Improve, then use, name-blind recruitment to boost Senate staff diversity: committee – The Hill Times

Ironically, the Senate staffer numbers are not too bad — out of 354 employees, there were 54 people who identify as visible minorities (15.3 per cent, about the same percentage who are also Canadian citizens), 20 people with disabilities (5.6 per cent), 12 Aboriginal people (3.4 per cent), and 209 women (59 per cent) as of March 31, 2016. However, the point on under-representation of Indigenous staff at more senior levels is of note:

A name-blind recruitment project could help improve Senate staff diversity, but only if done properly, according to the head of a Senate group studying employment equity in the Upper Chamber’s administration.

In a report tabled June 21 with the Senate’s Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration Committee—a powerful group of Senators that handles the Chamber’s legal and financial matters—its Subcommittee on Diversity said the administration should “consider implementing a name-blind recruitment pilot project and evaluate whether name-blind recruitment could be expanded for hiring by the Senate administration and potentially by individual Senators’ offices.”

The recommendation was one of 10 made by the subcommittee chaired by Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer (British Columbia) following a study of a 2016 report on diversity among the 354 members of the Senate administrative staff—authored by high-ranking officials in the Senate bureaucracy—and diversity in the Senate workforce more generally, including in Senators’ offices.

The subcommittee—which also includes Conservative Senator Elizabeth Marshall (Newfoundland and Labrador) and Independent Senator Raymonde Saint-Germain (De la Vallière, Que.)—was struck in late 2016and began its study the following spring, holding five meetings between March 1, 2017 and May 8, 2018.

But there should be major improvements to the name-blind recruitment project tried out in the federal public service before it gets used in the Senate, said Sen. Jaffer, who told The Hill Times she first wants Senate staff to study where the public service pilot project went wrong.

Run between April and October 2017, the goal of the name-blind recruitment pilot run by the Public Service Commission and Treasury Board Secretariat was to “determine whether concealing personal information…which could lead to the identification of a candidate’s origin from job applications, had an impact on the screening decisions made by reviewers when compared to the traditional assessment method where all personal information was presented.” The idea was to see if a hiring manager is biased by the name they see on the resume, or other such personal information about the potential new recruit.

The analysis, limited to those who self-declared as visible minorities, ultimately concluded that there was “no net benefit or disadvantage with the NBR assessment method for visible minorities,” though there were some problems identified with the method itself.

During a March 20 appearance by Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Kings-Hants, N.S.) at the Senate’s Question Period, Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar (Ontario) raised the methodology issues with him.

“First, the hiring managers who were recruited for this project volunteered. I would suggest that creates a certain lack of purity, if I can use that word. The second is that the hiring managers made their decisions knowing that their decisions and the comparative results would be subject to review,” she said.

Mr. Brison acknowledged there were problems with the pilot project’s method, and said he has told Treasury Board, a central agency that acts as the employer of the public service, that he wants “to actually continue to apply the name-blind hiring pilot and to potentially apply it in departments or agencies wherein there is less diversity, to apply it in certain departments and agencies and in regions, to actually continue to work to this.”

Of the results themselves, Mr. Brison said: “The good news is that the pilot came back and said that they did not find, necessarily, a bias or discriminatory hiring practices within the government of Canada.”

Sen. Jaffer said Mr. Brison’s response was disappointing.

“So to say there is no bias, he was happy to see there is no bias, that’s stretching it. There is,” she said, pointing to her years as chair of the Senate’s Human Rights Committee where she used to hear about people not wanting to voluntarily self-identify as belonging to a minority or marginalized group because they didn’t want to be seen as different.

“I am concerned that the public service has not done a good job [with the project], and I’m hoping that the Senate will show the way.”

Setting the tone and setting the example is a key tenet for Sen. Jaffer in her work to improve diversity in the Senate, after experiences in the halls of Parliament that she describes as “soul destroying.”

Sen. Jaffer is the first South Asian woman to be appointed to the Senate and, among other incidents, said she has been stopped from using entrances to Parliamentary Precinct buildings, even while wearing her Senate pin showing that she is a Senator.

And if these things can happen to her, as a Senator, she said it worries her what those lower in the pecking order experience.

“If it happens to me, what is happening to people who work here? I represent them too. If I don’t speak up, then I let them down, too, [and] they have much more to lose.”

Despite it not being in her nature to rock the boat, she said it’s important that she speak out and do things to make changes, drawing on experiences dating back to being the first South Asian woman to practise law in Canada.

“It’s not because I think that’s my role in life. I don’t go looking for it, because I don’t have time for it. It destroys you, it kills a part of me every time,” she said. “Anyone working in the Senate or in the House who feels that they have not been treated fairly, they should know they’re no longer alone. There are services, there are structures that can help and they shouldn’t suffer in silence.”

Senate needs to reflect Canada, says Sen. Jaffer

Sen. Jaffer said the Senate administration has been putting in a genuine effort to improve the diversity of its staff over the years.

Back in 2005, then-Conservative Senator Donald Oliver called the Senate out for “glaring” and  “problematic” systemic racism after a report foundthat there had been no visible minorities appointed to senior and middle management positions between 2000 and 2004 and that visible minorities made up only 6.8 per cent of the Senate’s 425 employees.

Throughout years of upheaval and change in the Senate, it’s remained an administrative priority to act on recommendations Senators have made in response to subsequent diversity reports, Sen. Jaffer said.

In 2014, the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee adopted a two-year Diversity and Accessibility Action Plan for the administration to act on, which included measures to ensure that representation of designated group members was monitored, along with the Senate’s “employment systems to identify systemic barriers and eliminate adverse impacts on the designated groups.”

According to the fifth report of the Senate’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Accessibility, as of March 31, 2016, among the Senate’s 354 employees (which doesn’t include staff in Senators’ individual offices) there were 54 people who identify as visible minorities (15.3 per cent), 20 people with disabilities (5.6 per cent), 12 Aboriginal people (3.4 per cent), and 209 women (59 per cent).

“We had the auditors here, we had huge changeover, we had independent Senators—those all cause issues for the staff, the administration. Even then they were loyal in implementing, so I have lots of gratitude for that,” she said.

In the House of Commons, as of June 2017, 48 per cent of the House administration’s 2,234 employees were women, two per cent were Aboriginal persons, 10 per cent were visible minorities, and four per cent were people with disabilities.

The most recent report on employment equity in the core public service, covering the 2016-17 fiscal year, said that of the 181,674 employees tallied in March 2016, 54.4 per cent were women (compared to an estimated workforce availability of 52.5 per cent), 5.2 per cent were Aboriginal persons (against an estimated workforce availability of 3.4 per cent), 5.6 per cent were people with disabilities (compared to 4.4 per cent workforce availability), and 14.5 per cent were visible minorities (compared to 13 per cent).

But more work needs to be done, especially in encouraging and emphasizing the hiring of Aboriginal Canadians and veterans, the Senate subcommittee said.

It recommended that the Senate create an Aboriginal Young Interns program, expand its efforts to recruit staff from outside of the National Capital Region, and explore ways to target veterans in its recruitment efforts.

As of March 31, 2016, there were no Aboriginal people in the Senate’s manager occupational category and their representation in the professionals occupational category was below their national workforce availability.

