Trudeau government to update federal rules for service in English, French

Will be interesting to see what alternatives, if any, to the Census data traditionally relied upon, and whether the thresholds for providing OL service change:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will take the first step Thursday toward modernizing the rules that govern how the government provides services in English and French, CBC News has learned.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly will announce the launch of a process to bring the Official Language Regulations, which deal with communicating to the public, up to date.

Under the Official Languages Act, federal government institutions are obliged to provide services to the public in both English and French in the National Capital Region, as well as across the country “where there is significant demand for communications.”

But if an English community in Quebec (or a French-speaking community elsewhere in Canada) is too small to qualify, federal government institutions — from Service Canada to the local post office — aren’t obliged to offer services in the dominant language.

The government uses census results to determine what constitutes significant demand and the regulations spell out how many people have to list a minority language as their mother tongue for an area to qualify for bilingual service.

Minority language groups, however, have at times complained that the regulations are too restrictive and don’t always take into account everyone who would like to be served in a minority language.

The 2011 census found there were an estimated 647,655 Quebecers whose mother tongue was English and a million people living outside Quebec whose mother tongue was French.

In his final report as Official Languages Commissioner last May, Graham Fraser listed providing government services in minority official languages as a priority.

He recommended that the Treasury Board do an evaluation of “the effectiveness and efficiency of its policies and directives” for implementing the rules governing communications and services to the public.

“A minority community can be thriving and growing, but if the majority grows faster, services are lost. This is simply unfair,” Fraser said at the time. “Bill S-209 provides a way of addressing the injustice, as would a revision of the Official Language Regulations.”

Source: Trudeau government to update federal rules for service in English, French – Politics – CBC News

Tests d’immigration [citizenship] plus chers en français : le commissaire aux langues officielles blâme Ottawa

This should provoke some broader reflection within IRCC about the overall cost of citizenship and the related impact on the naturalization rate. Not just an issue of differential costs for francophones and anglophones:

Le commissaire aux langues officielles est catégorique : le gouvernement fédéral manque à son devoir et nuit peut-être même à l’immigration francophone en acceptant des tests de compétence linguistique en français plus chers et moins accessibles que les tests en anglais.

Après un an d’enquête, Graham Fraser présente un rapport préliminaire qui donne raison aux francophones qui s’étaient plaints de la différence de tarifs entre les tests en français et en anglais. Pour devenir résident permanent, il faut prouver qu’on maîtrise l’une des deux langues officielles, en réussissant, par exemple, un examen reconnu par Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC).
Le problème, c’est que les évaluations en français coûtent souvent des centaines de dollars de plus.
Résultat : pour économiser, des immigrants francophones optent plutôt pour l’examen en anglais. Un choix déchirant pour certains.
Pourquoi cette différence de prix?
Les tests de français offerts au pays sont tous conçus et corrigés en France, soit par la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris ou par le Centre international d’études pédagogiques. Pour recevoir leur correction finale, les examens doivent être renvoyés outre-mer par la poste.
Autre coût : le salaire des examinateurs. Chaque candidat qui passe le test doit être examiné par deux personnes, ce qui n’est pas le cas pour l’un des tests d’anglais.
Même si les organisations désignées pour administrer les tests sont des tierces parties, insiste Graham Fraser, ces services doivent être « disponibles et de qualité égale » en français comme en anglais, en vertu de l’article 25 de la Loi sur les langues officielles.
IRCC n’a pris aucune mesure pour s’assurer que les candidats aient accès de manière égale aux services d’évaluation linguistique. L’égalité réelle comprend l’égalité d’accès, d’usage, de qualité et de statut.
En plus d’être plus chers, écrit le commissaire, les tests sont aussi plus difficile d’accès pour les francophones. Le Test d’évaluation de français (TEF) n’est d’ailleurs pas du tout offert à l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, ni à Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador, ni dans les territoires.

Graham Fraser cite en exemple le cas d’un francophone de Whitehorse, au Yukon, qui a dû se rendre à Vancouver, en Colombie-Britannique, pour passer son TEF. Une fois la partie écrite de son test complétée, il a dû attendre quatre jours sur place avant qu’on évalue ses compétences en compréhension orale.
Une fois le test complété, note Fraser, les francophones attendent souvent plus longtemps avant d’obtenir les résultats. Par exemple, en Colombie-Britannique et en Nouvelle-Écosse, « le délai d’attente [pour s’inscrire] pouvait respectivement atteindre trois et cinq mois. »
Le commissaire recommande au gouvernement fédéral « d’entreprendre immédiatement des démarches » pour mettre fin à cette situation qui dure depuis des années, et qui pourrait avoir des conséquences négatives sur l’accueil d’immigrants francophones et, ultimement, sur la vitalité du français au pays.

