Angus-Reid: Canadians strongly support COVID-19 test requirement for travellers from China, but also question its efficacy

Of note. 13 percent call the policy racist, perhaps an indicator of the more activist and woke portion of the population (my understanding of the testing requirement is that it is partly due to the unavailability of credible Chinese government data):

China abandoning its COVID zero strategy has caused a ripple of concern around the globe as the world’s second-most populous country faces an unprecedented wave of infections affecting as many as four-in-five people.

In response to rising cases in China, Canada, alongside other countries, set a new requirement this month that travellers form China must produce a negative COVID-19 test prior to takeoff.

Data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds a majority of Canadians supportive of this policy, but unsure if it will be effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in their country. Indeed, Canadians who support the policy (77%) outnumber those who are opposed (16%) by nearly five-to-one.

However, those who believe the policy will be effective at reducing COVID-19 infections in Canada (34%) are in the minority. More Canadians believe it will be ineffective (38%) or are unsure (28%). And even among Canadians who support the policy, fewer than half (44%) say they believe it will be effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

There are other concerns with this policy. Some, including the Chinese government, have called it “discriminatory”. Others have gone further and called it “racist”. The pandemic has produced plenty of negative side effects, including discrimination and racism experienced by Canadians of Chinese descent. Some worry this new policy of testing travellers from China will rekindle those ugly sentiments. 

One-in-eight (13%) Canadians call the policy racist. However, more (73%) believe it’s not. Canadians who identify as visible minorities are twice as likely to label the policy racist (23%) than those who don’t identify as such (10%). Still, majorities of those who identify as visible minority (62%) and those who don’t (76%) say the policy is not racist.

More Key Findings:

  • Nearly all (94%) of those who oppose the COVID-19 testing policy for travellers from China believe it won’t be effective at reducing the spread of the virus in Canada.
  • One-in-five (19%) Canadians say they are not travelling at all because they are worried about COVID-19. A further 33 per cent say they have approached their recent travel with caution. Two-in-five (41%) are less worried about the risk of COVID-19 when it comes to travel.
  • Two-in-five (37%) of those who have not travelled at all outside of their province since March 2022 say they aren’t travelling because they worry about catching COVID-19.

Source: Canadians strongly support COVID-19 test requirement for travellers from China, but also question its efficacy

Lau: Data clashes with claims of ‘white supremacy’ in standardized testing

While Lau is trying to be too cute in his commentary, the data undermines claims of white supremacy:

If I get a speeding ticket for exceeding the speed limit by 50 kilometres per hour in a residential zone, I plan to inform the police officer that the institution of policing, the radar guns, and even the posted speed limit are all manifestations of white supremacy. That’s sure to have the ticket withdrawn.

I take my cues from a handful of those in the esteemed social class of public educators. Some context: earlier this fall, the Education Quality and Accountability Office, which is arms-length of the Government of Ontario, released the latest standardized test results. As they have over the past decade, reading and writing scores fluctuated, but math scores continued their steady downward march.

In 2021-22, only 59 per cent of Grade Three students met provincial standards in mathematics, down from 60 per cent in 2018-19 and 67 per cent in 2012-13. Among Grade Six students, only 47 per cent met provincial standards in mathematics, down from 50 per cent in 2018-19 and 57 per cent in 2012-13.

Perhaps in anticipation of such dismal results, in the weeks ahead of the EQAO results release, the Toronto District School Board launched what might be seen as a series of pre-emptive strikes, giving presentations denouncing standardized testing as an example of “white supremacy in K-12 mathematics education.”

A member of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s executive staff, with similar ideas in mind, wrote in the union’s magazine that standardized testing is “biased towards upper-middle class white test-takers” and suggested that “EQAO tests are culturally and racially biased, promoting a Eurocentric curriculum and way of life that privileges white students.”

That administering standardized tests to measure student achievement is a manifestation of white supremacy is an interesting claim, but a little dubious. In the first place, if white racists are trying to use standardized testing to promote the idea that the white race is somehow superior to others, they’re doing a rather poor job. Students from many different racial backgrounds outperform white students (on average) on these tests.

The Peel District School Board reported last year, for example, that a higher proportion of students from East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern and multiple racial backgrounds reached the provincial standards in Grade Three mathematics than white students. Data in previous years and from other school boards, such as Toronto and Grand Erie, also show Asian students on average significantly outperforming white students in EQAO mathematics tests.

