An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adequate knowledge of French in Quebec)

This bill was previously introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Sylvie Bérubé  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Feb. 24, 2021

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Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Citizenship Act to require that permanent residents who ordinarily reside in Quebec must have an adequate knowledge of French in order to obtain citizenship.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Feb. 24, 2021 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-223, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adequate knowledge of French in Quebec)

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

February 18th, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-233, which was introduced by my colleague.

First, I would like to remind members that the Bloc Québécois believes that the protection of French in Quebec requires an asymmetrical approach, which is why the bill is specifically tailored to Quebec with respect to the knowledge of French required to obtain citizenship.

In a way, we are pleased that the federal government is recognizing for the first time, albeit it timidly, that Quebec's situation and the status of French are unique. I would like to quote from this fall's throne speech:

Our two official languages are woven into the fabric of our country.... The Government of Canada must also recognize that the situation of French is unique. There are almost 8 million francophones in Canada within a region of over 360 million inhabitants who are almost exclusively anglophone. The government therefore has the responsibility to protect and promote French not only outside of Quebec, but also within Quebec.

This is in stark contrast to what we have seen in the past. The government is now talking about the importance of protecting the French language in Quebec. However, the government needs to walk the talk, and that is what the Bloc Québécois wants to achieve with this bill.

The notion of citizenship is closely tied to politics. It always has been, and that is still the case. The main differences between a permanent resident and a citizen are the following: the right to vote or run in elections; the right to hold a job requiring a specific security clearance, such as a position with a company that does business with National Defence; and the right to sit on a jury. All of this requires some knowledge of French, and the French-language test required for citizenship is not very difficult. Candidates are required to be able to interact in everyday situations or to ask simple, basic questions to express their needs in day-to-day life. They are not asked to compose poetry or write in Alexandrine verse.

This is not the first time that this bill has been introduced. What I find unfortunate is that, in the past, there seemed to be a determination to nip the bill in the bud. I am thinking of former MP David de Burgh Graham, who said the following concerning the bill at the admissibility stage, and I quote:

My wife speaks five languages. French is not one of them. When she got her Canadian citizenship, we had just moved to Quebec. I had already lived there; she came to Quebec with me. She would have had to return to Ontario or stay in Ontario to get her citizenship, and I think that's against the values of our Constitution, our charter. I cannot support that on constitutional grounds.

No evidence was ever provided to show that the bill was unconstitutional, aside from an opinion that was not supported by legal advice, and the clerks of the House had found the bill to be constitutional. It therefore seems that some were determined to kill the bill from the start, which I think is unfortunate.

This time, the bill has gotten further in the process. It has been deemed admissible. After second reading, the bill will be sent to committee, where expert witnesses will speak to various issues. I think it would be a shame to abort the process now and kill the bill again before it even gets off the ground. The argument is that we should not vote in favour of the bill because it would hinder many people from obtaining citizenship.

I would like to point out that, to obtain citizenship, a person has to have spent 1,095 days in Canada. That is a good opportunity to learn the basics of French. I would also like to point out that not having citizenship does not prevent anyone from working or getting health care, because permanent residents can do both of those things.

I think it is a shame that people are refusing to send the bill to committee. The purpose of this bill is to protect the French language, so I think it is a shame to miss this opportunity to see what other obstacles to citizenship exist.

Some people have said that making knowledge of French mandatory would prevent a lot of people from obtaining Canadian citizenship. However, in November 2019, which is not so long ago, Statistics Canada reported that the citizenship rate among recent immigrants had dropped between 1996 and 2016 and had declined much more dramatically after 2006. Even without the requirement to pass a French test, there has been a decrease in citizenship uptake. It would have been interesting to examine the reasons for this decrease in committee.

I also find it odd that the government claims that knowledge of French would be an obstacle to obtaining citizenship, when we know that one of the obstacles to citizenship is the cost of the tests that are required to obtain citizenship. In the 2019 election campaign, the Liberals promised to make the test free, but it still costs $630 per person. For a family of two adults with children, that could mean up to $1,200, $1,800 or $2,400. That is a lot of money, and it is a major obstacle to citizenship. This could also have been studied in committee.

