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MPs lobby to ease language rules for immigrants

February 12, 2016

By Peter O’Nell, Vancouver Sun |

Liberal MPs in ridings with large immigrant populations are lobbying the Trudeau government to relax rules requiring a basic level of English or French proficiency before new Canadians can obtain citizenship.

Surrey Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal said the proficiency rule, brought in by controversial Conservative legislation in 2014, “tried to change the face of Canada” by altering the approach taken by previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments to ensure new citizens can speak an official language.

“A lot of people are walking into my constituency office, people who have businesses and are very well-established, who are tremendous success stories, and who have contributed to the Canadian economy, but at the same time (find that) passing that English test is a major issue for them,” the MP for Surrey-Newton said in an interview.

Dhaliwal is one of 33 MPs, including eight in B.C., who won their seats last October in ridings across Canada with a visible minority population above 50 per cent, according to an analysis by immigration blogger Andrew Griffith, a former senior immigration official.

All but three were Liberals and several of them, including Dhaliwal, were quoted earlier this week by the Hill Times newspaper saying they’re pushing Immigration Minister John McCallum to ease the requirements. They want Ottawa to make the language test much easier. They also want to exempt people age 55 and older from taking the test. The Conservatives raised that threshold from 55 to 65.

McCallum, while non-committal, did tell the newspaper he’s planning “radical” changes to the controversial 2014 Tory citizenship law called the Strengthening of Canadian Citizenship Act.

That bill, in addition to toughening the language requirement, included provisions to revoke citizenship for dual citizens in Canada who were found to have committed terror-related offences.

One critic said if McCallum agrees with the MPs to make the changes it’s a “retrograde” step.

Martin Collacott said the real goal is likely to boost the pool of Liberal voters, since the only key rights citizens have that permanent residents lack is the right to vote, obtain a passport, and obtain jobs that require a high-level security clearance.

“They’re more concerned with getting votes and not so concerned that they (new Canadians) will integrate socially and economically,” said Collacott, a former senior Canadian diplomat who writes on immigration and refugee issues for the Fraser Institute.

Griffith said says the MPs are sincerely reflecting the views of some constituents.

“Of course there is probably a political element there, of making sure they retain the ethnic vote they gained during the election, but I think they’re probably hearing those comments,” said Griffith, author of the 2015 book called Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote.

Griffith said he hopes McCallum doesn’t give in to the pressure and go back to the old system, which fell short of requiring citizens to speak basic English or French.

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