The substantial increase in immigration to Canada since the mid-1980s has had the effect of increasing the size of the population with a mother tongue other than English or French (20% in 2006). Such persons are often designated as "allophones."
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Friday his latest reform is aimed at requiring citizenship applicants to prove they can speak English or French.
- I've met a lot of Canadian citizens who have lived here for many years who can't express themselves in French or English. It's not acceptable because it limits their social mobility and their life in Canada. said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney during a speech yesterday, Friday 19th April.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, photo: morsmal.org archive
Kenney announced a change to citizenship rules which would require prospective Canadian citizens to provide what's called objective evidence of their language ability with their application.
They will be asked to submit evidence they completed secondary or post-secondary education in English or French; they could also provide results of approved third-party tests, or proof of success in government-funded language training programs.
Kenney explained he wanted the linguistic proof to "ensure that all of those who join us as full members of our Canadian family in the future are able to fully participate in our society."
The Canadian government is planning to provide language training free of charge to permanent residents.
Kenney's speech was interrupted by two women protesters. As he began his speech, each of the protesters took turns interrupting him and warning that the federal legislation would destroy people's lives. They shouted at the immigration minister and were both quickly escorted out of the hotel room.
Immigrants protests against Immigration Minister Jason Kenney today, Saturday 20 april:
Outside the hotel, about 50 demonstrators staged a noisy protest against the changes to the immigration system. Activist Jaggi Singh, who helped organize the protest, said the linguistic requirement will make it tougher to become a Canadian citizen.
- It lends itself to discrimination and profiling, he said.
Singh says immigrants can still contribute to society - even if they can't speak English or French.
- We know very well that, in cities like Montreal and Toronto, people from immigrant communities sometimes don't speak a language, but they learn a language as they work, he added.
Singh says his mother and father, who are in their 60s, didn't speak English very well when they arrived from India.
- They would not have been able to pass an English competency test in their first couple of years and it took them time to do that. It takes years and years, he said.
Singh believes that citizenship shouldn't be based on how a person speaks a language, but on how they contribute to society.
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