Evidence of meeting #88 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was language.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Shannon Smith  As an Individual
Mohamed Al-Adeimi  Director, Newcomer Settlement Services, South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre
Omar Khoudeida  As an Individual
Rania Tabet  Services Manager, Interpretation and Translation Services, Cultural Interpretation Services for Our Communities
Benjamin Chacon  Executive Director, Interpretation Services, Cultural Interpretation Services for Our Communities
Lola Bendana  Director, Multi-Languages Corporation
Shauna Labman  Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba, As an Individual
Louisa Taylor  Director, Refugee 613

10:25 a.m.

Director, Refugee 613

Louisa Taylor

Here in Ottawa we don't have relationships with Kurdish organizations as such. We have relationships with individuals because Refugee 613 isn't providing direct service.

For the Syrian community we had all kinds of volunteer interpreters come to us who said they spoke Arabic and they wanted to help. We helped to set up training just to get them through the initial wave, with the understanding that professional interpreters are always the best practice and what you really want to see for so many reasons, but that in an emergency response situation you can take people who have the language and equip them with an understanding that ethics and confidentiality matter, and that they really should be interpreting and not advising and guiding.

But we don't have the experience that you're looking for an answer on.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Did you get no forewarning? Was no government official or direction or information provided to an organization like yours?

10:25 a.m.

Director, Refugee 613

Louisa Taylor

In the Syrian case?

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

The Syrian and the Yazidi cases, let's say Rojava Kurds.

10:25 a.m.

Director, Refugee 613

Louisa Taylor

Just to clarify, we haven't been involved in any Yazidi resettlement.

With the Syrians and with other groups we know that language group is coming. We always want more information. Our settlement partners get a lot of information and they always want more.

Is it a recommendation to have more information given to people on the ground about exactly who is coming and what their needs are? Absolutely.

I know that with the Syrian population everything was happening so fast, everybody did the best they could, and we know that our counterparts at IRCC were working around the clock. We could always see the room for more.

What matters is to continue to invest in the language and also simultaneous language acquisition and employment opportunities so people are not forced to choose between the two and can have a dual track integration.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

On that there is something called LINC, the language services. Resettlement services typically teach up to LINC level five, which is even below conversational ability in English or French.

Gule, for instance, or someone in her particular situation, and many other Yazidis I've met have that ability but still prefer to bring a friend or someone they trust. Other times I've called Kurdish residents and I've asked them if they could find me someone who speaks that particular dialect, and if they are comfortable to interpret for me so I can understand what they're trying to say.

I think you've pinpointed the issue here. There is interpretation, which is the beginning, and then the acquisition of the language, but also the ability to work in the language.

What are you finding with the refugees you're working with? Are they acquiring the language? Are they doing so thanks to resettlement services or are they just doing it on their own by watching TV and trying to learn it through their smart phones?

10:25 a.m.

Director, Refugee 613

Louisa Taylor

The uptake of language training has been enormous. I've heard very few stories of refugees declining to take language training offered to them. Most are maxing out every opportunity. The problem in some cases has been availability.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

It's not enough?

10:30 a.m.

Director, Refugee 613

Louisa Taylor

Yes. Then there are people who just want to work. I've had people say to me, “I've been in a camp for four years. I've been twiddling my thumbs, and I want to move on with my life. I want to work.” They want to take a survival job, and that becomes a whole discussion about the long-term implications of that. But, absolutely, my experience is that most people will take up the language training offered to them.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

There are just not enough services provided at this point—

10:30 a.m.

Director, Refugee 613

Louisa Taylor

That's right.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

—to go from LINC level five to, say, a LINC level eight, where you're comfortable working in the language.

10:30 a.m.

Director, Refugee 613

Louisa Taylor

Yes. I would also just point out—and my colleagues who know more about language than I do may be able to pipe in—my understanding is that LINC classes are only available to you as long as you are not a citizen. Once you take up citizenship, that door is closed to you. That's been a persistent problem that predates the Syrian and Yazidi arrivals. For people who've maybe taken the survival job and done some language training, but really could use more, that pathway isn't open to them anymore.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Chair, how much time do I have left?

