Canada: Rudyard Griffiths: Kenney nails the language issue

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Mar 24 17:01:07 UTC 2009

Rudyard Griffiths: Kenney nails the language issue

Posted: March 24, 2009, 9:06 AM by NP Editor

Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and
multiculturalism, should be commended for kick-starting a much need
public discussion about the language skills and civic literacy of
aspiring Canadian citizens. For too long Canada has avoided the kind
of common sense dialogue about its settlement policies that Minister
Kenney is galvanising. The reality is the “quietism” of successive
federal governments about all things related to immigrant selection
and recruitment is a public policy debacle of historic proportions:
ten of thousands of newcomers languishing in dead end jobs, the out
migration of up to 40 percent of professional male immigrants in the
last decade alone, and the justifiable hardening of attitudes among
visibility minority groups who rightly feel they are being exploited

Minister Kenney is spot on in his assertion that the ability to speak
one of Canada’s two official languages is fundamental to an
immigrant’s economic success and overall social integration. In fact,
detailed multi-decade research shows that language proficiency
outstrips job experience and educational background as the factor
which has the greatest positive impact on a newcomer’s ability to
settle themselves successfully in Canada.

That said, making proficiency in reading, writing and speaking either
official language a prerequisite for every person applying to come to
Canada is only part of the solution. Of the quarter million newcomers
Canada welcomes each year less than a third have their language
abilities assessed in the process of becoming permanent residents. The
majority of newcomers begin the path to full citizenship as dependents
of a ‘primary applicant’ or citizen and do not have to demonstrate
they can speak French or English.

As I write in my just published book, Who We Are: A Citizens
Manifesto, Canada needs to redouble its efforts to ensure that this
much larger group of permanent residents attain basic language
proficiency as quickly as possible. Specifically, the adult-aged
dependents of primary applicants should receive in-depth language
testing before being admitted to the country and at yearly intervals.
Based on these assessments they should have the opportunity to
continue language training beyond the current three-year cut-off.
Basic language proficiency is especially important for immigrant

Having entered Canada as spouses of the primary applicant and
therefore not pre-screened for language proficiency, women are
significantly more likely than their male counterparts to lack a
working knowledge of French or English. From a social-justice
perspective, this is a situation that must be addressed so that every
female newcomer, regardless of their socio-economic position, attains
the basic fluency needed to participate in the civic life of their
local community and country’s democratic institutions.

In addition to focussing on the language needs of women, the federal
government should also put special emphasis on second language
training for school-age children, particularly in the country’s major
cities. In Toronto, the city that attracts the majority of newcomers
to Canada, the percentage of elementary schools with
English-as-a-second-language instructors has declined from 41 to 29
percent in the last decade while the number of students requiring such
instruction has doubled. Young people from non- French- or
English-speaking countries desperately need additional support to
master French and/or English. The federal government should find ways
to work with the provinces to get more funding for language
instruction into urban classroom to relieve overburdened ESL

There is one more vitally important policy reform which could
encourage higher levels of language proficiency and civic literacy
among newcomers: follow the leads of sister nations Australia, Britain
the U.S. and overhaul the exam newcomers to Canada are required to
pass to become full citizens. According to Dominion Institute
research, immigrants take the citizenship exam seriously and as a
result attain levels of basic civic literacy as high or higher than
native-born Canadians. Let’s build on this dedication and encourage
the good things that come with high rates of civic literacy, such as
voting and participation in formal politics, by designing a much more
comprehensive exam that covers a range of subjects related to Canada’s
history, political systems and the responsibilities of citizenship.

National Post

Rudyard Griffiths is the co-founder of the Dominion Institute and the
author of Who We Are: A Citizen’s Manifesto (Douglas & McIntyre

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