MONTREAL — Immigrants hoping to become Canadian citizens may soon have to provide written proof of their language abilities.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Friday his latest reform is aimed at requiring citizenship applicants to prove they can speak English or French.
"I’ve met a lot of Canadian citizens who have lived here for many years who can’t express themselves in French or English," Kenney said during a speech Friday to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.
"It’s not acceptable because it limits their social mobility and their life in Canada."
Kenney announced a change to citizenship rules which would require prospective Canadian citizens to provide what’s called objective evidence of their language ability with their application.
Expanding on language changes he’s already announced for some immigration applicants, Kenney said people will also have to provide new documents to become Canadian citizens.
They will be asked to submit evidence they completed secondary or post-secondary education in English or French; they could also provide results of approved third-party tests, or proof of success in government-funded language training programs.
Kenney explained he wanted the linguistic proof to "ensure that all of those who join us as full members of our Canadian family in the future are able to fully participate in our society."
Adequate knowledge of English or French has already been a requirement since the first Citizenship Act of 1947 — but these new mechanisms are meant to enforce that requirement.
The government also provides language training free of charge to permanent residents.
Kenney’s announcement was interrupted by two women protesters who bought tickets to the luncheon.
As he began his speech, each of the protesters took turns interrupting him and warning that the federal legislation would destroy people’s lives.
They shouted at the immigration minister and were both quickly escorted out of the hotel room.
Outside the hotel, about 50 demonstrators staged a noisy protest against the changes to the immigration system.
Activist Jaggi Singh, who helped organize the protest, said the linguistic requirement will make it tougher to become a Canadian citizen.
"It lends itself to discrimination and profiling," he said.
Singh says immigrants can still contribute to society — even if they can’t speak English or French.
"We know very well that, in cities like Montreal and Toronto, people from immigrant communities sometimes don’t speak a language, but they learn a language as they work," he added.
Singh says his mother and father, who are in their 60s, didn’t speak English very well when they arrived from India.
"They would not have been able to pass an English competency test in their first couple of years and it took them time to do that," he said. "It takes years and years."