The Senate, and all of the country’s institutions, need to reflect Canada, Sen. Jaffer said, or risk becoming irrelevant, and hitting the benchmark of workforce availability—the estimated availability in designated groups as a percentage of the entire workforce population—is not good enough.

“We’ve got to have people from different groups in management,” she said. “And until people get into management, we will not arrive at a proper goal because it’s the management that makes the decisions for hiring; it’s the management that sets the tone.”

The Senate administration has until June 13, 2019 to report back to the Senate Internal Economy Committee on steps it has taken to put in place the subcommittee’s recommendations.

via Improve, then use, name-blind recruitment to boost Senate staff diversity: committee – The Hill Times

Tougher impaired driving penalty ‘a double whammy’ for immigrants

The complexity of balancing a legitimate policy objective and one of the possibly unforeseen impact on Permanent Residents:

A proposed law to raise the maximum penalty for impaired driving offences in Canada could have a “disproportionate” impact on first-time immigrant offenders who would see their permanent residence status revoked and be deported, critics say.

But advocating equal rights for impaired drivers is a delicate issue, one that some senators and immigrant lawyers are trying to tackle as the Red Chamber sits this week to seek amendments to Bill C-46, the Impaired Driving Act, before sending it back to the House of Commons for a vote.

Currently, someone convicted of impaired driving could receive a maximum penalty of not more than five years in jail, but the offence would still be considered “ordinary criminality” under immigration law. An immigrant’s permanent residence status is not affected unless a sentence of six months or more is imposed.

However, under the proposed legislation, the increased maximum penalty to 10 years would automatically classify impaired driving as “serious criminality.” As a result, even if a first offender, who is not a Canadian citizen, is convicted and is only ordered to pay a fine, they would still lose their immigration status and be banned from Canada. This would affect foreign students, workers, visitors and permanent residents.

“We take impaired driving very seriously and we don’t want impaired drivers behind the wheel,” said Senator Ratna Omidvar in an interview. She noted that if a Canadian citizen is convicted of impaired driving for the first time, they could be sentenced to as little as a fine and walk free afterwards.

“A permanent resident in the same situation would pay the fine and face deportation,” Omidvar added. “It is a double whammy not on all people but just on a class of people. That’s an unintended consequence. The impact on permanent residents would be huge and disproportionate to what a Canadian would get.

In its submission to the Senate, the Canadian Bar Association also urged “careful consideration” of the bill, warning that the changes could put “a significant strain” on the immigration system and border officials in handling increases in inadmissibility and deportations.

The bar association wants the Senate to make the maximum jail penalty for impaired driving offences “10 years less a day” so they would still be classified as “ordinary criminality” and not trigger the automatic loss of a person’s permanent residency. At the very least, it says, there should be an exception to the 10-year penalty threshold for such offences that do not involve serious bodily injury or death.

“We remain concerned that Bill C-46 will introduce uncertainty into the law and result in significantly increased litigation and delays,” said bar association. “Our recommendations are intended to continue to protect Canadians from impaired driving, without triggering the serious criminality consequences.”

It’s not known how many immigrants would be affected by the proposed legislation, but immigration lawyer Robin Seligman said impaired driving is among the most common criminal offences and immigrants are not any more or less likely to commit the crime.

Statistics Canada said police reported a total of 72,039 impaired driving incidents in 2015 and given almost 300,000 newcomers and hundreds of thousands of visitors are coming to the country every year, the impact of the increased maximum penalty could be huge, said Seligman.

“Under the immigration law, serious criminality refers to terrorism, (threats to) national security and membership to organized crime. Lumping first-time impaired driving offenders with them is disproportionate and unfair. It’s an overkill and oversight,” Seligman said.

While repeat offenders of impaired driving deserve to be deported, immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said first-timers should be allowed an opportunity for rehabilitation, especially where there’s no one hurt in the incident.

“There are definitely a lot of concerns over this bill, but it is always difficult for MPs to advocate for those convicted of any criminal offence,” said Waldman, who fears Ottawa would rush to pass the bill without amendments to fulfil its promise to legalize marijuana this summer.

Canada in ‘exploratory’ talks with U.S. over border agreement on asylum seekers

Appropriate and needed given that any workable solution requires working with the US:

Canada is in high-level exploratory talks with the United States over a border agreement to manage asylum seekers, but will not say whether Ottawa wants the power to automatically turn away thousands of refugee claimants who walk across the border.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed it is reviewing a Canadian proposal to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which requires Canada and the United States to refuse entry to asylum seekers who arrive at official ports of entry along the shared border, as both countries are considered safe for refugees. However, senior Canadian cabinet ministers insisted they have not entered into formal negotiations with the United States.

“It’s a discussion that we’re having with the Americans about the various techniques that could be pursued on both sides of the border to ensure security and integrity,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Tuesday. “If and when that conversation matures into a specific negotiation, we’ll have further things to say about it. But this is very exploratory at the moment – scoping issues and potential solutions.”

Concerns over the agreement, which was signed in 2004, surfaced last year when thousands of asylum seekers fled the United States for Canada on foot, fearing deportation under President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown. Since the agreement applies only to those who arrive at official ports of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being immediately turned away by crossing between border posts, forcing Canada to process most of their claims.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen did not confirm a Reuters report on Tuesday that the government wants the agreement to apply to the entire Canada-U.S. border. Mr. Hussen said Ottawa is in regular contact with the United States about the agreement, but declined to get into details.

“As you can appreciate, we constantly talk about all aspects of the border, including the Safe Third Country Agreement,” Mr. Hussen said. “Those are discussions that are ongoing, so I can’t take a snapshot in time and give you what was discussed on a particular day.”

The RCMP intercepted more than 20,000 asylum claimants in 2017, 91 per cent of whom crossed in Quebec. Many entered at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle after taking taxis along upstate New York’s Roxham Road.

The Mounties intercepted more than 5,000 asylum claimants in the first three months of 2018 – again, mostly in Quebec.

The Conservatives have urged the government to close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allows asylum seekers to enter Canada at unofficial border crossings. Last week, the Tories tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling on the Liberals to table a plan by May 11.

“Last week, Justin Trudeau voted against taking immediate action and tabling a plan to manage our borders and immigration system,” Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said in a statement on Tuesday. “Conservatives will continue to hold the Prime Minister accountable, and call for the entire Canada-U.S. border to be designated as an official port of entry.”

Mr. Goodale said the Conservative proposal is “impractical,” as it would “change the entire concept about what the border means” and “increase insecurity at the border.”

As the Liberals iron out their approach to STCA talks with the United States, they are touting their efforts to prevent more asylum seekers from crossing into Canada. For instance, Mr. Hussen said many of those crossing into Quebec earlier this year were Nigerians carrying valid U.S. visitor visas. Canadian officials raised the issue with their U.S. counterparts, and the number of U.S. visas issued to Nigerians dropped.

via Canada in ‘exploratory’ talks with U.S. over border agreement on asylum seekers – The Globe and Mail

The contrary view, to this being a crisis, can be seen in Senator Omidvar’s op-ed in The Star:

Let’s be honest. The common thread of today’s populism is anti-immigration. This populism legitimizes xenophobia and encourage the separation of people into “us” and “them”. It creates a politics that sees the other not simply as different, but as different and therefor dangerous. Adversaries become enemies.

Populism prevents an energetic engagement with diversity. It erects barriers — whether literally or figuratively — that stand at odds with the reality of an increasingly interconnected — and interdependent — world.