Survey data cast further doubt on the theory that standardized tests are tainted by white supremacy. In January a poll (conducted by Leger and published by the Fraser Institute) found 84 per cent of parents of children in K-12 schools supported having their children write standardized tests, including 92 per cent of immigrant parents. Unless we’re prepared to conclude that 84 per cent of Canadians and an even higher proportion of immigrants support white racist activities, we may have to conclude the tests are not racist.

On second thought, if I am pulled over for speeding, it may not help to inform the police officer that the resulting ticket is a manifestation of white supremacy. More likely, the police officer would regard me as an idiot. Similarly, reasonable people might regard as inordinately dumb the idea that standardized testing has anything to do with white supremacy.

Matthew Lau is an adjunct scholar with the Fraser Institute.

Source: LAU: Data clashes with claims of ‘white supremacy’ in standardized testing

It’s a system meant to help newcomers to Canada learn English. But critics say it prioritizes testing — at students’ expense

Hard balance to strike between the need for accountability through testing of progress and pedagogy:

After having his education stalled by war, Fahed Diab was thrilled to have a chance to return to school in Canada. But before he could apply to college, the Syrian refugee needed to enrol in adult English classes.

In those classes, the then 21-year-old worked to learn a foreign language from scratch while, more importantly, rebuilding his self-confidence and mingling with other newcomer students like him who were also trying to learn the history, values and cultures of their adopted homeland.

“I wanted to be able to communicate with people and learn how to ask for help, go to a doctor and book an appointment,” said Diab, who resettled in Canada with his family via Lebanon in 2015 under a refugee sponsorship.

“I went to classes and met friends in similar situations as me. I enjoyed interacting with people from different backgrounds and learning about this country. My self-confidence was getting better.”

However, when changes were made to the federal immigration department-funded Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC) while he was about halfway into his one-year program, Diab, now studying engineering at Lakehead University, said he lost his drive as a result of the frequent in-class assessments required to prove the students’ progress.

“We had two or three tests a week, sometimes for writing and reading, or listening and speaking. We must pass all these tests to move up to the next level,” said the now 27-year-old Hamilton man.

“All the tests distracted me from the learning. I was obsessed with passing the tests rather than learning the language and culture.”

After about a year enrolled in the immigrant English classes, Diab quit and moved to an academic credit program for adults at a school board to finish his Canadian high school diploma as a bridge to the language requirement for post-secondary education.

He could’ve met college admission English requirement if he’d reached LINC level 7, which requires the learner to be able to communicate “comfortably and reasonably fluently” in most common daily situations.

Based on the Canadian Language Benchmarks, LINC goes from level 1 for low beginners to level 8 for high intermediate learners. While most Canadian colleges require minimum scores in standard language tests such as IELTS and TOEFL, they also accept adult immigrant students who have completed at least level 7 in LINC.

Adult immigrant students do drop out of English classes once their language proficiency reaches the level they need to navigate their day-to-day life; for many, it’s just a means to obtain the certificate to meet the bar of the language requirement for citizenship applications. Immigration data shows as many as half of all students discontinue after completing one level.

However, students and instructors say the portfolio-based language assessment or PBLA introduced in 2013 is taking the fun — and class time — out of learning for students such as Diab.

The language assessment system, which has been rolled out incrementally since then, is meant to provide a standardized tool to measure the program’s impact on participants’ language learning and track their progress at each English benchmark.

According to its practice guidelines, PBLA is a “comprehensive, systematic and collaborative approach to language assessment” based on the use of real world language tasks throughout the teaching and learning cycle.

Teachers and participants together are supposed to set learning goals, build a body of work to showcase the student’s language proficiency over the span of a school term and use it to make plans to advance the learner’s journey.

According to the immigration department’s most recent review of its language program, 87,140 or 16 per cent of adult newcomers admitted between 2015 and 2017 enrolled in formal language training. Women accounted for 62 per cent of the enrolment and three quarters of the students were between the ages of 25 and 54.

Students surveyed told researchers they were in classes to improve English for daily life (78 per cent), to help get a job (67 per cent), to better communicate at work (61 per cent), to learn about Canada (58 per cent) and to meet people (53 per cent).

About two-thirds said PBLA was helpful in encouraging them to learn more, that in-class assessments were useful in showing they are learning (64 per cent), and that the frequency of tests was just about right (67 per cent).