There is another aspect that could have been studied in committee, although I admit it is rather upsetting. In some cases, to obtain permanent resident status and to access other stages of the immigration process, the person needs to already have knowledge of one of the two official languages. However, we are seeing an imbalance when it comes to the tests that are administered. The Commissioner of Official Languages has received several complaints about the cost of tests in French, which is not the same as the cost of tests in English. We see that the cost of these official language proficiency tests is twice as high in French as it is in English. We also see that those who choose to take these tests in French get their results much later.

Fundamentally, there is already an imbalance when it comes to knowledge of one of the two official languages. That is something that could also have been looked at in committee. This has been going on for some time. The government has made several promises on this, but it has not kept them.

Furthermore, these tests are developed and also marked in France, not Quebec. The tests given to many immigrants are not necessarily appropriate. I will give a very simple example. In France, the meals are called “petit-déjeuner”, “déjeuner” and “dîner”, whereas the terms used in Quebec are “déjeuner”, “dîner” and “souper”. This can lead some people to make mistakes and possibly fail the test. For example, a U.S. citizen stated that when she took the test, she was asked to role-play a conversation where she had to order something at the Bistro du Louvre. The different expressions used in Quebec and France were a thorn in her side.

By not sending this bill to committee, we are missing opportunities to improve access to citizenship in general. We are denying ourselves the chance to identify obstacles to citizenship. We are also missing an opportunity to examine how knowledge of the official languages is evaluated in Canada, not just in Quebec. This is a missed opportunity for the provinces and territories as well. We could also have examined the criteria, in particular for obtaining permanent residency.

That is the very essence of the bill. If it does not go to committee, the claims that this bill would make it difficult to obtain citizenship will remain unsubstantiated. We will not be able to determine whether the bill could help strengthen the French fact and ensure that newcomers will fulfill the duties that come with citizenship and that they will be able to fully and completely participate in all that citizenship entails, such as the right to vote and the right to run in elections.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

February 18th, 2021 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-223, which would amend the Citizenship Act to require that citizenship applicants who ordinarily reside in Quebec must demonstrate an adequate knowledge of French and must pass a test on the rights, responsibilities and privileges of Canadian citizenship in French.

This bill would also increase the age range of applicants who must meet the language and knowledge requirements to 18 years of age or more but less than 65 years of age, compared to the current age range of 18 to 54 years.

In 2017, we amended the Citizenship Act to make it easier for immigrants to build successful lives in Canada, reunite with their families and contribute to the country's economic success. The goal was to encourage immigrants to develop a permanent sense of belonging and to become full-fledged members of Canadian society by getting their citizenship more quickly. These changes to the act reduced the age range for language and knowledge requirements from 14 to 65 to today's 18 to 54. By asking only applicants between the ages of 18 and 54 to meet the language and knowledge requirements, we are making life easier for immigrants to Canada and reducing barriers to citizenship for our oldest and youngest populations.

This flexibility also helps support the reunification of families by helping children, their parents and their grandparents obtain citizenship more quickly. That is an important step in enabling immigrants to develop a deeper sense of belonging to our society and become more active citizens.

By proposing to raise to 18 or more, but less than 65, the age range of people who have to show that they meet the language and knowledge requirements, Bill C-223 would undo the changes made in 2017 and restore the barriers to citizenship for older applicants. This would also have an adverse effect on the naturalization rate in Canada, which is currently one of the highest in the world at 85.8%.

We encourage all immigrants to become full members of Canadian society and we know that one of the most important pillars of a successful integration into Canadian society is obtaining citizenship. The success of our immigrants is our success as a strong and united country.

The proposed changes in this bill that would expand the age range and eliminate the choice of language would have a disproportionate and adverse effect on refugees, women, older newcomers and other vulnerable populations who might consider the obligation to meet the language and knowledge requirements in French only to be a barrier to citizenship.

These are populations that need our support and compassion and not additional barriers that have already been exacerbated by COVID-19.

We know that the intention of this bill is to protect and promote the French language in Quebec. Our government values Canada's linguistic duality. French and English are a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian identity, and we know how important it is to promote both official languages.

French and English are fundamental characteristics of the Canadian identity, and we know how important it is to promote our two official languages. We are committed to promoting French across Canada and to preserving and protecting the French language in Quebec.