Populism can undermine the basic underpinnings of a democracy. If we have learned anything from south of the border it is how norms that were once considered absolute can quickly become obsolete. How things that were once unimaginable can soon become unexceptional.

So how do we respond? First, words matter. We need to watch how we talk about legitimate issues around asylum seekers and our borders. We can’t whip up fear and division.

Second, we can’t use this as political football. No party should use immigration as a wedge issue. We deserve better than that.

Finally, we need to recognize the fact that when it comes to immigration, we’ve done a lot right. We’ve devised smart policies with high levels of skilled immigrants and we help people that are fleeing some of the most wretched situations around the globe. We do a very good job of integrating them. And while we’re far from perfect, we bring a lot to the table.

However, an area that needs attention is the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Although the recent budget increased funding for the IRB more is needed. Money is needed to process asylum claims efficiently as well as deal with a growing backlog. Continuing to build this “good governance” structure will go a long way to maintaining public trust in the system.

Canada still has work to do, but we have a strong foundation on which to build.

via Asylum seekers are not causing a crisis for Canada | The Star

Senate proposal would force companies to set diversity targets for board of directors

Clear from current data that a nudge needed, with annual reporting to provide accountability:

In an effort to bolster the number of women, Indigenous people and racial minorities sitting on corporate boards, a group of senators is poised to amend government legislation that would force companies to set internal diversity targets.

Independent Ontario Sen. Ratna Omidvar, one of six members of the Red Chamber backing the amendment, said the Liberal government’s current approach in Bill C-25, which would simply encourage companies to boost gender diversity without applying any sort of target, is too timid.

The amendment would compel all publicly traded Canadian companies — roughly 600 on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) — to set targets for increasing underrepresented groups, but would leave it up to each company to decide on what the target should be.

“The bill, as it currently stands, is just a tap on the shoulder, whereas our amendment turns the tap into more of an intentional nudge in the right direction,” Omidvar, an expert in diversity, said in an interview with CBC News. The amendment is expected to be introduced by Independent Sen. Paul Massicotte on Thursday, some 18 months after the bill was first tabled in the House of Commons.

Voluntary approach not good enough: senator

Under the government’s bill, a diversity policy is not mandatory. If a company does not develop one, they would simply have to tell their shareholders why, the so-called “comply or explain” approach adopted by other regulators in Canada.

“For us, that’s too soft a nudge,” Omidvar said. “What we may well get, as a result of this bill, is corporations developing diversity policies and putting them on the shelf and no action.”

Omidvar points to research from the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA), an umbrella group of provincial securities regulators, which suggests a voluntary approach to diversity has led to little improvement.

Only 14 per cent of board seats are occupied by women, a three-percentage-point progress from 11 per cent in 2015. Forty-five per cent of all publicly listed companies do not have a single woman sitting on their board of directors. As for senior management, only 15 per cent of positions are filled by women, a proportion that has not progressed at all since 2015.

The research found that 1.1 per cent of board members are Indigenous, 3.2 per cent are persons with a disability and 4.3 per cent are members of a visible minority.

CSA also found that only 9 per cent of companies have internal targets for women on their boards, with a mere 2 per cent having targets for women in executive positions.

Omidvar said targets are not “quotas” per se as each company would be able to decide how many diverse candidates should be added to a board, but, at the very at least, they will have to commit to doing more.

Those targets, and a company’s success in meeting them, would then have to be reported to the federal government on an annual basis.

In turn, the minister responsible, the innovation minister, would prepare a public report documenting how well companies in Canada, writ large, have done in adding women and minorities to the seats of power at these companies. The company would also have to disclose progress to shareholders at their annual meetings.

Importantly, the amendment would actually define what exactly “diversity” is as the government’s bill, as currently written, is vague on that question.

If passed, the amended bill would compel companies to replicate definitions used by the federal government, namely that “diverse” candidates would include women, visible minorities, Indigenous people and those with disabilities. Notably, LGBTQ people would be excluded under such a definition.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains is unconvinced amendments are necessary and will not support this move to alter his bill.

“The minister has been clear that the act and the forthcoming regulations are an appropriate and balanced approach that will facilitate a conversation on diversity between shareholders and the management and boards,” a spokesperson said in a statement to CBC News.

The spokesperson pointed to the success of the “comply or explain” model in the United Kingdom and Australia, where the number of women on boards stands at more than 20 per cent in both jurisdictions.

“Given this, we believe Bill C-25 is a good bill for corporations, stakeholders, shareholders, and all Canadians, and hope for its quick passage through the Senate,” he said.

Opposition to quotas

There is a reluctance from some in the business community to set hard quotas — as has been done in Norway, for example, where 40 per cent of all seats must be occupied by a woman.

Paul Schneider, a senior executive at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, one of the largest institutional investors in the country, told the Senate committee studying Bill C-25 last month that he’d like to see a culture shift rather than the imposition of quotas.

“To be truly impactful, boards must take ownership of diversity. With a quota, they can abdicate ownership to the government,” he said.

“In the short run, quotas can indeed lead to greater diversity, but we fear that while establishing a quota incents boards to hit a specific number, it may hinder any progress over and above that target … Diversity should be achieved because it is good, sound business, not because it is a rule,” he said.

Omidvar said many companies are naturally sceptical of more regulation. “Generally, this is not particular to this bill, business leaders feel the less encumbered they are, the more capacity they will have to succeed in their business goals … but, as I’ve pointed out, [the amendment] just takes the bill from a tap to a nudge.”

And yet the proposed reporting regulations have the potential to be onerous as the more than 600 companies would have to take stock of how each of their board members (some have more than 20) identify, and then report that information to the government where the data would then be analyzed and catalogued, taking up time, money, and other resources.

Others, including Conservative Sen. Betty Unger, have said appointments should simply be based on who is best for the business.

“People invest in corporations to get a return on their investment, and this is best accomplished by appointing merit-based people to boards … As a woman — and, as you can see, I am not young — I could never feel good about myself if I knew that I got a position simply because I am a woman,” she said at a Nov. 30 committee meeting on the bill.

via Senate proposal would force companies to set diversity targets for board of directors – Politics – CBC News

 

ICYMI: How the federal government is slowly becoming as diverse as Canada

Good overview article by Aaron Wherry of CBC on diversity in government, both public service and political appointments. Some of my analysis quoted and used:

Campaigning in 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised to “build a government as diverse as Canada.”

That job might’ve seemed nearly done on Day One. Of the 31 ministers sworn in on Nov. 4, 2015, 15 were, famously, women. Five ministers were visible minorities and two others were Indigenous.

A cabinet ratio of 48.3 per cent women, 16.1 per cent visible minorities and 6.5 per cent Indigenous comes close to matching a Canadian population that was 50.9 per cent women, 22.3 per cent visible minorities and 4.9 per cent Indigenous.

But a prime minister and his government are responsible for far more than a few dozen cabinet positions. The cabinet oversees more than 1,500 appointments, including chairs and members of boards, tribunals and Crown corporations, deputy ministers, heads of foreign missions, judges and senators.

On that much larger scale, progress has been made, but the ideal of a government that looks like Canada is still a ways off.

A new appointment process

When the government was sworn in, just 34 per cent of federal appointees were women, 4.5 per cent were visible minorities and 3.9 per cent were Indigenous.

