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Welcome to Canada, But Only if You're Fluent

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From its infancy, Canada has been a cultural convention of French, British, and Aboriginal people and languages. Even the words "Canada" and our capital "Ottawa" originate in aboriginal languages. Somehow, we've managed to integrate these Algonquin and Iroquoian words into English and French.

Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney announced this week that Canada would no longer welcome newcomers who were not proficient in our official languages. This policy flies in the face of common sense and the 500 years of experience Canada was built upon.

For generations, Irish, Italians, Jews, Hungarians, Chinese, Ukrainians, etc. have set foot on this land armed with the work ethic and the thirst for success, if not English-speaking skills. They, along with their children, learned the language upon arrival and now form a critical mass of proud and fluent citizens.

Too many examples to count, but here are two: Bruno Mastroprimiano arrived in 1967, when he emigrated to Canada at age 21 with a little money and a lot of determination, and zero English speaking skills. Within six years, he and wife Rhonda were running their own Edmonton business in contracting.

Tony Markovic arrived in Ottawa with his wife after fleeing war-ridden Bosnia, via Croatia in 1997. He enrolled at Algonquin College and studied English 10 hours a day for approximately three years. He has since become a full-fledged, hard-working registered massage therapist, and "a very proud Canadian citizen."

This millennium, the number of immigrants who come to Canada speaking neither English nor French has dropped dramatically: 28 per cent of the 250,000 permanent residents accepted in 2007 spoke neither English nor French -- down from 46 per cent in 2002. Like the previous wave of immigrants before them, today's newcomers learn English with increasing speed and vigour.

The 2006 Census showed that 98 per cent of the population can speak one or both official languages. Is this new policy is a knee-jerk reaction to the two per cent -- like killing a fly with a hammer?

As frustration grows when confronted with not-so-new Canadians who failed to respect their adoptive country by refusing to learn the language, it behooves our governments to set clear guidelines and timelines for immigrants to learn French or English.

Denying entry to next generation of Bruno Mastroprimianos, Alex Munters, Tony Markovics, and countless more is not the answer. There are more elegant ways to handle this file without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.