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Should language bar entrance?

Do you think people should be fluent in English or French before applying for immigration to Canada? That's the question Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is asking Canadians.

Do you think people should be fluent in English or French before applying for immigration to Canada?

That's the question Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is asking Canadians.

CIC has floated the idea of amending the language component of the Citizenship Act in a publication called the Canada Gazette, with an eye to giving people a chance to comment.

Unfortunately, not many read the Gazette, but they should. At least they should know what's going on with CIC and tell the agency what they think of their new policies.

That's a critical part of our democratic process. You can find it at www., by the way.

The Act already requires that adult applicants (those between 18 and 54) for Canadian citizenship demonstrate they have an "adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada."

Right now that is being measured by a multiple choice exam that also tests their knowledge about Canada and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

But the government feels that the exam doesn't adequately measure the communication skills (speaking and listening) that it considers to be "the essential language skills for effective communication with fellow Canadians and for effective integration."

Meanwhile, far from Ottawa, the B.C. government, through Welcome BC, is committed to creating welcoming and inclusive communities and reaching out to newcomers to help them feel at home.

No small part of that effort is facilitating involvement in the civic life of our communities by offering opportunities to engage the issues of the day in immigrants' native languages.

I've participated in Talking Circles created and hosted by local volunteer civic engagement groups on subjects such as affordable housing in Richmond, some of which were facilitated in Mandarin and Cantonese to enable newcomers to take part in the debate as concerned residents, despite their lack of English skills.

Something else the City of Richmond has done to make newcomers feel welcome is to publish a Newcomer's Guide.

Here's what the city's website has to say about the guide: "This central resource will make things easier for new residents of Richmond.

"The City of Richmond Newcomer's Guide pro-vides clear, accurate and accessible information about the city, municipal government and the services provided by different organizations.

"Whether people move from Vancouver or Vietnam, the guide is valuable to all Richmond newcomers and includes information on how residents can get involved in civic and community life (emphasis added).

"The Guide is printed in English and Chinese to better serve the city's diverse make-up."

And voters in the civic election (and you have to be a Canadian citizen to vote) are entitled to bring a translator to assist them in the voting place, if they have difficulty reading or writing English.

So our city government doesn't seem to think it's necessary for people to provide official language test results in order to be part of the civic and political life of the city.

In my first column, I talked about the two basic approaches to immigration and how they affect our attitudes towards immigrants.

It seems to me that the federal government is clearly of the view that immigrants owe Canada the duty of learning English or French and adapting to their new home as quickly and completely as possible in order to earn the right of citizenship.

The city of Richmond clearly considers it more practical to reach out to immigrants, to invite and facilitate their involvement.

The bigger question is what it means to be a citizen of this country.

Is there a particular mold, including English or French proficiency, into which a newcomer must fit?

Can a citizen participate thoughtfully and actively in the community without doing it in English?

Given the availability of various non-English media (both traditional and online) and the vigorous debate about local issues that occurs there, I'm inclined to think it not only possible, but worth thinking about and debating.