Source: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/ontario/2016/09/27/001-tests-immigrants-plus-chers-francais-commissaire-fraser.shtml

Language requirement for citizenship unnecessary, Reis Pagtakhan writes

Pagtakhan develops further the arguments he made during the C-6 hearings which, while interesting, would be more convincing if he were able to back his assertions with harder evidence and more granular data (one area I will be looking into more in my 2016 Census update Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote will be languages spoken):

The three main arguments for requiring new immigrants to pass a language test before becoming citizens are to ensure that they are employable in Canada, are able to integrate into Canadian society, and are able to settle and live here safely and comfortably.

Laudable goals unmet

While these are laudable goals, testing immigrants for language at the point they apply for citizenship misses one big thing — these immigrants have already been living here for years. As a result, testing for language at this stage will not help in achieving these goals.

Once people immigrate to Canada, they are legally entitled to work, study and live in Canada for the rest of their lives. At no point do they have to be retested for language to maintain their right to live in Canada. Many immigrants come to Canada and never apply for citizenship. If these immigrants are not required to take a language test before immigrating, they can live here without proving any language proficiency.

If knowledge of English or French is so important for employment, integration and settlement, why do we allow some immigrants into Canada without testing them for English or French? Furthermore, why do we let them to stay here without periodically testing them for language?

While periodically testing immigrants for language would probably infringe on their charter rights, there is another practical reason why we should not testing them for language after arrival in Canada — these immigrants will likely improve their English or French in Canada out of their own self-interest to be successful.

…The fact is that most people who live in Canada, whether they are immigrants or individuals born here, will learn English or French. English or French is the language used in virtually all schools and workplaces in Canada. The motivation to speak English or French will not come from a citizenship test requirement, it will come from a person’s need to be successful here. The money spent by new Canadians who pay for these tests and the money spent paying government officers to review these test results can be better spent elsewhere.

Source: Language requirement for citizenship unnecessary, Reis Pagtakhan writes – Manitoba – CBC News

Canadian Language Benchmark Test Nightmare – Immigroup

One of the implications of the change in to pre-application assessment of language introduced in 2010 or 2011 as a means of streamlining processing based on advice from the Operations people.

I didn’t fully grasp the implications at the time (my bad!) but since then a number of these anecdotes have emerged (a Danish friend of mine, having worked in Silicon Valley and Ottawa for many years, had to pay $200 or so for his test despite obviously being fluent given his work history).

The end result is that for a number of people, Canadian citizenship costs $630 in government fees plus about $200 or more for language assessment, higher than comparator countries like Australia:

IRCC is asking that I take either a French exam which would cost me $460 or an English exam which would cost me $299. Why the difference in price? Why is it that I have to take a French exam when I graduated with a BA Honours French from a recognised university in Canada? The test is plainly highway robbery! Not only am I fully bilingual, I have also studied French since kindergarten and the best part of it is that I am a French teacher who has been working in a language school for a year and seven months now, teaching government employees the language (oral, written and comprehension at all levels)! On top of this $460 for the exam, I will also be required to pay $475 for the PR fee.

Source: Canadian Language Benchmark Test Nightmare – Immigroup – We Are Immigration Law

MPs lobby to ease language rules for immigrants [citizenship]

More coverage on the issue of language assessment for citizenship applicants. Will see if this gets attention when Parliament resumes next week:

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.

“If you really want to help people succeed, and if you really want an inclusive society, it means they have to participate in one of the official languages,” he said.

An alternative view was expressed in 2014 by the Canadian Bar Association, which opposed the tougher requirements.

“Many immigrants over the last century came to Canada and worked in areas that did not require them to read or write in English or French but have paid taxes, attended religious institutions, volunteered in their communities, raised children and have little or no ties to their country of birth,” the statement said. “They may lack the ability to complete a knowledge test in English or French, but still possess the language skills needed to be a long-term, contributing member of Canadian society.”

Successful citizenship applicants now have to prove they have an “adequate knowledge” of one of the languages, which is defined as someone “can understand someone speaking English or French and they can understand you,” according to the Citizenship and Immigration website. It lists several tests that it accepts as proof.

The government spells out four criteria applicants must provide evidence that they’ve reached level 4 of the “Canadian Language Benchmarks” system, which has 12 levels of proficiency, with one being the least fluent and 12 being an “advanced level of proficiency.”

To reach level four they must, according to the department, be able to:

• take part in short, everyday conversations about common topics.

• understand simple instructions, questions and directions.

• use basic grammar, including simple structures and tenses.