Instructors who did not find the assessment approach helpful complained the process took too much preparation (88 per cent) or classroom time (80 per cent), and that learners might not be comfortable with or understand the goal-setting (76 per cent).

“The PBLA may be useful ‘as a learning tool,’ but ‘not as an assessment tool,’” said the 75-page report, released in May. “PBLA is time consuming, and that training for PBLA is in high demand.”

Kelly Morrissey, who has taught English to immigrants and refugees in Toronto since 2010, says the tool looks good on paper but is so labour intensive when applied to a class of 20-plus adult students that it turns into sheer test-oriented learning and assessment rubrics.

PBLA requires students to collect what’s called artifacts — evidence of success in applying vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation in group activities — throughout the term. They need 32 artifacts in writing, reading, listening and speaking based on the instructor’s assessment to move up each ladder. There are eight LINC levels in total.

“Language needs a lot of repetition in different contexts. You need to give the brain as many ways to acquire the language skills as possible. You need to bring in all the senses,” said Morrissey.

“Language is one of the humanities. It’s not like a hard science. You can’t treat language students like laboratory rats.”

Morrissey tailors her curriculum to what her students’ needs are and those needs vary from cohort to cohort.

For a lesson about grocery shopping, she would go to a local store to take pictures of aisle signs, bring empty food packaging to the class and turn the classroom into a supermarket to allow students to do role-playing and learn English in that setting. Sometimes, that would also include a field trip to a store.

While the task-based learning approach that many instructors have already been doing is fantastic, says Morrissey, the paper work involved in PBLA has cut into the time students spend on those activities.

And it doesn’t help that instructors have to develop their own course content outside of the class based on rough PBLA guides. Those hours are unpaid.

“PBLA focuses on test, test, test, test. I had refugees from war-torn areas in my literacy class, experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. I wanted more than anything to protect them from stress of these tests,” said Morrissey. “I think it’s unethical to be asked to do that to them.”

Ethiopian newcomer Ibsa Abdurzak, who was sponsored to come to Canada by a community group in 2017, spent six months in the language program in 2018 before quitting. While the assessment helps students get a sense of their English levels, he said he became hung up with making the grades.

“The best way to learn a language is through practice. But there’s too much assessment and it was too tedious for students,” said the 28-year-old, who had a degree in education back home and now studies business accounting at Mohawk College.

“We don’t like to be judged. It makes people nervous and stressed. It did take away the time to practise English.”

Yuliya Desyatova, a University of Toronto doctoral student, focuses her research on PBLA in adult language training in Canada. She says learners, often self-conscious and afraid to fail, could benefit more from engaging in activities than being assessed.

“They need the opportunity to interact in the language in a social environment. Many of my students are isolated at home. They don’t have interaction (in English) beyond classroom hours. They have so much responsibility,” said Desyatova, herself a LINC instructor since 2006.

“When this opportunity to interact with classmates and teachers is replaced by you filling out paper after paper after paper in the hope to pass, the interaction is pushed aside.”

While the assessment is supposed to offer a “better and reliable measurement” to gauge a learner’s progress, Desyatova says it’s still an inconsistent instrument because each teacher applies the standards differently, with some more heavy-handed than others — an issue the immigration department’s review recognized.

“A simple solution is to remove the mandatory nature of PBLA and let teachers decide how much and how frequently tests need to be done,” she said. “We don’t need to test our students 32 times to see this student is not learning anything more from my class and needs to move to the next.”

Settlement Assistance and Family Support Services, an immigrant agency in Toronto, provides adult language training to some 400 newcomers a year at three locations from literacy to level 7.

Its executive director Sudip Minhas said PBLA allows students to be the centre of the learning and give them ownership of the process, though she admits that the concept of evaluation scares people.

“The intent of PBLA is to take that anxiety out of testing. If I’m given the ownership of my own learning, the assessment is not about pointing out whether I fail or pass, but rather if this route didn’t help (my learning), can I take a different route?” said Minhas.

“But for all our instructors as well as administrators, we have not been able to translate that into practice because we’ve been conditioned by years of certain structured exams and of assessing people by failing or passing them.”

Although PBLA has been implemented for some years now, she says it takes time for instructors and learners to recondition their thinking about the assessment and apply it correctly.

The big setback was that the teachers were not given enough training and support at the onset, she’s glad to see the immigration department’s review recognizes that instructors can “benefit from many supports” and recommends more adaptable PBLA materials, limiting the amount of unpaid work and extra training.

