Professor Elke Winter, University of Ottawa – Statement – May 7
Elke Winter, Associate Professor – SPEAKING NOTES
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Ottawa
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you about Bill C-24.
In my testimony, I would like to offer you a sociological perspective, based on past and ongoing research.
I will start with three statements that are widely accepted in academic scholarship:
First, immigration is a fundamental element of Canadian nation-building, and Canada is widely regarded as having practiced this type of nation-building with great success.
Second, the Canadian immigration system is to a large extent driven by economic considerations. Canada practices what former French president Nicolas Sarkozy with much envy has called: “immigration choisie et non pas subie”. Meaning: Canada selects a large part of its immigrants according to rational, economic criteria.
Third, economic migration and nation-building only go well together if the harsh utilitarian selection of migrants is complemented by a warm welcome, and the possibility for immigrants’ permanent, socio-economic and socio-cultural integration.
3a) In this sense, multiculturalism as a policy, discourse, and form of national identity has done its fair share of signaling this warm welcome.
3b) The encouragement of immigrants to quickly take up Canadian citizenship extends this welcome. – Research has shown that holding the citizenship of the country where one resides is a huge factor for achieving employment at one’s skill level. There is also evidence that citizenship fosters feelings of belonging, attachment and loyalty.
If I am not mistaken, these are all elements that the Canadian government wants to achieve.
It is precisely by developing this successful model that Canada avoided some of the pitfalls that currently characterize both the United States and European countries. These pitfalls are: the cultural/linguistic non-integration of “guest workers” and their children, segmented labour-marked integration, and the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments in public opinion.
Some elements of Bill C-24 risk undermining Canada’s success. Citizenship should always be viewed as an important step towards integration.
By contrast, Bill C-24 seems to suggest that citizenship is an endpoint or reward of integration. From a sociological point of view, this approach has at least three flaws:
First, for the less educated, the non-European language speakers, and the economically vulnerable, it makes citizenship much harder to obtain:
- The more difficult citizenship test and stricter language rules create barriers – specifically for accompanying family members, often women
- The new, cumbersome residence questionnaire is particularly difficult to comply with for citizenship candidates who come from politically unstable countries or from countries with less developed bureaucracies
- Some people may feel discouraged to apply for Canadian citizenship due to higher application fees and the need to submit income tax assessments
- Bill C-24 would eliminate partial credit towards the residence requirement for students, refugees, former temporary workers. Hence, it bars an increasing portion of migrants to Canada from having access to citizenship – which is not only ethically dubious but also not conducive for nation-building
Second, for the highly skilled and highly mobile, the so-called “best brains in the world” that Canada wants to attract, Bill C-24 also prolongs and discourages the obtention of citizenship.
- The longer residence period (4 out of 6 instead 3 out of 5 years) may be too long for those who are highly mobile and are looking for a place to settle permanently; not being encouraged to become Canadian citizens quickly, they may opt to behave as rational and utilitarian as Canada did in selecting them: they may just leave for a place where they can get a better pay for their skills – this is contra-productive to successful nation-building
- Those who are highly mobile and able to create off-shore business opportunities are particularly penalized by the proposed physical residence requirement. Let us not forget: physical presence in a country is only a proxy for attachment, loyalty, feelings of belonging. Hence, it should be treated with flexibility and a sense of proportion – presumably by a citizenship judge
- Gathering from interviews I conducted with new citizens for my research, I doubt that there is a need for introducing a requirement that asks citizenship candidates to declare their intent to reside in Canada: immigrants usually want to reside in Canada. That’s what they came here for. (And if they have to leave the country for personal or economic reasons, how should this provision be enforced?)
Third, regarding those who aim to commit terrorist attacks against Canada, it is doubtful that the proposed law contains anything that would deter them from their actions.
- Research suggests that perpetrators seldom refrain from heinous crimes due to drastic penalties (not even the death penalty deters them). Thus, I doubt that potential terrorists would feel deterred by the threat of citizenship revocation.
- Further, the discourse of fear and the raising of suspicion against dual nationals have detrimental impacts upon some communities, particularly upon Muslim and Arab Canadians. – I doubt that this impact is intended by the Government of Canada, but it is very real for those affected by it:
- With a team of researchers at the University of Ottawa, we are currently investigating the public debates that were kick-started by the honorable MP Devinder Shory’s Bill C-425. And while our investigation is ongoing, I can already tell you that it let to numerous rants against of Muslims in Canadian print media, online fora, and social media. Bill C-24 extends and amplifies these negative stereotypes.
In summary, as a sociologist, I fear that – implicitly– Bill C-24 would worsen the situation of vulnerable segments of Canada’s population: it is particularly harsh on the low-skilled, the less educated, the ones with precarious and unstable employment, dual nationals, and those for whom learning English or French is most difficult.
It also, implicitly nourishes stereotypes against those who are perceived as newcomers and who are perceived as culturally and religiously distant from “Canadian” values.
Finally, I fear that C-24 will undermine Canada’s nation-building success: Canada has one of the most efficient and economically driven migration systems in the world. But this alone will not lead to the cohesive society that most of us want to live in; immigration needs to be complemented by a context of warm welcome, such as quick and easy access to citizenship.