I’m happy that the city of Toronto has services available in many languages, and I love the fact that I hear at least five languages spoken in any given day. But do I think newcomers should make an effort to learn one of Canada’s official languages, preferably the one spoken in the area of the country where they live, if they want to take out citizenship? Absolutely.
Why? Well, for one thing, immigrants can get free language training through the LINC program. It’s one of the settlement services the government offers and taxes pay for. Programs often offer free onsite childcare to make taking lessons more convenient.
For another, not knowing how to speak the majority language leads inevitably to some degree of separation from everyone outside one’s own language group, and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to pick up on the cultural references that make nations. I don’t buy into the choose-your-own-adventure concept of Canada: countries aren’t whatever you want them to be, and if that’s all they are, they’re pretty ephemeral.
Third, this wouldn’t prevent people from remaining permanent residents of Canada. I would expect to jump through some hoops if I moved elsewhere and wanted to take on the full responsibilities and rights of citizenship. I see many reasons to expect the same. Note that because of our rules about citizenship being conferred on all babies born on Canadian soil, any children born in Canada are automatically citizens anyway.
(The Star’s headline on this story, Immigrants need French or English, Kenney says is unfortunate as it suggests a higher standard of English/French would be required for immigration alone. While some immigration classes already require some skills in English/French, refugees and family reunification immigrants are exempt and there’s no suggestion that they would cease to be.)