The Government of Canada has committed to helping all newcomers get the French- or English-language skills they need to integrate into their communities and contribute to the Canadian economy. We know that immigration plays a key role in supporting francophone minority communities across the country and in maintaining Canada's bilingualism. We also know that established immigrants who obtain Canadian citizenship have a very strong sense of belonging to Canada.

Citizenship is a key element that opens doors to greater economic opportunities and encourages full participation in Canadian society. We have implemented measures to attract francophone newcomers to Canada and are working hard to support their integration and retention. This approach has helped strengthen the capacity of francophone communities across the country. By consolidating the francophone integration pathway, our government is committing to the principle of “par et pour”, ensuring that settlement services for francophones are offered by francophones.

It is important to note that Quebec selects all immigrants settling in that province except those in the family reunification for protected persons category. Under the Canada-Quebec accord, the Government of Canada gives the Province of Quebec an annual amount to administer and deliver services for the reception and linguistic, cultural and economic integration of immigrants who settle in Quebec, including resettled refugees.

Statistics show high rates of French acquisition over time among permanent residents who remain in Quebec, which reinforces the ultimate goal of French language acquisition. Census data show that, 10 years after arriving in Quebec, over 90% of those in the economic immigrant category, over 70% of those in the family reunification category and over 83% of refugees speak French. That means the vast majority of immigrants residing in Quebec end up speaking French.

I think we can all agree that that is good news. Given the importance of French in Canada and Quebec, we should do and are doing everything in our power to maintain and support Canada's rich linguistic duality. However, becoming Canadian should be as inclusive and equitable as possible, no matter where one lives in this great country.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

February 18th, 2021 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this evening's important discussion on Bill C-223.

I have been listening to my colleagues speak in the House for a little while now, and I think we all agree. The bill's objective is clear. We support the objective, which is entirely laudable and noble: to stand up for the French language, for the place of the French language and for the demographic weight of francophones. As a New Democrat, a Montrealer and a Quebecker, I fully endorse those objectives.

However, we believe that this is the wrong tool to achieve a good objective. In that regard, I think the bill completely misses the mark in terms of its original intention, and for several reasons. A bill can be judged on several criteria, and I will name three of them: its enforceability, its effectiveness and the unintended consequences that might arise from the application or non-application of the bill. Unfortunately, what is being proposed here today would be difficult to enforce and not very effective and could have a harmful impact on some people.

Essentially, there are three main immigration categories, which my colleague mentioned earlier: family reunification; refugees who are in distress and fleeing violence; and economic immigrants, who represent the vast majority of immigrants welcomed into the country for economic development reasons, to mitigate labour shortages and to stimulate the economy by growing communities. Quebec already has the exclusive power to select its economic immigrants. There is also a whole series of factors that are taken into account when determining whether an applicant should be accepted as an economic immigrant.

For years, under various governments, Quebec has used a points system that gives more points for knowledge of French. The questions are extremely easy. By and large, that has worked well. Quebec is already able to attract francophone immigrants because it has total control over the system. The federal government also provides support in the form of French integration and French language classes for those who need it. Quebec is fully autonomous in that regard and has made decisions aimed at increasing the percentage of francophone immigrants. This is working fairly well, and I think this is the type of approach that should be taken, where incentives and resources are provided to help immigrants learn French.

The two other immigration categories stem from something else entirely, with objectives that are quite different. Family reunification is fairly clear. However, we accept refugees out of humanitarian duty, solidarity and compassion for people experiencing oppression, discrimination, violence and civil war, as is currently the case in Yemen. I would not want to withhold Canadian citizenship from someone fleeing Yemen because there is little chance that they speak French. We prioritize immigrants from north Africa, Belgium, Switzerland and France because they are awarded more points to come work here and contribute to Quebec's economy and society. I believe we should be able to make this distinction.

What is the objective of the program and the end goal? I do not think it is right to put obstacles in the way of refugees seeking citizenship just because they do not speak French or have difficulty learning French. I believe that those people need help, not additional obstacles, even if we agree on welcoming more francophone immigrants. I think it is completely inappropriate to apply these provisions to refugees, and refugee advocacy groups are concerned about that approach. It is not just the idea of saying that we do not want them to come here, it is that they will not obtain citizenship, and if they never get citizenship, they will not become engaged citizens and will not be able to vote in elections. It is like telling them to come here because we want to help them, but warning that they will never have the right to vote unless they learn French.