Source: It’s a system meant to help newcomers to Canada learn English. But critics say it prioritizes testing — at students’ expense

Trump says undocumented immigrants can get tested for coronavirus without fear of deportation | TheHill

A rare positive decision but one that will encounter considerable and understandable scepticism given current imm policies and rhetoric:

President Trump on Sunday said undocumented immigrants should be able to get tested for coronavirus without fear of arrest or deportation.

“The answer is yes, we will do those tests,” Trump said during a White House briefing.

“You could say illegal alien, you could say illegal immigrant, you could say whatever you want to use your definition of what you’er talking about… Yes we will test that person,” he continued. “Because I think it’s important we test that person, and we don’t’ want to send that person back into wherever we’re going to be sending that person.”

Vice President Pence noted at the briefing that Customs and Border Protection issued guidance that agents will not target emergency rooms or health clinics in search of undocumented immigrants, barring extraordinary circumstances.

The assurance from Trump that undocumented immigrants could seek a test for the virus without fear comes after he spent his first few years in office seeking to clamp down on immigration and warning of the dangers that migrants pose. He has pushed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and imposed policies turning back asylum-seekers.

Trump initially deferred the question to Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who said all people with symptoms should be tested, noting that the virus “doesn’t judge based on where you’re from.”

Public health experts have pushed for expanded coronavirus testing to allow officials to better identify who needs to quarantine to curb the spread of the disease.

There are more than 30,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and more than 400 Americans with the virus have died.

Source: Trump says undocumented immigrants can get tested for coronavirus without fear of deportation | TheHill

La CAQ adoucit sa position sur l’immigration

The contrast in titles between the Globe (CAQ seeks to expel immigrants who fail ‘Quebec values’ test – The Globe and Mail) and La Presse is telling (La Presse is the more up-to-date version).

Will be interesting to see if the CPC in its effort to gain support in Quebec by further devolving immigration responsibility to that province (Tories on the rise in Quebec as Scheer woos former Bloc voters, poll …) will have second thoughts should the CAQ be elected and implement such post immigration testing:

À quatre mois des prochaines élections, la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) a édulcoré sa position sur l’immigration. Plus question pour le Québec d’expulser des immigrants qui, au bout de trois ans, n’ont pas appris le français ou ne cherchent pas un emploi ; il appartiendra à Ottawa de procéder éventuellement à des évictions.

Dans un « document d’orientation » sur l’immigration publié ce mois-ci, la CAQ se défend de vouloir expulser ou extrader des immigrants : « le recours à ce vocabulaire témoigne d’une mauvaise foi ou d’une méconnaissance de nos institutions », indique-t-on. Un immigrant « récalcitrant » qui ne respecterait pas l’engagement pris à son arrivée ne serait plus admissible au Certificat de sélection du Québec ; « le gouvernement du Québec fera alors parvenir au gouvernement fédéral un avis officiel pour l’informer de la présence en territoire canadien d’une personne sans statut. Le gouvernement fédéral décidera alors des mesures qu’il entend prendre ».

« [Le pouvoir d’expulsion], je ne pense pas avoir jamais dit que ce serait le gouvernement qui le ferait. Le seul pouvoir que le Québec a est d’accorder ou non un certificat de sélection. » – François Legault, chef de la CAQ, dans un entretien avec La Presse

Sans ce certificat, « techniquement, la personne se retrouve sans statut, donc elle ne peut rester au Canada ».

En conférence de presse, le 16 mars 2015, en présentant la politique avec le député Simon Jolin-Barrette, M. Legault s’était fait demander si les contrevenants seraient expulsés. « L’immigrant [qui] ne reçoit pas son certificat permanent, bien oui, il devra retourner, puis le gouvernement fédéral devra s’assurer que cette personne retourne chez elle », avait-il dit. Plus tard, à une autre question sur l’éviction des immigrants récalcitrants, il avait ajouté qu’ils pourraient être candidats dans d’autres provinces, mais pas au Québec. « Ils ne peuvent pas rester de façon permanente même s’ils se sont fait une blonde, un chum au Québec puis qu’ils ont eu un enfant. À un moment donné, il y a des lois, puis nous, on pense que c’est important pour le vivre-ensemble québécois que les personnes parlent français, connaissent et respectent les valeurs québécoises et répondent aux objectifs d’employabilité », avait soutenu M. Legault il y a trois ans.

