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Statement on Senator Diane Griffin's Amendment to Bill C-6

Thank you, Senator Omidvar, for your kind words.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak against the amendment introduced by Senator Griffin to Bill C-6. The federal government has announced its intention to go back to limiting the language and knowledge requirements to applicants between the ages of 18 to 55. This change is a direct response to the decline in the number of applicants between those aged 55 to 64 in recent years.

Mary-Ann Hubers, Director, Citizenship Program Delivery at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, testified at the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on March 1 and said the following:

In the last year, the number of individuals aged 55 to 64, the age group you're looking for, was 2,317.That is a drop from previous years. The year before that it was 15,243.

It is also based on the realization that young applicants will learn one of the official languages in and outside of school.

Some have criticized this policy decision, but it is my opinion that it provides a pathway to citizenship for a small but important group. I would argue that this policy does not go far enough because the language and knowledge tests will continue to be burdensome for some applicants, specifically those who are from low-income backgrounds and who have little to no formal education. For refugees and sponsored parents or grandparents, it can be nearly impossible. Women are often negatively impacted because of family responsibilities and a lack of resources that may prevent them from enhancing their language skills. In some cases, permanent residents who have lived in Canada for years may be the only ones in their families who are not able to become citizens. This situation can have an enormous toll on individuals and their families.

We can all agree that it is extremely important to speak an official language and understand the responsibilities and privileges of being a Canadian citizen. However, an inability to meet these requirements does not mean someone is less emotionally committed to Canada or that they are not socially or civically engaged.  

For example, many stay informed on current events through their third language media. Additionally, many do not need to communicate at a high level in English or French to work or volunteer.

Some of the obstacles preventing permanent residents from meeting the knowledge and language requirements could be overcome if the federal government makes a few changes. One would be to go back to allowing citizenship officers or judges to interview applicants to determine whether they meet the requirement of language skills. Another would be to increase investment on language training with income and child care subsidies.

The federal government should remove prohibitive barriers preventing applicants from acquiring citizenship. We should not be adding more. I meet a group of immigrants regularly at Tim Hortons, and talking with this group of new immigrants, one has become a good friend of mine.

Every morning, once a week, Charlie would go to the counter and come back and say to me, "Senator Oh, large double-double." And I said, "Thank you, Charlie." Charlie has come from a country that is not English speaking, but acquired a Christian name just to make it easier to move around, to mix with the community. I asked Charlie, "What do you do?" Charlie is doing a lot of volunteer work, taking patients to the hospital for cancer treatments, et cetera. I said, "How do you move around?" He said "Senator, GPS."

This is to tell you that my friend Charlie will never become CEO of Bombardier, but he is happily living in Canada.

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