Is that really the message we want to send to promote French?

Some refugee advocates, including lawyer Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, with whom I spoke recently, told me they were very concerned, because this proposal assumes that a refugee coming from a war zone does not have a learning disability or PTSD, and that he or she is on an equal footing with an economic immigrant who comes here to start a business or work for Quebec companies. These are two completely different scenarios, and the bill before us is very broad in scope.

That is why I said it could have unintended consequences on certain categories of immigrants, such as refugees and people who come for family reunification. This concerns us, when Quebec already has a system that works well for economic immigrants.

It would also be difficult to enforce and ineffective, because it does not really take into account the fluidity of interprovincial moves.

A French test might be a prerequisite for citizenship in Quebec, but many immigrants who do not speak French will go to Toronto, Halifax, or Moncton, New Brunswick. They get their Canadian citizenship there, and three months or six months later, they move to Quebec to find work.

That means some people have to take the test and some do not. The latter can still move to Quebec because nobody stops them at the border to ask them what test they had to pass to get citizenship. Given that interprovincial moves were not considered, we find ourselves with a double standard. What should we do about that?

We share the same goal of defending the French fact. I am actually very proud that a motion I moved in the House of Commons a few weeks ago regarding the fragility of French in Quebec and Canada and the need to strengthen and promote it received the unanimous support of the House.

The NDP has a history of defending French. I want to mention a former member of ours from the Quebec City area, Alexandrine Latendresse, whose hard work resulted in a real victory. Because of the bill we introduced and got passed in the House of Commons, all officers of Parliament, such as the environment commissioner and the Auditor General, must be able to understand and speak French. This is a great example of a very tangible and very practical victory for the rights of francophones across the country.

For the past 10 or 12 years, we have been saying that Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language, should apply to federally regulated businesses in Quebec. As I mentioned earlier, when I was talking about contradictions and double standards, the situation right now is a little strange. For example, a Caisse populaire employee is protected by Bill 101, but a Royal Bank employee does not have the same protections to communicate in French. If Bill 101 applied, all workers in Quebec would have equal rights, no matter which company they work for. The NDP has been advocating for this since before Jack Layton was our leader, and we are still advocating for it under our current leader.

We are also calling for and requiring that Supreme Court judges be bilingual, that they be able to understand French and speak it well. It is a matter of equal legal rights for people pleading their case in court. I am sure that my Bloc Québécois and Conservative Party colleagues agree with us on that. Unfortunately, the Liberal government does not seem to be listening when it comes to these two files, namely, the application of Bill 101 in Quebec and the bilingualism of Supreme Court judges.

Another issue on which we could take meaningful action to change things is the modernization of the Official Languages Act. That is something that was promised by the Liberals, who have been in office for five years. Rather than a new bill, we might see a white paper or a discussion paper tomorrow. The more time passes, the further behind we fall on this issue. This law has not been modernized in nearly 30 years. I think it is time to look at what we can do to give the Official Languages Act more teeth, to give it more power and authority to defend vulnerable francophone communities in some parts of the country.

We want to give rights to francophones working in federally regulated businesses outside Quebec, but we are somewhat concerned that this is only possible where warranted by the concentration of francophones. Information was recently leaked to the media that seemed to indicate that if immigrants may not have this right if they are not sufficiently francophone. It is like a Scotiabank employee in Moncton having certain rights and an employee of the same bank in Calgary not having them.

The Liberals must do better.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

November 19th, 2020 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

moved that Bill C-223, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adequate knowledge of French in Quebec), be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the first bill that I have introduced in the House. I introduced a very simple bill with a clear objective, and that is to enable newcomers who want to become citizens and reside in Quebec to integrate into their host society.

In order to integrate, newcomers must be able to communicate with members of their host society. In Quebec, the common language is French. The purpose of the Charter of the French Language is to make French the official and common language of Quebec. As a result, newcomers must learn French in order to integrate into Quebec society.

Anyone who wants to become a Canadian citizen at the end of their immigration process must demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of one of Canada's two official languages. Right now, a permanent resident who wants to become a citizen and reside in Quebec could do so without knowing a single word of French. Of course, this situation is not in keeping with the Charter of the French Language, the main objective of which is to make French the common language of all Quebeckers.