Two years later, according to data from the Privy Council Office, 42.8 per cent of appointees are women, 5.6 per cent are visible minorities and 5.8 per cent are Indigenous.

In February 2016, the Liberal government announced a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown corporations. It specified diversity as a goal and opened applications to the public.

According to the Privy Council Office, 429 appointments were made via that process through Dec. 5, 2017. Of those, 56.6 per cent were women, 11.2 per cent were visible minorities and 9.6 per cent were Indigenous.

A total of 579 appointments — including deputy ministers, heads of mission and appointments for which requirements are specified in law — were made through existing processes. Of those, 43.7 per cent were women, 3.8 per cent were visible minorities and 5.2 per cent were Indigenous.

“Mr. Trudeau has been more intentional on these issues than his predecessors and has made great progress in opening up the process. He has also clearly made great strides on gender,” says Wendy Cukier, director of Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute.

But, says Cukier, the government’s efforts toward transparency and equal opportunity need to be accompanied by “proactive outreach and recruitment as well as retention strategies” in order to “address some of the barriers historically disadvantaged groups have faced.”

Eleanore Catenaro, press secretary for the prime minister, says, “Our aim is to identify high-quality candidates who will help to achieve gender parity and truly reflect Canada’s diversity.”

She says, “We know there is more work to do to achieve these goals, and we continue to do outreach to potential qualified and diverse candidates to encourage them to apply.”

Rigorous reporting of demographic data across federal appointments could presumably drive change — or at least give the  government something to answer for — but most of these numbers have not been made public.

“It is crucial that the government tracks, measures and reports on diversity in all areas,” says Sen. Ratna Omidvar, the founding director of Ryerson’s Global Diversity Exchange. “By doing so, we are able to see where we are making progress and where we need to improve.”

Beneath those top-line numbers, there are a few other points of reference.

According to Global Affairs Canada, the government made 87 heads-of-mission appointments — ambassadors, consul generals and official representatives — in 2016 and 2017. Forty-eight per cent were women and 13.8 per cent were visible minorities. There were no Indigenous appointees.

Senate and court appointments

Andrew Griffith, a former official at the department of citizenship and immigration who has been tracking diversity in federal appointments, has counted 18 women, six visible minorities and three Indigenous Canadians among Trudeau’s 31 Senate appointments.

As a result of an initiative to track judicial appointees, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs has published a tally of court appointments from Oct. 21, 2016 through Oct. 27, 2017. Between those dates, 74 judicial appointments were made, of whom 50 per cent were women, 12.1 per cent were visible minorities and four per cent were Indigenous.

But that data also suggested the pool of candidates was limited: of the 997 applications received, just 97 applicants identified as a visible minority and 36 were Indigenous.​

At some point, it might be charged that diversity is being inappropriately prioritized ahead of merit or competency — as Kevin O’Leary once alleged of Trudeau’s cabinet. But such suggestions assume that achieving diversity must come at the expense of merit.

Ideally, diversity would also amount to more than a numerical value.

3 benefits of diversity

Griffith, for instance, suggests three potential benefits of diversity in appointments: that it allows Canadians to see themselves represented in government institutions, that it brings a range of experience and perspectives to government policies and operations and that it reduces the risk of inappropriate policies (for example, an RCMP interview guide that asked asylum-seekers about their religious practices).

“It has been proven over and over that more diversity in the workplace leads to better outcomes,” says Omidvar, who is also pushing to tighten the standards included in a proposed government bill that would require corporate boards to report on diversity.

But the most profound impact could conceivably relate to Griffith’s first potential benefit. A nation that values diversity and pluralism might want its institutions to reflect those principles — and institutions that reflect those principles might advance the building of a multicultural society.

“It normalizes diversity,” Omidvar said of public appointments. “At this point, diversity is still sort of not the norm, which is why we focus on it.”

via How the federal government is slowly becoming as diverse as Canada – Politics – CBC News

Why Ottawa needs to nudge Canada’s boards toward greater diversity: Senators Massicotte and Omidvar

Agree – sensible amendments that provide latitude for companies to set their objectives with accountability and transparency provided through regular company and overall reporting:

This week, the Senate will vote on Bill C-25. The bill proposes to reform the process for electing directors of distributing corporations and co-operatives and modernize communications between corporations and their shareholders. It also requires distributing corporations to provide shareholders, at annual general meetings, information about diversity among directors and senior management.

The goal of the legislation is to increase diversity among corporate boards and among their executive ranks. The intent of the legislation is right. We need more diversity. But the measures proposed are not enough.

Three years ago, the Canadian Securities Administrators adopted a “comply or explain” model that is specific to the representation of women on boards and applies to most publicly traded companies in Canada. Bill C-25 emulates this approach.

Results have been disappointing: Only 14 per cent of board seats are now occupied by women, a meagre three-percentage-point progress from 11 per cent in 2015. Regarding senior management, only 15 per cent of positions are filled by women, a proportion that has not progressed at all since 2015.

Women are better represented on boards and in senior executive positions at larger firms. But even in FP500 companies, other groups are unacceptably underrepresented. Only 1.1 per cent of board members are Indigenous, 3.2 per cent are persons with a disability and 4.3 per cent are members of a visible minority.

Why would an approach that has yielded so few advances in recent years work better in the future? The government is asking Canadians to be patient, but shouldn’t we request an improved approach? We strongly believe we should.

This week, we will table an amendment in order to ensure we do more than what is timidly proposed in Bill C-25. This amendment puts forward an approach that is both progressive and respectful of corporations’ choices and strategies.

The term “diversity” is not defined in Bill C-25. When diversity is left undefined, even on the most basic level, as we saw in the United States, it loses its emphasis. It becomes experiential rather than identity-based. Given the myriad interpretations possible, the term risks being diluted beyond recognition, with very little accountability in place.

Our amendment would require publicly traded corporations to set self-determined numerical goals, such as percentages and timetables, to bolster the representation of at least four underrepresented groups within boards and senior management. It would specifically target the designated groups identified in the 1995 Employment Equity Act: women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities.

To be clear: Companies would be allowed to establish numerical goals for these four groups, considering industry and company-specific factors and also include other forms of diversity if they so wish.

We know this approach works. According to the Canadian Securities Administrators, issuers that set themselves targets for the representation of women on boards do more than twice as well (reaching a 26-per-cent female composition of their boards) than companies that do not set such goals (12 per cent being their proportion).

So, by requiring corporations to report policies and goals to their shareholders, this amendment is designed to nudge them to accelerate change.

But if we are to know whether real progress is made, we need a periodical, complete, up-to-date picture of the situation in the upper echelons of the corporate world. That is why the amendment would require that corporations also send diversity and numerical goals information to the government. As well, each year, the minister would be required to prepare and publish a report presenting the aggregate data received.

The approach that we propose seeks better representation for women and other underrepresented groups, while leaving corporations free to take into account their particular circumstances. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach and it is a much better alternative than the wait-and-see approach proposed by the government.

This is an important piece of legislation. Diversity is our strength but inclusion is our choice. We need to make these changes to improve the bill and accelerate progress.

via Why Ottawa needs to nudge Canada’s boards toward greater diversity – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI: ‘Dreamers’ unlikely to rush to claim asylum in Canada, immigration experts say

Good survey of opinions:

Canadians shouldn’t expect another flood of asylum seekers to illegally cross the border in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to scrap a program designed to protect young, undocumented immigrants in the United States, immigration experts say.

