Bill C-24 was brought forward by the conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2014 and imposed a language requirement for all new immigrants wanting to become a Canadian citizen. However, the Liberals and John McCallum, the Immigration Minister, plan to radically modify the Citizenship Act in the upcoming weeks.
According to the Liberal MPs, being able to speak both English and/or French is important. However, language requirements deprive potential immigrants from being implicated in the political process. Some immigrants do not learn the language for various reasons such as parents or grandparents who arrive to the country through the sponsorship program and, due to age, have a very difficult time learning a language they have never spoken before. Furthermore, immigrants tend to find a few jobs to be able to provide for their family and, therefore, don’t have time to learn a new language.
Being a Canadian citizen offers advantages over permanent residence such as the right to vote, run for office, bear a Canadian passport and receive consular assistance when travelling abroad. Immigrants are a big part of Canada since 33 federal ridings have a large minority population, in some cases exceeding 50% of the electorate.
Before Stephen Harper’s conservative government introduced the Citizenship Act, language proficiency was not a requirement. Candidates between the ages of 18 and 54 had to pass a knowledge test comprising of multiple choice questions about their knowledge of Canada either in French or English. Applicants over 54 years old would not be required to write a knowledge test.
However, in 2014, the Conservative government passed bill C-24 requiring candidates aged between 14 and 64 to prove their knowledge of French and/or English and pass the knowledge test about Canada. Bill C-24 also allowed the government to revoke the Canadian citizenship to dual citizens if they were convicted of terrorism related acts.
During the recent election campaign, the Liberal party promised to invalidate controversial sections of the bill. Nonetheless, as of last week, it was still unsure whether the new government would remove the language requirements.
Liberal and NDP MPs insist that this new requirement is unfair as immigrants that came to Canada between 1950 and 1970 did not speak the language but were still productive members of Canada and contributed to our economy. By raising such barriers, a large group of candidates could be deprived of accessing Canadian citizenship.
The argument being raised is there are no guarantees that all Canadian citizens born in Canada would be able to pass language exams. Therefore, why prevent individuals from participating in the political process of the country merely because they cannot pass a language test.
Conversely, some lawmakers assert that leaving the language requirement in bill C-24, and exempting persons over age 54, remains in the best interest of immigrants as understanding one or both official languages of Canada will help them in their personal and professional lives. Expect further details in the coming weeks.
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