Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. My name is Chris Friesen; I am representing AMSSA, the provincial umbrella association.
In the context of British Columbia last year, to give you a snapshot to follow up what Fariborz was saying, almost 46,000 immigrants landed in British Columbia. It was the highest number in almost ten years. Of these, 40% were children and youth; 79% came from five Asian countries; the bulk—close to 86%—settled in the greater Vancouver area.
We are finding, as we talk across the country, that the capacity of our agencies to support immigrants so that they successfully integrate and are able to actively participate in Canadian society is being stretched. For over a decade now we haven't seen any increase in funding support to help with the outcomes of immigrants and refugees.
We're encouraged by the Conservative government and the funding that's currently on the table, the $307 million, and we hope this begins to address some of the compounding issues that originated in the nineties. One of the concerns CISSA-ACSEI has pertains to the issue of comparable services in the country—the issue that immigrants landing in B.C. or Quebec or Newfoundland will see and be able to access the same range of the services and supports they need in order to successfully integrate.
We have some concerns about what is happening in this country around how investments are being made with respect to immigrant settlement and integration services. A particular example that I wish to point out today is the issue of adult language classes, ESL classes. In the context of British Columbia and under the B.C.-Canada agreement, Cooperation on Immigration, we're seeing a disturbing trend toward fee-for-service programming for adult ESL classes.
What this has done is create a two-tier system within the country, such that immigrants in one province have to pay for services, but if they land in another province they do not have to pay for those services. The most recent example is the English language training program, a badly needed program that we have been advocating for years, around higher-level English language training that is geared to the labour market. In British Columbia, immigrants are now asked to pay one third of that program, whereas in the rest of the country it is provided free of charge.
Our concern with this issue of comparable services, of national standards, in the context of the new money that's being presented by the Conservative government, the $307 million, is that this money has to come along with some guiding principles and protocols about how the money is going to be invested. Our concern is that if we do not have comparable services in this country, then what we face is increasing interprovincial competition for immigrants where, as I say, immigrants can shop around to obtain higher levels of support in some areas of the country than in others.
As many people are aware, refugees and immigrants do not necessarily have the financial means to pay for their services. Under the previous Liberal government we were led to believe by the department when the “right of permanent residence” fee was introduced that immigrants were in fact prepaying their settlement and language services as part of their entrance into this country.
These are serious issues that we have serious concerns about, and they speak to the issue of providing adequate supports so that immigrants have the ability to successfully integrate and contribute to Canadian society.
The last comment I wish to make is that in February 2005 Simon Fraser University released a report called “A System in Crisis”, which was the first comprehensive look at adult ESL and settlement services in the country. It was a snapshot of what was happening at that particular moment in time. As you, as committee members of the standing committee, begin to outline your agenda for this next year, one area we feel strongly about is that you should consider taking on the development of a white paper; that this committee should tackle through a white paper an analysis of comparable services in this country, of what is currently being presented to immigrants and refugees across the country using the resources of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Thank you very much for this opportunity.