Putting Canadian citizenship values to the test
This is Canadian Citizenship Week, Oct. 8 to 14, officially. And, as a communiqué from Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada (IRCC) declared, citizenship ceremonies during the week were brought to “new heights.” The lofty venues include the CN Tower in Toronto, the Vancouver Lookout and the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
IRCC said the elevated ceremonies are to celebrate the new rules for becoming a Canadian citizen, enshrined in Bill C6, which the department says make it faster and easier for newcomers to become citizens. This streamlining, according to IRCC, has resulted in a 40 percent increase in the number of new citizens processed, 152,000 in the past year, compared to 108,000 for the same period the previous year.
A key change in the Bill is the reduced time permanent residents must be physically present in Canada before applying for citizenship, from four out of six years, to three out of five years.
Astute followers of the recently terminated Quebec election campaign may recall Coalition Avenir Québec Leader and now premier-designate François Legault was stumped when a reporter asked him what length of time permanent residents must wait before applying for citizenship. “A few months,” he guessed, later admitting he needed to bone up on his citizenship basics.
Legault presumably has now got his facts straight as he and his government prepare to enact the CAQ’S promise to, in effect, set the bar somewhat higher for newcomers to become Canadian citizens who plan to live in Quebec.
We are referring to the twin tests of French language proficiency and of Quebec “values.” Those who flunk the tests, according to Legault, would be reported to the federal government which has the power, and presumably, the obligation, to show the door to failed applicants.
A degree of language proficiency is already required of citizenship applicants to Canada. The obligatory citizenship test is done in either English or French, requiring the hopeful to absorb the study guide, Discover Canada - The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenships, in either official language.
While the language is clear and simple in the guide, for a would-be Canadian who speaks another language, passing the test would seem to pose a serious challenge, upon which hang one’s hopes and dreams, and those of your family.
Understanding the content of the guide well enough to answer questions about it would seem to go hand-in-hand with another requirement of Canadian citizenship, namely basic language proficiency, or as the IRCC says, “adequate knowledge” of either official language.
“Adequate knowledge” is defined as Level 4 speaking and listening ability, meaning being able to understand simple questions, directions and instructions, use basic grammar tenses, have enough vocabulary to express yourself and answer questions, and take part in short, everyday conversations.
Applicants need to provide proof of language proficiency with Ircc-approved third-party tests, governmentfunded language training programs, or completion of secondary or post-secondary education in English or French.
It’s not clear how the CAQ plan for French language tests would work in relation to the existing requirements for Canadian citizenship. The obvious distinction is that all those hoping to live in Quebec once they become citizens of Canada would be compelled to take a French test before getting their Certificate of Selection, Quebec’s stamp of immigrant approval.
We’ll leave it to others to decide whether this, on its merits, is an unreasonable or offensive requirement. Legault’s motivation, that unless immigrants speak more French his grandchildren won’t be speaking it, may be more contentious.
Also in need of some clarification, say observers, is just what the proposed “values” test is all about. During the campaign Legault offered a few examples of questions, drawn from Quebec’s charter of rights and freedoms: Do you think women are equal to men? Do you recognize that the state is secular? Do you recognize that we have a democratic society? Do you recognize that homosexuals have the same rights as others in our society?
Nothing there along the lines of the admonishment against the stoning of women in the infamous Hérouxville guide to immigrants. Still, questions will continue to be raised about what value there is in adding such a values test to the grilling immigrants already face.