• show that you know enough common words and phrases to answer questions and express yourself.”

Canada has had a legislated requirement since 1947 that new citizens have an “adequate knowledge” of English or French, and until the mid-1990s that ability was assessed in oral citizenship tests done by citizenship judges.

Then the Liberal government, which at the time was engaged in an austerity program to slash the deficit, came up with a standardized, and much cheaper to administer, citizenship test.

The test involved 20 multiple choice questions testing knowledge in areas such as citizens’ rights and duties, and Canadian history, geography and the economy. It was assumed that passing the test would mean the applicant also had a reasonable grasp of the language.

But a successful applicant required only a 60-per-cent score to pass, resulting in 95 per cent of participants making the grade, according to a 2012 analysis by Montreal academic Mireille Paquet.

One of the problems with the tests, according to Griffith, is that they were uniform. That meant consultants could provide “cheat sheets” to help people who couldn’t function in English or French memorize the questions and visually recognize the correct answers.

The Conservatives made their first move in 2010 to make the test more challenging, bumping the passing grade to 75 per cent and offering different versions of the test in order to discourage cheating.

Then, in 2014, the new legislation came in requiring that applicants get third-party certification that they reached the level 4 proficiency.

Source: MPs lobby to ease language rules for immigrants

McCallum promises ‘radical changes’ to Citizenship Act | hilltimes.com

No details yet on the ‘radical changes’ promised but a strong indication of Liberal caucus concerns, which seem primarily around language assessment.

However, Minister McCallum’s mandate letter only had three commitments:

  • Work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act that give the government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals.
  • Eliminate regulations that remove the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada and regulations that require new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.

But a clear signal of intent to do more.

I find it somewhat amusing that after being critical of some of the changes to citizenship made by the previous government, I now find myself defending them on language assessment:

Immigration Minister John McCallum says the government will be “producing radical changes” to the Citizenship Act in the next few weeks. Liberals have been telling him that the government should eliminate the language requirement for new immigrants to apply for Canadian citizenship, which was brought in by the Conservatives in 2014 as part of the controversial Bill C-24.

Mr. McCallum (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.) told The Hill Times that he’s aware of the concerns and will make an announcement in a few weeks. We’re going to be producing radical changes to the citizenship bill,” Mr. McCallum said. “We’re going to be announcing the details of those changes in just a few weeks.”

Liberal MPs told The Hill Times that although they want new immigrants to acquire proficiency in both or at least one of the two official languages of Canada, it’s also a question of fairness, saying the language requirements disenfranchise new immigrants from their right to take part in the political process.

“It’s a big problem the way the system has been set up under the previous government for language requirements,” said rookie Liberal MP Shaun Chen (Scarborough North, Ont.) whose riding has the highest visible minority population of 90.1 per cent, in the country.

But in some cases MPs said new immigrants fail to achieve the required proficiency for a variety of reasons. For example, some immigrants come to Canada under the family sponsorship program, as parents or grandparents and may not have any knowledge or a limited understanding of English or French. At that age, MPs said, it becomes an uphill battle, for some, to learn a new language. Also, when new immigrants move to Canada, the first priority for them is to provide for their family and take care of the expenses and a significant number take up any odd job to earn a living which can mean they don’t have the time to learn a new language, MPs said.

“Often times, families are sponsoring elders and grandparents at a very elderly age. It’s very challenging and difficult for them to be at such a high proficiency of English or French. To me, it makes sense for us to [adopt a system] that’s more inclusive,” said Mr. Chen. “It’s helpful to families that need to sponsor, for example, grandparents. Those new Canadians play an important role to look after children to be there and to support the family and, absolutely, it’s something that we will need to revisit and look at.”

Canadian citizens have a significant number of advantages over permanent residents, including the ability to work, participating in the political process by voting and running for political office, having a passport that makes it easy to travel internationally, and having the right to get consular support overseas.

….Liberal MPs Darshan Kang (Calgary Skyview, Alta.) and Sukh Dhaliwal (Surrey-Newton, B.C.) also told The Hill Times that they are in favour of eliminating the language proficiency test as a requirement to apply for Canadian citizenship.

“Why don’t we let those individuals who are part and parcel of this economy, that are part and parcel of building Canada, the Canada we all aspire, why should they be denied a right to participate in our democratic process which is the fundamental difference that Canadians have over many other countries that we have come from,” said Mr. Dhaliwal, who came to Canada as an immigrant from India and whose riding has a 70.2 per cent of visible minority population. Mr. Kang’s riding has a 59.6 per cent of visible minority population.