The situation of the roughly 800,000 so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, is very different from that of the Haitians and other asylum seekers who’ve been coming to Canada in large numbers via irregular border crossings, said Ottawa immigration lawyer Ronalee Carey.

For one thing, it’s still unclear whether the Dreamers will actually face deportation from the U.S. once the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program ends six months from now.

“If I was a DACA recipient, I would not be trying to come to Canada irregularly,” Carey said. “I think they should sit tight and wait and see what happens.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has given Congress six months to come up with a solution for the Dreamers, so-called because of the proposed DREAM Act, voted down in the Senate in 2010, which would have offered them legal status in exchange for joining the military or attending college. DACA is a stopgap measure, implemented by the Obama administration, that has shielded the Dreamers from deportation but has not given them a path to citizenship.

On Tuesday evening, Trump tweeted that he will “revisit this issue” if Congress is unable to “legalize DACA” in the next six months. A majority of Americans believe Dreamers, many of whom have grown up speaking English and have attended American universities, should be allowed to stay in the U.S.

Carey said it would be a “huge mess” if the Trump administration actually tried to deport the 800,000 undocumented young people.

“That was a smart tweet on his part to sort of take back a little bit,” she said.

If some DACA recipients do head north, they will be very unlikely to meet the criteria for refugee status in Canada, she said. But some could come to Canada through normal immigration streams, like the Express Entry program for skilled workers, which would give them a path to permanent residence. Others could come as international students if they have the money, Carey said. In fact, at least one Canadian post-secondary institution is already trying to capitalize on the opportunity. Huron University College, in London, Ont., announced Wednesday it will be offering a $50,000 scholarship for students affected by the DACA decision.

Even if some Dreamers do decide to brave the odds and seek refugee status in Canada, most wouldn’t need to cross the border illegally to do so, she said, because of an exception in the Safe Third Country Agreement. Most would-be refugees who try to enter Canada from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings and told to make their asylum claims in the U.S., which is why so many have been coming into Canada at unauthorized points. But Mexicans, who account for about 70 per cent of DACA recipients, are exempted from this rule because they don’t need a visa to come to Canada. They can claim asylum at any border checkpoint, Carey said.

Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar said she has spoken to a number of Dreamers in recent days, and they seem less inclined to seek asylum in Canada than to look at immigrating through other channels.

“That was the least attractive to them,” she said. “They see themselves in a different way.”

Still, Omidvar said Canada should look at taking in 10,000 to 30,000 DACA recipients over the next several years, though she doesn’t believe the government needs to create a special program for them. She compared the Dreamers to the draft dodgers who came to Canada in the 1960s to escape the Vietnam War.

“I feel that Canadians have a huge amount of empathy and compassion, but their empathy for young people is always louder,” she said.

Irene Bloemraad, a sociology professor at the University of California Berkeley who specializes in immigration, said she doesn’t expect floods of Dreamers to make their way to Canada immediately, but it could be an appealing prospect if Congress fails to come up with a solution in the coming months.

“I don’t think there’s going to be hundreds of thousands of people coming north,” she said. “But I think there’s going to be interest.”

She believes Canada should create a special provision to fast-track DACA recipients who want to come north as skilled workers, students or asylum seekers. What Canadians dislike, she said, “is when you have unanticipated numbers of people crossing the borders and then claiming asylum. … But when those flows can be structured in a way, then I think Canadians are very, very generous.”

The issue has come up at a sensitive time for the Canadian government, with NAFTA negotiations underway between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Asked about a potential influx of Dreamers to Canada, Hursh Jaswal, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said the government “won’t speculate on any possible future trends.”

But Bloemraad said Canada needs to look ahead. “Even if the Canadian government is worried about how being proactive with regards to the DACA recipients might have complications for NAFTA negotiations, the alternative, not doing anything, is going to create much bigger policy problems down the road.”

Andy Semotiuk, a Canadian and U.S. immigration lawyer, said Canada has other immigration hurdles to face beyond the DACA recipients. He pointed to the 260,000 Salvadorans and 86,000 Hondurans whose temporary protected status in the U.S. is set to expire, saying the trend of illegal migration to Canada could become “overwhelming.”

Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez is set to go to Los Angeles this week to try and head off that possible next wave of migrants by correcting misinformation about Canada’s immigration system.

Source: ‘Dreamers’ unlikely to rush to claim asylum in Canada, immigration experts say | National Post

Canada should welcome up to 30,000 DACA young people facing deportation in U.S. – Senator Omidvar

As long as they come through the regular immigration program, meet the requirements, and are part of current levels, suspect most Canadians would be comfortable with accepting Dreamers:

Canada could gain from the Trump administration’s decision to end a program that has allowed young, undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States for years, says Ontario Independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar.

In an interview on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Omidvar said the program’s beneficiaries are precisely the kind of immigrants Canada should be pursuing for its economic migrant program.

“These individuals are low-hanging fruit for us,” Omidvar told host Rosemary Barton. “They speak fluent English, they’ve been educated in the U.S., most of them have been to college or university, some of them have work experience. They understand the North American working culture.”

“On top of that, in order to qualify to be a ‘Dreamer’ you have to have biometrics testing, you have to have a criminality check. So this is America’s loss but it could be Canada’s gain.”

People who reside in the U.S. under this program are often called “Dreamers” after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM). The bill was crafted to help those brought to the U.S. as children by allowing them to live there providing they graduate from school and have no criminal record.

The act has been struggling to become law since 2001, and has often seemed close to bipartisan success. But in recent years more Republicans have turned against it.

The estimated 800,000 young people who migrated to the U.S. illegally with their parents and are now living there under the DACA program face deportation to a country they now have little connection with, after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday the Trump administration would rescind DACA.

Omidvar proposes that Canada give “special consideration” to 10,000 to 30,000 of these young people either through the existing economic stream or as international students.

An opportunity for Canada

“We know that international students have already been identified by our system as priorities for permanent residency,” said Omidvar. “And in truth, we have not done so well in turning an aspiration into a reality because most international students still choose to go back.

“So, here are people who could apply for international student programs. Universities and colleges could come up with some special initiative or special outreach — college-to-college, university-to-university — maybe even a special scholarship program. But over time, they would be top of the line for economic integration,” Omidvar added.

While Omidvar is sensitive to the fact that Canada is in the midst of complex trade negotiations with both the U.S. and Mexico (the country of origin for many DACA young people) she says if Canada fails to reach out, other countries could reap the benefits:

“Just as this is an opportunity for Canada, it is also an opportunity for other countries — including source countries of origin like Mexico and other Latin American countries.

“These young people have resiliency. They understand how the American system works. They understand American insecurities and securities. And if their personal safety can be guaranteed in source countries, maybe this is the new elite that will participate in nation building in those countries which their parents left, 20-plus years ago.”

Larry Smith, the Conservative leader in the Senate, declined to comment.

The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is a temporary reprieve from deportation, renewable every two years (for a fee), but has no path to citizenship.

Canada should welcome up to 30,000 DACA young people facing deportation in U.S., senator says – Politics – CBC News

C-6: Senate Debate – Language and Knowledge Testing Age

In addition to the amendment proposed by Senator McCoy to restore procedural protections for those accused of fraud or misrepresentation, and the forthcoming amendment allowing minors to submit citizenship applications on their own (see C-6: Senate bill would let children become citizens separately from parents), Senator Griffin proposed a (compromise?) amendment, proposing a cut-off age of 60 for knowledge and language testing, compared to the current 65 of C-24 and the proposed 55 of C-6.

