Evidence of meeting #23 for Official Languages in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was tests.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Christine Holke
Lucie Lecomte  Committee Researcher
David Manicom  Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Corinne Prince-St-Amand  Director General, Integration and Foreign Credentials Referral Office, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Stefanie Beck  Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Donald Cochrane  Senior Director, International Region, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

9:40 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

Thank you.

We are well aware of this complex situation and we have been for over a year. We started using the standard tests for immigration in 2002. For the most part, these tests are meant for potential immigrants. The question of the availability of the tests affects the whole world and not Canada exclusively.

So far, only one organization has submitted its tests so they can be officially recognized by the government of Canada and be used by potential immigrants around the world. We had not succeeded, to date. We are in regular contact with other organizations that have language tests to encourage them to make a request to have their tests recognized. In the case of the current organization, this meant urging it to make its tests more widely available.

The cost of the test varies widely around the world. In some places, it is not higher, but it is in general, because the number of people who request it is smaller. We are continuing to look for a solution.

Very recently, we received the Commissioner's decision that this is a violation of the Official Languages Act. This inequality varies from country to country. That being said, it is clear that at the international level, this test is less available than the test in English, particularly in Asia.

This is certainly a problem, and we are well aware of it.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Forgive me for interrupting you, Mr. Manicom, but I have very little time. You are not answering my question.

People have sounded the alarm. This question has been covered on CBC news since early summer 2015. You have seen the news on this subject and you have received complaints. You therefore had no need to wait for the report by the Commissioner of Official Languages. We knew very well that the outcome would be that you are not abiding by Parts IV and VII of the Official Languages Act, you had to be certain of that, given that we are talking about the tests in French for which the price is twice as high and for which access is not at all the same.

Given that you were aware that you were not abiding by the act, why did you not immediately put measures into effect to improve the situation?

9:45 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

The problem was to find a solution. We are working on it, but we have not managed to find one up to now.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

And yet you knew that the report was coming and that the problem was going to blow up in your face.

Given that this was the first problem, why did you not choose to subsidize the French tests to make sure they were more accessible and the cost was similar to the English tests?

How is it that no one thought of that, in that office, for a year?

Why did you not start taking measures, for example by subsidizing the French tests a little, to balance the costs?

9:45 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

We're considering these options. Our people have been working on them for quite some time, but the solutions are complicated.

Ms. Beck might have a few words to add.

9:45 a.m.

Stefanie Beck Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

If I may, I'd like to confirm that it's very complicated from the procurement standpoint. But I will not go into the details.

We're also considering the impact of the fact that the people can't obtain a test at a relatively moderate cost. What this means is that the people don't send their test results when they submit their application for immigration to Canada. In other words, they are normally not counted as francophones, but rather, as anglophones, or as people with another mother tongue. What we're considering is the impact this has on the ground thereafter.

This doesn't mean that they will not immigrate to Canada, or settle in Manitoba or Quebec. Not at all. However, for us, the consequence is that we aren't able to make an adequate determination of who is francophone and who isn't. That's another thing we want to rectify. The purpose of the test is to be able to give those people more points because they're francophone, and could also become bilingual later on.

It's a good idea to provide a subsidy, and we've thought about it, but how can we do it when prices vary so much internationally by region?

Should we set the amount at $100 in Cameroon and $200 in Canada?

I think you can see it isn't easy.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

You're referring to people who already live in Canada, are you not?

9:45 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Stefanie Beck

Yes, but the test is really intended for people outside Canada. The objective is for them to immigrate to Canada. The people who wrote to you live here now, but are submitting their application under the Express Entry program and as part of the economic class.

In reality, the test needs to be accessible to the whole planet. Consequently, we need to be transparent with regard to the procurement for the contract, and its management thereafter.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Denis Paradis

Thank you, Ms. Beck.

I give the floor to Mr. Arseneault.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Ms. Beck, forgive my naïveté, but I'd like to continue considering the remarks made by my friend Mr. Choquette.

9:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Stefanie Beck

The CBC might have waited one more day before making the news public.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Forgive my naïveté, but when I sit on the couch and listen to the news, the solutions seem really simple.

9:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

To continue along the lines of what Mr. Choquette was saying, wouldn't it be more sensible for the department to take control of the famous language test, to ensure its uniformity, continuity and ease of administration? That would strike me as easy to do. From my perspective as an observer, it seems so straightforward.

Does the department have the power to determine what the language test is, in French or in English? The same test would be taken out of the drawer each time.

9:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Stefanie Beck

I need to answer "yes and no" in this instance.

Yes, we determine what needs to be included in a test, but no, we simply don't have the capacity to deliver a test like this one throughout the world. We don't have employees in all the different cities. We don't have the capacity to administer it, correct the test and receive the results. It would be impossible for us. We absolutely must sign a contract with an external resource in order to do that.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Is the test taken outside Canada, before arriving?

9:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

September 27th, 2016 / 9:50 a.m.

Director General, Integration and Foreign Credentials Referral Office, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

But through the—

9:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Stefanie Beck

It has to be available everywhere people apply to immigrate. Some people are in Canada when they immigrate.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

When someone applies to come to Canada, he or she wants to get points for being francophone.

9:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

For example, the person would go to the Canadian embassy in Gabon. Is that how it starts?

9:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Stefanie Beck

Yes, the person can go to the embassy, ask questions, and request the documents to be filled out later. Or the person can do it online.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Can the person take a written test which the embassy then sends to the office in Canada?