Last Tuesday (Apr 14th, 2009), Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, came and delivered a speech at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and answered some media questions afterwards.
Before I go into the details of two of Minister Kenney’s misguided policies, I like to point out two things minister Kenney is doing right. For example, I commend his effort in trying to work with various federal or provincial licensing and governing entities to try to get valid foreign credentials recognized promptly in Canada so these immigrants can fully utilize their skills and knowledge in their fields of expertise. And the minister’s willingness to stand by Canada’s long term objective and goal of having more immigrants to help solving employment problems (filling vacant jobs that no Canadians want to fill, e.g. in remote locations) should be commended and praised.
Now let me talk about what I disagree with Minister Kenney.
English or French or out
At the press conference, I asked Jason how does he know if the Indian-Canadian, “who has been here for 15 years and can’t speak English or French“, and her sons and daughters did not make any contributions to Canada? Here is video clip of my question and Jason’s answer.
It puzzles me why the minister’s original intend of helping immigrants has now been twisted and turned into a “big stick” that punishes immigrants by denying them the most fundamental step of being integrated into Canada.
Instead of helping immigrants, the minister’s action of emphasizing the language requirement is the same as creating obstacles for these hard working immigrants. I don’t know if Minister Kenney realizes that many Indian-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, and others can and are following Canadian local and national news plus International news development in their native languages newspapers and TV programs? Is it because these news are not delivered in either of the official languages (or from CTV), then these Canadians are somehow “less qualified” to be Canadians and to fully participate in the effort to create a better Canada?
It is true that the Citizenship Act, in particular section 27 (d) (i) & (ii), requires perspective Canadians to have an “adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada” and have an “adequate knowledge of Canada and of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship“. But we all know the devils are in the details and what is “adequate knowledge” are up to interpretation. And more rules means there are more rooms for these rules to be misused, misinterpreted, and, in the rare case, abused by Citizenship officers.
Limiting citizenship by descent to one generation outside Canada
I believe this limitation in the new law/rule is unconstitutional as it effectively created two classes of Canadian citizens with different rights. Those Canadians that are “born in Canada” and those that are “born outside of Canada” and this clearly violates the Equality Rights as stated in section 15 (1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
While this new law may have been passed by all parties in the Parliament of Canada, wise Canadians will remember that a few unjust and unconstitutional laws have been passed by federal and provincial legislators over the years. And our elected politicians are well aware that is why we have an independent court system to review laws created by legislators. If laws created by legislators are always “right” and always applied “justly”, then why do we need an independent judicial system in Canada?
Concluding Thoughts: The need for full and principled debate before further citizenship laws are passed
While I usually support government ministers to gain insights in how things actually are done in the “real world”. At the same time, I am concerned that Minister Kenney may have overdone this by having too many of his policies or views shaped too quickly by what he saw in the field and what he and his officials quickly came up with as “solutions” to these problems without proper and principled debates. This is why I agree with Natalie Brender when she wrote in The Globe and Mail that,
“Citizenship has both instrumental and intrinsic value for Canada and its people. That’s why debates about citizenship law should be fraught with complexity – and why they do need to take place. When the government introduces further changes, it owes Canadians an account of the goals and values it aims to advance. Federal legislators must ensure that a full and principled debate on these topics happens before further citizenship laws are passed.“
I hope the essence of my question has reminded with Jason as it is important to focus on the contributions of these Canadians (I would say valued and treasured Canadians) instead of the narrow focus of their existing language skills in either official languages. Helping is good. Putting up obstacles and creating a big stick to punish is not.
Some news and video clips about citizenship and immigration policies and Minister Jason Kenney:
- Toronto Sun: English or French or out: Minister
- Canada.com/Ottawa Citizen: REDEFINING A CANADIAN – Immigration minister fires up the melting pot: What does it mean for the cultural mosaic?
- Globe and Mail: If we’re going to talk citizenship, let’s have a principled debate
- CTV Calgary (with video): Language debate for new citizens
- CBC: French or English competence needed for citizenship: minister
- Canadian Press: French or English should be must for immigrants who want citizenship: minister
- Ottawa Citizen: Immigrants should be able to speak English or French: Kenney
- The Hindu: Learn English or face denial of citizenship: Canada
- CTV.ca (with video): Jilted bride brings marriage fraud protest to Ottawa
Jason Kenney meets Iraq war veteran Kim Rivera facing imminent deportation (March 2009).
Acknowledgment: Thanks to Elizabeth at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce for her kind help.