La proposition de la CAQ maintient la réduction du nombre d’immigrants acceptés chaque année – des 50 000 actuels, on voudrait passer à 40 000. « C’est une réduction temporaire », a expliqué hier M. Legault, qui rappelle qu’après 10 ans, 26 % des immigrants reçus ont quitté le Québec. « Pendant un certain nombre d’années, il faut réduire le nombre. Actuellement, à 50 000, on excède nos capacités à l’emploi et à la formation en français », observe-t-il. La barre sera remise à 50 000 une fois ces objectifs atteints. « Au cours d’un mandat ? Je ne veux pas fixer de délais, mais cela pourrait être ça », a précisé M. Legault.

Selon le premier ministre Philippe Couillard, la position de la CAQ illustre que pour ce parti, l’immigration « est un problème à régler ». « [Une autre idée] de M. Legault qui est brouillonne et inapplicable à plusieurs égards. Ce que sous-tend ce discours-là, c’est le fait que l’immigrant est un problème ; c’est un problème à régler, alors que c’est une occasion extraordinaire pour le Québec », a lancé M. Couillard en marge du point de presse où il a confirmé qu’Alexandre Taillefer deviendrait président de la campagne électorale du Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ).

Au Parti québécois (PQ), on qualifie la position de la CAQ en matière d’immigration d’« irréaliste ».

« Ce n’est pas sérieux, a martelé hier le chef du Parti québécois, Jean-François Lisée. Ce que la CAQ dit, c’est : “On va faire entrer jusqu’à 100 % d’immigrants qui ne connaissent pas le français puis, après trois ou quatre ans, s’ils ne l’ont pas appris, ils vont rester parce qu’on va demander au fédéral de les expulser, [mais] le fédéral ne va pas les expulser.” »

« On est au coeur de l’imagination fautive de la CAQ, proposer des affaires qui ne se peuvent pas, qui n’existera pas, qui ne sera pas appliquée », a souligné M. Lisée.

via La CAQ adoucit sa position sur l’immigration | Denis Lessard | Politique québécoise

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

Race and the Standardized Testing Wars – The New York Times

Without data, hard to know where the issues are and what to do about them:

As a counterexample, he pointed to Kaya Henderson, the chancellor of Washington’s public schools, who has made it a requirement that all second graders learn how to ride a bicycle.

Ms. Henderson, in an interview, said she believed that, in the transition to the Common Core learning standards, states and districts had not been “as aggressive as they need to be in terms of changing their curriculum and professionally developing teachers and principals to really understand how to teach differently.”

Her own district, she said, spent four years developing a curriculum in which students hone their reading and math skills while studying a wide variety of subjects, including science and social studies.

She added that it was the responsibility of state and district leaders to emphasize the importance of field trips and extracurricular activities and to tell principals that “holding kids back from those kinds of things doesn’t help them on the test.”

“I’ve had to at some points remind my principals that kids should have a well-rounded experience all throughout the year, and it’s not O.K. to say no field trips until after the test,” she added.

But she also said that doing away with the tests would be most damaging to black and Latino students and those with disabilities. “Before No Child Left Behind, there were lots of schools where parents thought their kids were going to great schools, but after you disaggregated the results, you figured out that black kids and Latino kids or special-ed kids were actually worse off” than similar students in less high-performing schools, she said. “We need to know that kind of information. I don’t ever want to go back to a time when we don’t know.”

Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy and practice at the Education Trust, an organization that advocates for high academic achievement for poor and minority students, said she had watched the video produced by the Baltimore Algebra Project and been shaken by the students’ disappointment in their education and feelings of marginalization.

She said it was educators’ responsibility to speak to students about testing in a positive way. Ms. Brookins Santelises recalled an experience from when she was a middle schoolteacher, when she showed a student named Tabitha her test scores and explained to her that she was significantly below grade level in reading.

“She said to me, ‘Oh, my God, nobody told me I couldn’t read,’ ” Ms. Brookins Santelises recalled. “I watched how she started to internalize it, and I immediately said, ‘Wait a minute, hold up, this test is not Tabitha. But what this says is we’ve got some real work to do, and I am here to help you.’ ”

If students are being made to feel inferior, she said, it is because educators — from teachers to district officials — aren’t taking responsibility for their own failures and instead are sending low-income students the message that their poor performance is their fault.

Source: Race and the Standardized Testing Wars – The New York Times