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

You have about a minute.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

A minute?

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

No, you have a minute and a half, because I gave the Liberals a little bit more.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

You're so kind. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Bendana, can I ask you about interpretation services?

Obviously, everybody would prefer to have a qualified interpreter to really get the meaning of the words, not just a direct translation word for word. You want the interpreter to tell you basically the meaning of the combination of the words being provided so you get the full meaning they're trying to communicate to you. How long, in your view, should that last? A refugee, a person who is coming, at some point should be able to acquire the language. In your view, how long should the provision of interpretation services last before someone should reasonably acquire the language, having the support, obviously, of government and private organizations helping them?

10:30 a.m.

Director, Multi-Languages Corporation

Lola Bendana

That will depend pretty much on the setting when the person needs to move on. We know people who have been here for 20 years, have jobs, and function perfectly on the job, but when they have to go to a hospital for a cardiac interaction, they cannot function in the language.

There are different levels of language. Everyday language definitely can be acquired sometimes in a couple of years, a year. It really depends on the community, the person, and their accessibility to lessons. However, you cannot really state that within this period of time, this person should know English at any level. If you're going to court, even though you may not need interpretation services to work, you may need them at the court level. Or, if you have mental health issues, you may not be comfortable communicating in the language.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Regarding the interpreters who get qualified, are you finding that a lot of them are from the region, that they're individuals who were born there, or they're second generation who have a natural affinity—

10:30 a.m.

Director, Multi-Languages Corporation

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

—or ability in the language? They feel most comfortable, and then they just raise it up to the level where they're truly able to interpret word for word.

From my experiences in my family, I would have to interpret between English to French, English to Polish, in different languages, but I'm not qualified to do that. I can do conversational, but I can't do what you're talking about, your court, legal, medical....

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I can hear your affirmation of the member's question, so we'll note that, but I need to move to Mr. Cannings, who's had a lot of time to prepare for our committee, I would assume.

November 30th, 2017 / 10:30 a.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you all for coming before us today.

I want to pick up on Mr. Kmiec's line of questioning on the language issues.

My daughter, until very recently, taught English as a second language to Syrian refugees and all other immigrants in a setting in British Columbia. It was functioning on federal government grants, and unfortunately, the budget every year was cut back and back and back. As we took in thousands of Syrian refugees, her class sizes got larger, her hours got fewer, and the amount of money for the refugee settlements became less and less, so they couldn't offer day care to parents who had children. My daughter eventually quit her job because it got to the point where she couldn't live on that salary.

I'm wondering if all three of you could comment on that situation of wanting to bring in more refugees, but not offering them the necessary supports and skills for them to get integrated into our communities.

Perhaps Ms. Taylor could start.

10:35 a.m.

Director, Refugee 613

Louisa Taylor

I'm looking at the others for more expertise. Yes, we always think there could be more services, and particularly in language, and particularly creative approaches, for example language acquisition in the workplace, working with employers to improve and increase those options, coming up with innovative models so that someone is.... Being employed is so connected to a sense of dignity and a sense of belonging, but doing that at the expense of your long-term success in a community. As we heard, people can live here for 20 years and get by, but they don't have the language to improve their career prospects.

I think you'll find everybody in the service sector and the community sector saying yes, they need more services. You go abroad and you hear people are stunned at the level of investment we have in Canada in settlement infrastructure and the attitudes we have toward welcoming immigrants.

We tend to be very critical of ourselves and see where we can see all the room for improvement, so I fall in both camps. I see how much we're doing and how valuable it is, and I see the benefits of it. I see the people every day who have used language services or employment counselling or trauma counselling, but I also see the people who can't get in because there are wait-lists or who can't get the specific flexibility in programming that they're looking for.