Mr. Griffith, however, said that language proficiency is a critical element of a new immigrant’s integration and success in a new country. He said that he’s in favour of requiring new immigrants to learn English or French but also said that if new immigrants over the age of 54 are not able to learn either of the languages, this requirement should be waived.

“If you don’t learn English or French, depending on where you are, you’re basically hurting yourself. It means you’re not going to be able to integrate properly, you’re not going to be able to help your kids with school work, and everything like that. If you start to waive the language completely, you’re basically not helping people succeed in the society,” said Mr. Griffith.

Source: McCallum promises ‘radical changes’ to Citizenship Act | hilltimes.com

B.C.: Funding Dries up for Successful Citizenship Exam Program

While I don’t know the details for this particular decision, we do know from CIC data that some groups have poorer success rates than others, largely related to education levels and language, correlated in many cases with ethnic origin.

This type of training was a means to help such groups become citizens without diluting the integrity of language and knowledge testing:

This year’s Citizenship Week marks a sad occasion for the staff at the Victoria Immigration and Refugee Centre. That’s when the centre will end its highly successful citizenship training course, a government program to help permanent residents pass Canada’s citizenship exam.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada began funding the two-year pilot program at several agencies in January 2013. But VIRC’s funding dried up in July this year, so the centre invested $100,000 of its own money to cover the costs and keep the program going.

However, VIRC’s executive director David Lau says that can no longer continue and the program will end on Oct. 17, a date that falls during Citizenship Week.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Lau, noting that the staff and volunteers put a lot of effort into the program. “We had to shut down the program before the end of our contract,” he adds. “We’ve been trying to reach Citizenship and Immigration Canada for months, but they’re not returning our calls.”

VIRC offered its Citizenship 101 course once a week for 10 weeks. The program ran five times and graduated 140 permanent residents. “We had really good dialogue [with CIC]. We sent in regular reports on the program and it met or exceeded all our milestones,” Lau says. “We had a 100 percent success rate.

”Word about the pilot’s success spread and Lau and his team began training people to teach the course for use in other agencies. Twelve non-profits were involved—ten in B.C. and the other two in Winnipeg and New Brunswick.

Funding Dries up for Successful Citizenship Exam Program – The Epoch Times.

The Benefits of Failing at French – NYTimes.com

On the benefits of learning a second language in terms of brain training and “fitness.”

So for all those public servants who struggled to learn French, think of the fringe benefits as you get older:

Last year researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Northwestern University in Illinois hypothesized that language study should prove beneficial for older adults, noting that the cognitive tasks involved — including working memory, inductive reasoning, sound discrimination and task switching — map closely to the areas of the brain that are most associated with declines due to aging. In other words, the things that make second-language acquisition so maddening for grown-ups are the very things that may make the effort so beneficial.

The quest for a mental fountain of youth, pursued by baby boomers who fear that their bodies will outlive their brains, and who have deeper pockets than Juan Ponce de León, has created a billion-dollar industry. There is some evidence that brain exercise programs like Lumosity and Nintendo’s Brain Age can be beneficial, but if my admittedly unscientific experience is any indication, you might be better off studying a language instead. Not only is that a far more useful and enjoyable activity than an abstract brain game, but as a reward for your efforts, you can treat yourself to a trip abroad. Which is why I plan to spend the next year not learning Italian. Ciao!

The Benefits of Failing at French – NYTimes.com.

Chart of the Day: The amazing diversity of languages around the world by language families (2)

Primary_Human_Language_Families_Map

 

Another thing that’s interesting, though, is the global dominance of Indo-European languages. This category includes Romance languages, Germanic languages like English and German, Indic languages like Hindi, and even Iranian languages like Farsi. When you merge all of the Indo-European sub-families, you see how much of the globe that family represents:

One last note: though the globes linguistic diversity is impressive, its shrinking. In 2011, David Harmon, a scholar who runs the Index of Linguistic Diversity, warned of a potential for linguistic “mass extinction” in the 21st century. Though there were 7,000 spoken languages in 2011, global linguistic diversity has been in decline. Only 80 percent of languages spoken in 1970 still existed by 2005.

The amazing diversity of languages around the world, in one map – Vox.

Chart of the Day: The amazing diversity of languages around the world, in one map (1)

Human_Language_Families_Map

 

People on Earth speak thousands of different languages. But given the ubiquity of some languages, like English and Mandarin, its easy to forget just how many there are around the planet.

This map provides some great perspective. Instead of representing each language, the map groups territory by which broader language family the dominant local language falls into. For instance, western and southern Europe are deep blue, because most locals speak one of the Romance languages like French, Spanish, and Italian that descended from Latin. When you look globally, the diversity is dizzying:

The amazing diversity of languages around the world, in one map – Vox.