That is why, during the last election campaign, the Bloc Québécois's platform included a promise to introduce a bill requiring that permanent residents residing in Quebec have knowledge of French in order to obtain citizenship. Promise kept: That is what we are debating today.

During the 42nd Parliament, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île introduced Bill C-421, which would have made that change. Unfortunately, the bill was deemed non-votable following an extraordinary procedure that included all MPs voting secretly in spite of the opinion of the clerk who drafted the bill.

This time, the Bloc Québécois has a legal opinion. The other parties can no longer hide behind the so-called unconstitutionality of this proposal.

In March, the Bloc Québécois commissioned this legal opinion to ensure the constitutionality of the bill we are debating today. The study was carried out by Professor Patrick Taillon of the law faculty at Laval University and lawyer and Ph.D. in law candidate Amélie Binette.

After reading this opinion, it is quite reasonable to believe that Bill C-223 is entirely constitutional. Thus, the first question we must ask ourselves is this: What are the general principles that should guide our interpretation of language rights?

The response issued by Ms. Binette and Mr. Taillon, based, among other things, on the Beaulac decision, is clear: Language rights must be interpreted broadly and liberally, based on their objectives of maintaining and enhancing the vitality of official language communities in Canada.

Given its status as both a majority and a minority of the historic francophone community, which is recognized by the Supreme Court in the Solski decision, the intervention of political actors is necessary to ensure substantive equality between English and French in Quebec. What is this logic of substantive equality?

Substantive equality is not the same as formal equality when interpreting section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which constitutionalizes the equality between the two official languages.

To sum up, it is a matter of looking at the linguistic situation in each province so that measures can be taken that take into account the specific needs of the minority community. Thus, there is nothing that precludes Parliament or provincial legislatures from taking action to promote the use of English or French in specific contexts, since the linguistic demography and pluralist reality of Canada requires an asymmetrical approach.

In Andrews, Justice McIntyre noted that a law will not necessarily be bad because it makes distinctions when having to implement measures for two people in similar circumstances. Therefore, Bill C-223 is not unconstitutional because it creates a distinction between residents of Quebec and those of other provinces. True equality requires consideration of the demographic, geographic and social context of a community when interpreting language rights.

If immigration is a shared responsibility of the provinces and the federal government under section 95 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the granting of citizenship is the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government under subsection 91(25).

As our legal opinion on immigration shows, the courts have encouraged a type of co-operative federalism over the past few years. Passage of Bill C-233 would promote real equality between English and French through an asymmetrical approach and collaboration between both levels of government.

The citizenship test does not constitute a service since it seeks only to assess the linguistic skills of permanent residents and their knowledge of French. The bill does not infringe on the public's right to receive services in both languages, as stipulated in section 20 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since nothing in its content prevents a permanent resident of Quebec from applying for citizenship in English, providing information in English, communicating with the government in English and swearing their oath of citizenship in English if they so desire even if they have to prove an adequate knowledge of French to obtain citizenship. That would be an curious path to take, but nothing in Bill C-223 would prevent that.

As pointed out in our legal opinion, even if the courts deemed that the citizenship test was a type of service, section 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982, clearly states that the rights it guarantees are “subject...to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Jurisprudence clearly shows that specific arrangements to guarantee substantive equality between the two official languages constitute a reasonable limit in a free and democratic society.

In our legal opinion, Professor Taillon explained that the Supreme Court developed a two-part test to interpret section 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The first part is to prove that the measure serves a pressing and substantial objective. The second part is to prove that the means are reasonable and demonstrably justified. The French language in Quebec is in such an alarming position, so the intent and content of Bill C-223 clearly serve a pressing and substantial objective.

As to whether this is a reasonable and justifiable measure, it is important to remember that the Citizenship Act already provides for language testing. In Forget v. Quebec, the Supreme Court ruled that the requirement that non-francophones pass a French test was not an arbitrary ground when it came to joining the nursing profession. The same reasoning could be applied to citizenship.

Bill C-223 contains a single provision that makes three important amendments to paragraphs 5(1)(d) and 5(1)(e) of the Citizenship Act.

First, Bill C-223 increases, from 55 to 65, the maximum age up until which a permanent resident who applies for Canadian citizenship is required to demonstrate a knowledge of one the official languages and to pass a test demonstrating that they have an adequate knowledge of Canada and of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.

