Language Fluency Is Non-Negotiable 

March 1st, 2016 | M. Menuck 

A certain degree of contrast between the old and the new is to be expected when a new government comes to power. Indeed, a periodic change of style and substance is an essential part of a healthy, functioning democracy. However, one great test of true leadership is being able to recognize that ones’ opponents can occasionally get things right, and being able to leave in place what they have done that is worth preserving. On this front, Justin Trudeau has shown himself to be a failure with his recent announcement of a major change to the Canadian immigration system.

Under the previous government of Stephen Harper, the Conservatives implemented new rules making citizenship only attainable to those who had demonstrated fluency in one of Canada’s two official languages. It was one of the signature common-sense reforms brought in by the Tories that made the Immigration portfolio one of their unquestionable areas of success. A person choosing to make Canada his or her home should learn to speak either English or French. If you’re unable to speak the main languages of the land then good luck finding gainful employment, let alone successfully integrating yourself into the wider cultural and social landscape around you. The ability to communicate with one another is a central element of human social interaction and, without it, society simply does not exist. Therefore, such a policy of requiring demonstrable fluency for those aspiring to attain citizenship is logical in order to further better social fluidity between newcomers and those of us who already call Canada home.

Alas, logic does not seem to have much sway with Mr. Sunny Ways, for all his previous proclamations of the need for “evidence-based policy” during his tenure in opposition. Now, in the name of fairness, it should be noted that Canada went without such a requirement of proven fluency for years without it morphing into a modern day representation of the fable of the Tower of Babel. However, this is part of a worrying trend emerging with our new government of Justin Trudeau making changes to existing policy for no other reason than an apparent desire to say “Out with the old and in with the new” without articulating any meaningful rationale or reason as to why such changes are necessary. In the case of the aforementioned changes to language requirements, the best Minister MacCallum could offer was a woefully weak plea that the old rules created two-tiers of immigrants and discriminated against those who were unable to learn the official languages easily.

What sheer and utter balderdash! Yes, technically speaking requiring fluency in either English or French for those seeking to become citizenship is discriminatory to those who might have difficulty mastering one of those two languages. Having tried to learn French myself in high school to abject failure, I can attest that learning a new language is not an easy achievement for some. However, all immigration policy is discriminatory in some sense or other, unless one is advocating a policy of absolute open borders with unrestricted freedom of movement and residency. Our current system of privileging the highly educated for admittance discriminates against illiterate, subsistence farmers from Africa, but no one suggests we change that. Why? Because Canadians recognize that in an advanced, post-industrial economy such as ours, the poorly educated will be hard pressed to make a life for themselves and that is a valid consideration when drafting an immigration policy.

The question that should be asked is not whether privileging certain skills, attributes and tendencies among newcomers over others is discriminatory, but whether ultimately such an approach will better increase the likelihood of new Canadians integrating into our society economically, socially, and culturally. On that front, a basic fluency in our official languages is a solid “yes” to all three. In this context, this rather unfortunate step backwards by our new government is yet another unfortunate hint at the tendency of Mr. Trudeau to be almost willfully naïve towards the realities of the world we live in, out of a desire to see things as he wishes they were as opposed to how they actually are. 

As recent events in Europe have shown, when societies allow ghettoization and self-segregation of groups to emerge, very serious problems tend to be the result. The promotion of integration of a nation’s different ethnicities and cultures is an essential step towards avoiding the emergence of parallel-societies and the plethora of difficulties they bring. That is not the same thing as requiring assimilation. Canada’s rich cultural diversity is part of who we are as a people and should certainly be encouraged. However, it should not come at the expense of societal functionality, and being able to communicate with one another is a central element of that. To that end, Mr. Trudeau’s most recent decision is truly lamentable. He has taken the wrong choice and, in doing so, robbed himself of the opportunity to show true statesmanship by being the bigger man.