, on ne pénalisera pas un candidat s’il met un article féminin devant un nom masculin. « On n’est plus au mot à mot ou au lettre à lettre. On est dans un contexte de langue seconde. » Cela ne veut pas dire qu’une personne peut se contenter de « baragouiner » le français, avertit-elle. « On vise la compréhension globale, qui assure que la communication se fait de façon à assurer la sécurité du client ou du public. »

Une longue attente

Cela faisait des années que les ordres professionnels réclamaient pour leurs futurs membres un examen qui tienne compte de leur contexte professionnel. En 2012, le comité d’examen de l’OQLF a décidé de répondre à la demande du milieu en créant un nouveau test en collaboration avec chacun des ordres, qui devaient déterminer eux-mêmes les compétences langagières à atteindre. Des experts en évaluation des apprentissages de l’Université de Montréal ont aussi été consultés. D’où le délai de cinq ans avant d’en arriver à cette nouvelle version de l’examen.

« Ça paraît long, mais ne perdez pas de vue la démarche qu’il a fallu faire avec les 46 ordres professionnels », a expliqué Mme Turcotte. Et l’approche par compétence, ici préconisée, demeure assez nouvelle, a-t-elle ajouté.

Ce qui change grosso modo ? Avant, le candidat avait notamment à écrire un texte d’environ 200 mots portant sur une situation en milieu de travail, mais sans nécessairement de lien direct avec le quotidien de sa profession. Par exemple, on pouvait lui demander d’écrire une lettre pour souligner le départ d’un collègue à la retraite ou pour répondre à la plainte d’un client.

Cette fois, l’examen, d’une durée d’au maximum 2 h 30, se fera d’une traite, les quatre étapes — compréhension écrite et orale, expression écrite et orale — étant préalables les unes aux autres et formant un tout. Le candidat reçoit d’abord une fiche avec des consignes qu’il doit comprendre avant de passer à la seconde étape, une discussion avec un maximum de sept autres candidats de sa propre profession. Il devra ensuite écrire un texte d’après ce qu’il aura compris de la discussion de groupe pour finalement terminer son examen par un entretien avec l’évaluateur. Certaines étapes sont filmées et enregistrées.

« Tous les examens ont leur limite, mais […] les scénarios qui mettent l’accent sur la capacité à communiquer dans un contexte de travail, c’est beaucoup plus réaliste », a affirmé Marion Weinspach, cofondatrice de l’entreprise Le français en partage, qui offre des cours de français à cette clientèle d’immigrants voulant intégrer un ordre professionnel.

Si le candidat échoue ne serait-ce qu’à une seule des quatre étapes, il devra recommencer l’examen en entier et être réévalué sur toutes les compétences. Et, comme c’était le cas auparavant, il pourra recommencer l’examen autant de fois qu’il le souhaite (dans les délais prescrits par son ordre professionnel). L’examen est gratuit et il est offert depuis la fin du mois de janvier.

Des inquiétudes

Une enseignante de français se dit très inquiète de la deuxième étape, celle de la discussion de groupe où les candidats devront parler et comprendre les autres qui, comme eux, ne maîtrisent pas le français. « Ils vont entendre parler des gens avec toutes sortes d’accent et ensuite mettre par écrit des informations qui vont avoir été dites de façon imparfaite », s’est inquiétée cette professeure de plus de 20 ans d’expérience qui souhaite garder l’anonymat. L’OQLF rétorque qu’une personne animant la discussion s’assurera du bon déroulement de l’activité.

Et s’il sera plus difficile de préparer les étudiants spécifiquement pour cet examen, au moins la tricherie sera éliminée. « Avant, ils connaissaient les grands thèmes et pouvaient apprendre par coeur des textes qu’ils réécrivaient. »

L’assouplissement des critères d’évaluation pour le français écrit est « un couteau à double tranchant », croit Marion Weinspach. « L’écrit est devenu un petit peu moins exigeant, mais d’un autre côté, c’est au niveau de l’expression orale, où il y a un vocabulaire très spécifique à connaître, que ça devient plus exigeant. Être capable de lire un certificat de localisation pour un courtier ou de verbaliser un bilan pour un comptable, c’est plus difficile mais c’est plus réaliste. Et c’est ce que les ordres avaient demandé. »

La présidente du Conseil interprofessionnel du Québec, Gyslaine Desrosiers, salue la nouvelle version de l’examen, mais rappelle que tout le poids de l’intégration en français des travailleurs immigrants ne doit pas reposer sur l’OQLF. « L’examen, c’est un seul élément de la trajectoire. Il faut qu’il y ait des efforts faits en amont, par l’individu lui-même et son employeur. Le MIDI [ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion] doit aider en dégageant des budgets. » Elle met toutefois en garde contre une baisse des exigences. « Dans un contexte de mondialisation, il y a énormément de pression pour ça, […] mais la protection du public exige un minimum de fonctionnement dans la langue. Dans ce sens, l’OQLF a fait son travail et revu son examen. »

via Des examens de français mieux adaptés | Le Devoir