No Canadian citizenship without language skills, says minister

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS,

Toronto : Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Friday that newcomers to the country should learn one of the two official languages – English and French – before they are given citizenship. Those who don’t have proper language skills should not be granted citizenship, the minister said.

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The Canadian government funds language programmes for newcomers, but a few take advantage of them, Kenney said while announcing $9.5 million for such programmes in Calgary.

“Only a quarter of newcomers are enrolling in the programmes that are offered….Common sense just tells me that 25 per cent is too low and we would like to see more people enrolling,” the minister said.

“Access to language training services is, for many newcomers, a first step in establishing networks and contacts so they are engaged and feel welcomed in their communities,” he said.

The minister said: “Our new focus is on integration. We don’t want to create a bunch of silo communities where kids grow up in a community that more resembles their parents’ country of origin than Canada.

“We want people to be Canadians first and foremost – to be proud of and maintain their own tradition and heritage, but not at the price of developing their Canadian identity.”

Canada grants citizenship to new immigrants after three years.

But a large number of them leave the country after getting citizenship only to return occasionally to utilize the country’s public health system and other facilities. During the Israeli bombing of Lebanon a couple of years ago, Canadian taxpayers had to spend millions of dollars to airlift thousands of Lebanese who also hold Canadian citizenship.

This has led to demands by some people for granting citizenship to newcomers only after five to 10 years.

Canada accepts over 250,000 newcomers, including about 35,000 Indians, each year, with knowledge of English or French mandatory for them. But this condition does not apply to almost a third of them who come here under family reunification and spousal categories, creating problems for their integration into society.

Further, since most immigrants, predominantly from India, China and the Muslim countries, tend to settle in their own communities in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal, this has led to ghettoization of Canada’s major cities.

Many demographic and immigration experts fear ghettoziation may pose major challenges to the country’s social fabric later.

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at [email protected])