To her credit, she went back to the Mulroney and Chrétien eras to find justification for 60 being an appropriate cut-off.

I would, however, take issue with the Library of Parliament’s assertion, according to Senator Griffin’s speech, that it was “not decided at either the political or the senior departmental levels.”

Inconceivable. Any such change would have to be signed off by the Deputy and Minister. Moreover, as the timing of April 2005 was prior to the 2006 election, with the main target being new Canadian voters in key ridings.

One of the problems with all the age proposals is the lack of good evidence and policy analysis of their rationale. ATIP records show that there was no such analysis done in 2005 when then Minister Volpe reduced the cut-off to 55, none in 2014 when then Minister Alexander raised it to 65, and again none in 2016 when then Minister McCallum reduced it back to 55. (I didn’t make any ATIP requests earlier than 2005).

And while good policy and political arguments have been made on both sides of the issue, it is unfortunate that various governments appear to have made their policy choices without documented consideration of departmental analysis, suggesting that the decisions were primarily political.

Her research prompted more research by the Bill’s sponsor, Senator Omidvar, indicating that there was more departmental involvement and advice than ATIP records show.

In the end, the Senate approved the amendment, meaning the Government will need to decide whether to accept this (and other amendments) or, as in the case of assisted dying, send it back to the Senate unchanged.

Have included the text of Senators Griffin and Omidvar to provide the flavour of the debate:

Senator Griffin:

Honourable senators, today I rise to speak to Bill C-6. I want to propose an amendment to the bill, but first I want to give you my reasons why.

The age of 55 to demonstrate sufficient language proficiency is too low and should be increased. This is in part due to the fact that a permanent resident at age 49 to 50, after a five-year waiting period, could become a Canadian citizen at age 55 without any knowledge of either French or English.

I think an amendment to increase that level to 60 years of age is particularly important to people in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and rural Canada.

Note that I support a waiver on compassionate grounds. This is found in section 5(3) of the Citizenship Act. I respectfully disagree with routine waivers simply because an applicant is 55.

I am proposing age 60 due to the evidence-based recommendations by studies during the Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien governments. According to the Library of Parliament, the age of 55 for an exemption from the requirements is a more recent trend that was not decided at either the political or the senior departmental levels.

As well, the Library of Parliament analyst cannot find any record of age 55 being transmitted through ministerial instruction. The age of 55 appears to have been decided at a middle management level via an instrument of delegation.

The age exemptions for language and knowledge were never defined in statute prior to the Conservative government’s changes to the Citizenship Act that legislatively set the age to 65.

Prior to this point, there was a requirement for all permanent residents who wished to acquire citizenship to satisfy the knowledge and language requirements, and individuals who could not fulfill these requirements had to request a waiver.

In the early 1980s, the criteria for a routine waiver was set at 65 and over. By 1994, the waiver was lowered to 60. At some point between 1994 and 2014, the waiver was again lowered, this time to 55. But these lowerings were never done at the political level.

Studies from the Mulroney and Chrétien eras recommended using 60 as the benchmark for waivers. In particular, in 1994, the House of Commons committee from the Chrétien government advocated against the routine waiving of language requirements for older applicants.

To paraphrase its report, the Immigration Committee felt that Canadians must be encouraged to obtain a degree of knowledge in one of the official languages. The committee viewed citizenship as a two-way street, and older immigrants should be encouraged to walk as far along that street as possible. The committee warned that routine waiving of language requirements is a form of misplaced passion that could ghettoize people and hinder participation in the broader Canadian mosaic.

The Salisbury-Addison Convention indicates that the Senate should generally not defeat major campaign platform commitments. Effectively, the Senate must defer to the wisdom of the electorate on major platform commitments. However, the lowering of the exemption age to 55 is not a campaign promise. The closest phrase is found in the backgrounder brief called “A New Plan for Canadian Immigration and Economic Opportunity” which states:

“We will repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 that create second-class citizens and the elements that make it more difficult for hard-working immigrants to become Canadian citizens.”

With creativity and imagination, the government could claim that this promise implies the repeal of the age requirement in statute and a restoration of the traditional waiver system. It is clear that entrenchment in statute of age 55 is not contemplated in this promise.

At present, there is a paradox where middle management decision-makers have gradually lowered the age requirement while the lifespan of Canadians is increasing. Age 55 is quite young. I do note with a certain degree of irony that this issue is being debated in this chamber where our average age for a senator is 65.

I draw attention to the comment that former minister John McCallum made to the House of Commons Immigration Committee about the language requirements.

“We did not have consultations specifically on the economic implications of returning to the 55 to 64, but I’m told neither did the previous government on the impact going the other way. So we are reverting to the status quo ante and our predecessors didn’t consult our moving away from it.”

The minister is incorrect in his statement. As discussed earlier, a return to the status quo ante implies not defining 55 in statute and there was no political or senior management direction supporting lowering the age to 55. I stress the lower age runs contrary to the evidence-based recommendations from the Mulroney and Chrétien eras.

One of the primary elements of citizenship is participation in the democratic process, and as a reflection of the smaller population in Atlantic Canada, elections and civic engagement are key elements to successfully integrating into the community.

For example, in Prince Edward Island, the average provincial riding size is about 4,000 people. In the case of my home riding, Vernon River—Stratford, in the last election, after a recount, the two top candidates were tied so the returning officer, according to law, flipped a coin to decide the winner.

Several other ridings were decided by fewer than 100 votes, so this highlights the point that every vote is important and new citizens do have a right to vote, whether or not they can understand the candidates. It is difficult in Eastern Canada for individuals to participate fully in society and in the democratic process without having a working knowledge of either French or English.

I note that a significant number of committee witnesses who spoke to Bill C-6 focused on the national security provisions of the legislation. With respect to age requirements, a cursory examination appears to show none of the witnesses were from Atlantic Canada and the vast majority were from Ontario.

In light of this, I’m putting forward this amendment to highlight that legislative amendments on Canadian citizenship must involve more stakeholders than solely those from the larger population centres.

As well, I’ll point out that in proposing this amendment I am fulfilling the Prime Minister’s vision that senators examine and revise legislation while representing regional, provincial and minority interests.

Senator Omidvar:

Honourable senators, I find I’m rising yet one more time to speak to you about Bill C-6. I wish that were not the case but I wanted to start off on a positive note.

Thank you, Senator Oh, for sharing your amendment with us and your notes. It makes all our jobs so much easier when we understand what you’re thinking. I agree with our facilitator, Senator McCoy, that in fact this should become not just good practice but standard practice. I look forward to working with all those who make these agreements to further this idea.

I would also like to thank my colleague Senator Griffin for her interest and her contribution to the dialogue and debate on this very important bill. And in particular I want to thank her for her readiness and willingness to step up to the plate. I spoke to her yesterday — I think it was eight o’clock in the morning — and I asked whether she would be ready to speak on her amendment. She blinked maybe once and then said “yes,” so kudos on your responsiveness, really.

I will say as much as I admire my colleague from beautiful P.E.I. — and I have learned something about P.E.I. in my conversations with her — I do not support this amendment and I will be voting against it.