Second, the bill ensures that, if a permanent resident resides in Quebec, they will not be able to choose between demonstrating their knowledge of an official language in English or in French as is currently the case. Instead, they will have to demonstrate an adequate knowledge of French. Permanent residents residing in other provinces will be able to continue to choose between the two languages.

Third, consistent with the language requirement, under Bill C-223 the citizenship test must be administered in French in Quebec, not in one or the other official language. The bill does not impinge on that choice in other provinces.

The central element of this bill is citizenship. The question we must ask ourselves, and which we will attempt to answer, is as follows: Do individuals require an adequate knowledge of French to exercise their citizenship in Quebec? The Bloc Québécois believes they do.

This bill recognizes the primacy of French in Quebec, it is consistent with recognition of the Quebec nation, it contributes to sustaining French in Quebec, it restores the status of French in Quebec, it acknowledges the importance of understanding the language to exercise all the rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship in Quebec, and it is an additional means to slow the decline of French in Quebec.

As we are seeing in the news, Quebeckers are more and more concerned about the decline of the French language.

According to a recent Leger poll, 63% of respondents said they were very concerned or somewhat concerned about the status of French in Quebec. Among francophones, that figure rises to 71%, an increase of 17% compared to a similar Leger poll conducted in 2018.

Nearly six in 10 Quebeckers think that the situation has gotten worse over the past decade. Six in 10 Quebeckers also think that the status of French will continue to decline over the next decade.

In a report from April 2019 on the evolution of the linguistic situation in Quebec, the Office québécois de la langue française found that the use of French greetings in stores on the Island of Montreal had dropped from 84% to 75% compared to 2010.

It is important that we do everything we possibly can at the federal level to reverse this trend. Major changes will be proposed shortly by the Government of Quebec, and the federal government must also do its part. It is only by passing Bill C-223 and making changes like these that we can stop this trend.

We cannot rely on the Liberal government to take leadership on this file, and that is why the Bloc Québécois is taking charge. I hope that the Liberals will vote in favour of my bill.

The Prime Minister once said, “The Liberal Party of Canada will always be there to protect the French language.” This would be a good opportunity to prove it.

All the same, there are a few factors that make me doubt the Liberals' goodwill on this issue, such as the comments made by the Liberal member at the Standing Committee on Official Languages. She did, however, walk back those comments today.

While questioning the Commissioner of Official Languages, she expressed doubts about the decline of French in Quebec. She needed proof. Well, all the evidence is there. She has only to look at the statistics and read reports like the one published in 2017 by the Auditor General of Quebec, who found that the campaign to teach French to immigrants in Quebec had failed, or simply take a walk in her riding or anywhere else in Quebec.

A Journal de Montréal reporter did just that. She walked into some shops in downtown Montreal. Of the 31 establishments she visited, 16 offered a unilingual English greeting, and in almost a third of the businesses she visited, staff were simply unable to respond in Quebec's official language.

If members of the House of Commons vote against the very principle of Bill C-223, they will be proving two things. First, they will be proving that Canada's bilingual nature is not important to them, by rejecting a minimum requirement for ensuring the vitality of French in North America. Second, they will be proving that Canada's constitutional framework cannot ensure the full vitality of the Quebec nation.

The elected members of the House of Commons will have to decide whether they agree with the spirit of the Laurendeau-Dunton commission or that of the more grievous Durham commission. Quebec deserves to see where it stands.

In conclusion, the entire history of Quebec and, by extension, the history of French-speaking Canada can be summed up as a fierce battle for self-preservation and the survival of French. After more than 400 years, we continue to fight for the right to exist, and the debate we have brought to the House of Commons today, with Bill C-223, is but one more episode in this never-ending story.

In 2006, the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation. What does that mean?

So far, from both a legal and a political perspective, Canada's recognition of the Quebec nation has yet to translate into any tangible action. It was simply a political and symbolic gesture, and it does not address Quebec's historical constitutional demands.

Furthermore, as long as members of Parliament refuse to pass laws and implement government measures that allow Quebec to pursue its own cultural and linguistic development, as Bill C-223 would do, the recognition of the Quebec nation will be meaningless. Passing Bill C-223 would be consistent with the motion passed by the House of Commons.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

November 19th, 2020 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Hochelaga Québec

Liberal

Soraya Martinez Ferrada LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-223, which proposes changes to the current process for permanent residents of Canada to become Canadian citizens.

