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This article was published 25/10/2011 (3861 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There was a time when being a good citizen meant you worked hard to put bread on the table, took care of your kids and put them through school.
Now the federal government wants to make it tougher to become a citizen if English or French isn't your mother tongue.
Ottawa is proposing that applicants provide evidence of language ability with their citizenship application. Proof that they've passed a test showing they're functioning at a Canadian Language Benchmark Level 4 would be necessary before they can apply for citizenship.
The plan raises questions about the direction of Canada's immigration policy, say advocates for women and newcomer groups.
"I don't argue on the importance of language skills," said Monika Feist, past-president of the Council of Women of Winnipeg. "I just can't connect language ability with being necessarily a good citizen.
"There are women raising little kids and it's almost an impossibility," she said of stay-at-home moms who can't access free English language classes geared for those entering the job market.
Winnipeg's Immigrant Centre in Winnipeg offers free citizenship classes. The classes are run at a Benchmark Level 3 or 4 by volunteers and give people a chance to practise their speaking and listening skills, said executive director Linda Lalande.
"People need to have accessibility to the right resources," said Lalande.
Newcomers with small children or those who work more than one job often can't afford sitters or time off work for language classes -- even if they're offered for free, says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. Dench said some newcomers may not be able to cope in a classroom situation.
"Refugees who've been through highly traumatic experiences may find it very hard to sit in a language class and may be intimidated in an exam setting," she said.
Language ability is assessed on citizenship applications through a written multiple-choice test with questions about Canada and the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. The written test is "inadequate" for assessing language because it can't check someone's listening and speaking skills. They're "essential for effective communication and integration," Citizenship and Immigration said in proposing the regulatory changes earlier this month in the Canadian Gazette.
If the government ups the ante for citizenship by requiring proof of language ability, the Canadian Council for Refugees hopes it will make instruction more accessible so people living in Canada will have access to citizenship.
"For refugees, getting citizenship is such a measure of security," said Dench in Montreal. "You don't feel fully secure till you get it.
Making it tougher to apply for citizenship means some people will remain without Charter protections and rights longer, Feist said.
"(The) government can deport them willy-nilly at some future date based on a possible concocted rationale due to particular political stances at that time," said Feist. She pointed to First Nation, Ukrainian, Japanese and German Canadians whose rights have been taken away because of political sentiments of the day.
"...Is this the beginning of something even more draconian?" asked Feist, who runs Success Skills Centre, a non-profit agency that helps foreign-trained professional have their credentials recognized.
An instructor of English as a second language in Winnipeg said she doesn't think so.
Someone who's lived in Canada long enough to apply for citizenship should be functioning at a Level 4, said the instructor, who didn't want to be identified. Benchmark Level 4 is "very basic" -- being able to describe personal situations and express simple ideas. To enter university, a benchmark Level 9 is required. Level 4 is the ability to fill out forms and use basic language skills, the teachers said.
That would've been impossible for many of the newcomers who helped build Canada into what is today, Feist said.
"We should remember that the forefathers and mothers of the present-day legislators may not have had even Canadian Language Benchmark 4."
Feist said she doesn't doubt they were good citizens.
"These legislators forget their roots, in my opinion," she said.
Your comments are requested
Citizenship and Immigration is inviting people to comment in writing on the proposed regulation changes. For more information see
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.