First, honourable senators, let me remind everybody this is a repeal bill. It means it repeals certain provisions to take them back to where they were before, not to another place, not to tweak it, to massage it or find another playing field, but to bring it back to where we were before, and that was age 55.

Second, changes to the Citizenship Act were part of the election promise. The Liberal government was elected on a platform with a particular mandate and this change is part of it. As the Prime Minister said, “We will repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 . . . that make it more difficult for hard-working immigrants to become Canadian citizens.”

Senator Griffin is absolutely right; she has done her research very well. There is no particular reference to age, but I believe that lowering the age exemption is part and parcel of this promise and one that I am personally delighted that the Prime Minister has chosen to keep.

Senator Griffin is proposing to raise the waiver age for exemption of language and knowledge testing from 55, which is in the bill, to 60 — five years. And I would like to focus my comments on why five years matter and to whom.

I would like to start with evidence, just as Senator Griffin did. She pointed to some research in the Mulroney and Chrétien eras. I won’t dwell too much on this point. I just want to remind everyone that the source of immigrants to Canada has diversified significantly since then, especially in the 1990s, which would not be captured in the statistics available at that time. Policy recommendations at that time made sense, perhaps, for a country of primarily European immigrants.

But I wanted to look for recent evidence, so I turned to one of the most knowledgeable people in the field of citizenship, and that is Andrew Griffith, the former Director General in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. He filed an access to information request to find the documentation behind the 2014 decision to raise the waiver age from 55 to 65, and the department returned his request with zero documentation. Mr. Griffith concluded: “We are in an evidence-free zone.”

But did I find some evidence. I looked for it in a different place with a different lens, and I found it in the gender-based analysis that was conducted for Bill C-24. No gender-based analysis was conducted for Bill C-6 because it was felt it still held in that one year. This is what we know, because it is what the GBA said: that from 2000 to 2004, when the waiver age was 60, which is exactly what Senator Griffin is proposing to do, applicants aged 55 to 60 had a 5 per cent lower test pass rate than the rate of all other age groups. In other words, testing impacted those aged between 55 and 60.

I went back a little further in history, and I determined that it was in 2005, under Prime Minister Paul Martin, that the age was lowered from 60 to 55. The Minister of Immigration was Joe Volpe, in Prime Minister Paul Martin’s cabinet. I just picked up the phone yesterday, called him and was lucky enough to find him. I said, “Mr. Volpe, can you remember if there was evidence behind your decision?” We are dealing with memory, I understand, but he was very clear when he said to me that he relied on evidence to make this decision, and the evidence was collected by the department and concluded that testing poses a particular barrier for older immigrants.

He went on to say that it didn’t make sense to deprive them of the opportunity to become citizens. It didn’t make sense that one could only be an exemplary citizen or a good citizen if you could pass a test.

There is some other evidence that I will cite briefly. We know there is a falling rate of applications for citizenship; this is documented, again, by Andrew Griffith. He found a nearly 50 per cent drop in applications in the first nine months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. I want to remind us all what Senator Eggleton said: The fees for citizenship applications have risen an astronomical 500 per cent. It costs roughly $630 per person to apply for citizenship.

I want you to consider someone who is 55 years old, who is lower income, who is supporting a family and putting food on the table, and they have to then put $630 on the table for a citizenship application test, and they are nervous about passing it. So I conclude that testing has a disproportionate impact on older immigrants and therefore constitutes a disincentive.

Let me talk a little bit about who this change will impact. It’s a small minority, by the way, of citizenship applicants. Historically, only about 8 per cent of the total number of citizenship applications received each year has come from this age group. Who are they? We are not talking about people who choose to come to Canada for the labour market. Their age would, in fact, be a great disqualifier. We are talking about refugees, parents, grandparents and spouses. In particular, I am talking about women who have come to Canada as sponsored spouses, a parent or as a refugee.

Elke Winter, Associate Professor of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa, testified during witness hearings on Bill C-24 that, for the “less educated, non-European-language speakers, and the economically vulnerable,” it makes citizenship much harder to obtain.

Let me restate what I have pointed out in both of my speeches on Bill C-6. Sadly, I think there are way too many people who need to hold down more than two jobs simply to make the rent and pay their bills. These people, again, many of them women, work in factories where they operate within a context where language acquisition either does not matter or is not necessary.

Again, these women aged 55 and over are good enough to work, good enough to raise their children, good enough to send them to university and good enough to pay taxes, but they are not good enough to become Canadians.

I have heard no credible evidence that changing the age one way or another is an incentive to learning a language. But I have heard that it is a real barrier based on your socio-economic status, your gender and your race. I feel I am hugely disadvantaged in this chamber because I do not speak French. I think it is a big disadvantage. I know I can try to learn it, but I figured out that it would be incredibly difficult to get up to the fluency of Senators Pratte and Dupuis. I try to listen to them, but I know it is hard. I am someone who has a natural tendency to learn languages — I speak six of them — but I know now it would be too hard to learn that language.

Barriers like being too poor, too busy, too badly needed at home, too fearful and too risk-averse: for vulnerable people, a barrier is a barrier. I’m afraid I cannot see an incentive in it.

Miss Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian legal clinic reminded us that your ability to learn a language depends on your mental health, family status, income, working hours and more.

I will agree with each one of you that we need to spend more money on languages. Language is invaluable for those who have it, and we should strive to open our official languages to include more of our citizens. But we should not do this by erecting barriers. We should not do it at the cost of disenfranchisement.

We heard yesterday that language requirements can be waived on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Senator Eggleton posed the very pointed question: How many times has this policy actually been applied?

Today, in the morning, I was speaking to the director generals and deputy ministers of the department. I asked them this question, and there was, sadly, no answer.

Let me make an assumption: If passing a test is a challenge, I wonder how much more challenging it would be to arrange a waiver. But I do have some very concrete evidence about the good things that happen when you do become a citizen. It is scientifically proven that you have a greater attachment to the labour market. You develop a greater sense of belonging to Canada and its institutions. You have a greater investment in ownership, and you invest in this country in many ways. I really believe this is the spirit of what both Senator Griffin and I want.

Senator Griffin made a very interesting point about political participation. Her story, about the one vote being decided in a coin toss, was fascinating. Senator Griffin is rightly anxious that more people participate in the democratic process. But she is also anxious that they participate in it in an informed way. Well, frankly, I’m not sure whether other Canadians are well-informed about our system or not. We don’t have a test for them, and they participate in it.

But I do know this: Immigrants have a knowledge of civics from an unusual source of information, and this is from a flourishing ethnic press, both online and offline. I spoke to Naomi Alboim, a distinguished professor from Queen’s University, who said to me that not being able to speak the language does not mean you don’t understand the democratic process and the rights and responsibilities attached to it. She pointed to the ethnic press and its prevalence and role in civic education.

So I did some research this morning. I had some fun. I discovered that the largest immigrant group on Prince Edward Island is Mandarin-speaking. There is a Mandarin-English publication called Ni Hao PEI. It’s a quarterly newspaper. And I looked at the top news stories in 2017. They were not about mainland China politics. Here are three headlines: Get to know a farmer!; P.E.I. farmland — the new investment of choice; P.E.I. rural schools: natural decline or time for change?

I don’t think we should assume that Canadian civics and curiosity requires a certain degree of English and language. You can get it from other sources.

