Citizenship Program Needs to Focus on Canadian ‘Values’: Kenney

Jason Fekete, Canwest News Service, April 14, 2009

The federal government is revamping Canada’s citizenship program to include greater emphasis on the country’s “values,” federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Tuesday.

Mr. Kenney said his department is conducting a complete review of the citizenship program to improve its content, “with a focus on Canadian values.”

He made the comments in a luncheon speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

The government wants to ensure that people becoming Canadian citizens have a full appreciation of the country’s values–such as rule of law and equality of men and women–as well as its symbols and institutions, he said. He said there would, for instance, be more Canadian history on applicants’ exams.

“There’s a growing acknowledgment that we need to put more focus on integration in our immigration policy,” Mr. Kenney said.

The minister said the information booklet that leads to the citizenship test has a page on recycling, but he said he doesn’t recall seeing one paragraph on Confederation.

Canada’s citizenship exam is “outdated,” he said, explaining it hasn’t been revised for more than a decade.

He said changes to the program are to be finalized this summer.

“We want to make sure that when people become Canadians, they totally understand that Canadian history becomes their history, Canadian values become their values,” Mr. Kenney, MP for Calgary Southeast, told reporters.

He reiterated his belief that immigrants to Canada [other than youth and seniors] must be able to speak one of the country’s two official languages–a policy already in place, but one that hasn’t been fully enforced.

The minister also said he’s disappointed that only 25% of newcomers to Canada have been enrolling in language classes.

“I want to make sure that we’re keeping the bar at reasonable levels,” he added.

Fariborz Birjandian, executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said adding more reading material to the citizenship exam will likely do little to improve immigrants’ civic literacy. What’s needed, he said, is more funding for government and community programs to help newcomers integrate more fully into Canadian society.

“We need to start creating the environment to grow their social capital,” Mr. Birjandian said.

On a separate matter, Kenney said he’s concerned about a growing trend of illegal immigration from Mexico that saw nearly 10,000 refugee applications from Mexican nationals in 2008, with about 90% of those applications rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Reports have suggested there’s been a spike in the refugee claims since Mexican airlines started direct flights to Canadian cities. Much of the increase in refugee claims has been linked by government officials to deadly drug wars plaguing Mexico.

“It’s just not fair. It’s not right for people to jump on a plane, come here, and make a refugee application, even if they don’t meet the definition of a refugee,” Mr. Kenney said.

“The vast majority . . . are actually trying to immigrate to Canada through the back door of the refugee system. I think that’s unacceptable; that’s basically queue-jumping.”

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