Before I address the bill specifically, I would like to take a moment to talk about myself and my family. I came to Quebec as a political refugee in the early years of Bill 101. I am a child of the very first reception classes and francization classes in Quebec. My single mother and my grandparents, who were over 60 years old, took francization classes at the infamous Centres d'orientation et de formation des immigrants, commonly known as COFIs.

My aunt Marcela arrived in 1978 at the age of 17. She also learned French upon arrival and worked for more than 20 years as a nurse in Quebec health care. She is now a francophone doctor in her field and a professor in the nursing program at the Université du Québec en Outaouais.

We all received our citizenship before we could speak French. Today, my children and my cousins are all young Quebec francophones who work and study in French. That was possible in 1980, and I think it is still possible today.

The Government of Canada encourages all immigrants to commit to taking part in every aspect of Canadian and Quebec society. Getting Canadian citizenship is one of the best foundations for successful integration in life. Immigrants make a considerable contribution on a cultural, economic, social and political level. They volunteer, join community organizations and share their points of view on so many important issues in our society.

Anyone who has had the chance to attend or take part in a citizenship ceremony knows that it is a very moving experience. It is a very touching celebration. It is an official step in a process for gaining Canadian citizenship. For most immigrants, this step signifies that they have demonstrated their knowledge of Canada, their host country, of its history and the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship. They were also able to demonstrate that they can speak French or English and that they commit to living and working in this country.

The government of Canada is determined to help all newcomers acquire the French or English language skills they need to integrate into their host community and to contribute to the country's economy.

As we know, the pandemic has had significant repercussions for almost all sectors of society. We are now striving to adapt to the new realities and to make as many positive changes as possible. In March, in response to the constantly evolving COVID-19 situation, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada decided to cancel all citizenship ceremonies, tests, retests and in-person interviews. Through innovation and the use of existing platforms, we were fortunately able to continue welcoming new Canadian citizens at virtual citizenship ceremonies.

Recently, in mid-October 2020, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada held almost 8,800 ceremonies at which more than 43,000 new Canadian citizens took the oath of citizenship. We are currently planning the resumption of citizenship tests using technology that will let candidates take online tests. While waiting for the online testing solution to be ready and accessible, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is using a virtual platform to process urgent citizenship applications and administer a small number of citizenship tests and interviews.

Citizenship officers began contacting clients who reported an urgent need to obtain citizenship. The implementation of such measures shows our commitment to reducing the obstacles to citizenship during this very unusual time. It is important to point out that the government places a high value on Canada's two official languages. As a result, we remain determined to welcome more francophone newcomers. We believe that all newcomers to Canada and Quebec enrich our communities.

Most members know that Quebec is the only province that has an immigration agreement with the federal government.

Quebec selects its immigrants from the economic class. Most immigrants who live in Quebec speak French. Census data show that, 10 years after they arrive in Canada, 90.5% of economic immigrants, 71.1% of immigrants under the family reunification program and 84.3% of refugees speak French. Under this agreement, Quebec is also responsible for French-language and integration programs.

We must continue to be welcoming and open to the world. We must ensure that we promote francophone immigration and French-language training for all immigrants and refugees who settle in Quebec.

The Government of Canada knows that immigration positively contributes to our country's economy and society. We also know that newcomers contribute to the vitality of communities, particularly francophone minority communities outside Quebec, but also communities within Quebec. We need to maintain the demographic weight of francophones in North America, which is why francophone immigration is so important. That is why we are taking numerous measures to increase francophone immigration, promote the integration and retention of French-speaking newcomers and build capacity in francophone communities.

As part of the government's official languages action plan, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will invest more than $40 million over five years to support a consolidated francophone integration pathway. In 2019, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada launched new language training services to support the francophone integration pathway, which helps French-speaking newcomers who settle in francophone minority communities and improves their language skills.

Although progress toward achieving these targets depends on lifting pandemic-related travel restrictions, I think we will get there eventually and increase the number of francophone newcomers across the country.

Taken together, these measures will help French-speaking newcomers build new lives in Canada and signal the government's support for linguistic duality in this country. The government's focus on French and francophone immigration will also strengthen the demographic weight of francophones in Quebec.