I have a case in point. My mother lives with me; you have heard me talk about her. She is a delightful mother, close to 90 years old, although she wants to be 85. She got her citizenship in the late 1980s, when she was much younger. I do not remember what tests there were, but there were tests. In the meantime, the bars on language and knowledge testing has been raised. It’s become digital. I doubt whether she would pass.

Here is also something that is true: She is up on politics, sometimes more than I am, because she is glued to the wonderful South Asian television channel called OMNI. She has her daily dose of Bollywood drama. But she quizzes me often, especially when I come home from the Senate, on things she has heard about on the South Asian news. This became really clear to me when we were talking about assisted dying, because it’s a matter relevant to her. She asked me every day: What is the access? What are the provisions? Who will administer it? She really gave me the run-through.

I reject the notion that if your English or French is not good enough to pass a test it is not good enough to understand how to participate in the political process. Let us try telling that to all our Italian, Greek, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants.

Let me conclude with five years. Five years is a long time. I’m a rookie senator today. In five years, I hope to be a halfway competent senator. Let me think about what happens to a low- income woman who is 55 years old.

Source: C-6 Debates: Language and Knowledge Assessment April 5

C-6 Debates: Language and Knowledge Assessment April 6

Senate hearings on C-6: Clause-by-clause complete, on to third reading March 2

Summary: C-6 was approved on division by the SOCI and reported out to the full Senate for third reading, with Conservative senators opposed. Three observations were appended to the report: greater flexibility for exemptions to knowledge and language assessment, reviewing possible use of smart permanent residency cards, and considering a reduction in citizenship fees. Senator Eggleton, as Deputy Chair, while supporting C-6 noted that an amendment was needed with respect to revocation in cases of fraud or misrepresentation, given the lack of due process, and an amendment would be tabled at third reading.

Clause-by-clause: All clauses of C-6 were carried on division, with Conservative senators opposed to all provisions. Clause 3 (repeal of the revocation provision for dual nationals convicted of terrorism or treason) and the related clause 20 (reinstatement of citizenship of those whose citizenship was revoked for terrorism or treason) were subject to recorded votes, with all Conservative senators opposed.

Observations

Citizenship for children born abroad (non-genetic link): Senator Omidvar noted testimony of the Barreau du Quebec (check) flagging issues related to children born abroad but without any genetic link to their Canadian parents (e.g., surrogates, in vitro). After consideration discussion, officials noted that children adopted abroad had direct access to citizenship (C-14 in 2008) with no difference in treatment between male-female and same sex couples. With respect to surrogates or in vitro children, a genetic or gestational (Canadian mother born) was required. With this clarification, the observation was withdrawn.

Greater flexibility for exceptions to knowledge and language assessment: Senator Omidvar noted the testimony by a number of witnesses regarding the difficulty some immigrant have with respect to testing. Under “exceptional circumstances” (e.g., social, physical, mental health, disabilities, lack of time for women with caregiving responsibilities).

A number of senators expressed concern that the language was overly broad. Moreover, questions had already been raised by former citizenship judge Watt that the assessment process was not strong enough. Officials indicated there was already considerable scope for discretion in such cases and that 80 percent of waiver requests were granted (320 waivers). Officials also noted that the citizenship test was available in large print and brail versions. The Minister had broad grounds to waive these requirements and the department was confident it had the needed authorities and instructions in place.

Omidvar noted that language and knowledge assessment had become more difficult since the time judge Watt was active. She noted that often applicants in this situation had to go to court to obtain waivers and the system was not as flexible and accommodating as portrayed and reminded all of the wording “exceptional circumstances.” In the end, observation carried.

Smart permanent residence cards: Senator Frum, picking up on lawyer Julie Taub’s point about the need for smart cards to automatically track entry and exit to minimize the burden on immigrants and reduce residency fraud, tabled an observation that asked the government “to implement” smart PR cards. However, she also offered a softer version: “review or consider.” A number of senators expressed support for the concept but noted the practical difficulties of implementation The Chair deftly secured agreement for the “review and consider” language.

Fees: Senator Eggleton returned to the issue of the sharp increase of citizenship fees from $100 to $530 plus right of citizenship fee of $100, resulting in a cost of $1,460 for a family of four, with possible additional costs of language assessment. This posed a financial burden and barrier to low-income immigrants and thus his observation requested the government consider lowering fees.

Referring extensively to my submission (https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/SOCI/Briefs/C-6_A_Griffith_e.pdf) and its attribution of the much of the 50 percent drop in  applications to this increase, he noted that it belied the assertion in the Canada Gazette notifications that no drop was anticipated. Historically, about 200,000 applications were submitted, the current trend would see less than 100,000. Departmental staff believe that other reasons are involved which may be the case given other elements of C-24.

Canada should not discourage people from becoming citizens and becoming a citizen shouldn’t be based on financial means. Cost recovery may have been supported by one witness but other witnesses noted that this created a barrier for many immigrants. Income testing for waivers was “not the way to go” as it marginalized people more. He did not agree with the department’s position.

Senator Frum probed regarding waivers for those who submitted evidence of hardship while those who could pay should pay. Senator Neufeld noted that the committee had heard from officials and the Minister and that the fees were what was needed to cover the cost of the program.

Senator Eggleton noted that an increase from $100 to $530 is a problem. One did not need to roll back the fee to $100 but perhaps to $300, addingg that the right to citizenship fee of $100 was “ridiculous. He reiterated his concern that an income test would stigmatize low-income immigrants.

Observation carried.

Revocation for fraud or misrepresentation amendment (Hill Times):

Independent Senator Ratna Omidvar, who was appointed last year by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, says Senators are preparing to amend a key plank of the government’s mandate next week, the Citizenship Bill C-6, a move she calls “necessary” and says she’s received support from some Senate Liberals as well.

Sen. Omidvar, an international expert on migration who is sponsoring Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, in the Senate, told The Hill Times on Thursday that she’s nearing the completion of drafting an amendment that would put an end to Canadians being stripped of their citizenship without a hearing. Sen. Omidvar wants to remove a law brought in by the previous Conservative government which allows for the revocation of citizenship of anyone who the government deems to have been fraudulent or misrepresented themselves during the application process.

Currently, the provision is not part of Bill C-6, despite the fact that the legislation features other repeals of Conservative legislation. As it stands, Bill C-6 addresses promises made by the Liberals during the last election campaign to amend parts of the previous Conservative government’s Bill C-24 from the last Parliament.

….The amendment would include the right of the individual whose citizenship is in question to appeal their case to the Federal Court, without leave, she said. “It would have a timeline attached to it, it would enable the appellant in this case to have access to full disclosure of documents that were used to reach the original decision. The individual would have the right to provide more evidence that may or may not have been available,” said Sen. Omidvar.

On Thursday, the Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee passed the legislation without amendment, but warned that the proposed amendment was still coming.

Sen. Omidvar said she believes she will have enough Senate support for her amendment to pass when she brings Bill C-6 back up for debate in the Upper Chamber next week.

“Everyone feels an amendment is necessary, we are now arguing about its shape and size … but I’m confident that we will craft an amendment that is hopefully accepted, first by the Chamber, and then by the House,” she said.

Amending government’s Citizenship Bill ‘necessary,’ says Sen. Omidvar, Senate sponsor of Bill C-6