Newcomers need to be taught values: fed study

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OTTAWA – Newcomers to Canada need to know about this country’s shared values, and it’s up to Canadians to teach them, participants in government-run focus groups on immigration told researchers last summer.

The report into the results of five focus groups held across the country found that many participants were thoughtful about Canada’s capacity to support and educate newcomers on “our laws, values and general way of doing things” to allow them to fit in.

“Participants were not placing the burden on the newcomer but rather on the local community,” said the Leger report, submitted to the Immigration Department last fall but made public this week.

“Many comments were related to the host population having an individual responsibility or civic duty to be part that socialization process.”

The focus groups were commissioned by the federal Immigration Department last year to help guide the plan for the number of immigrants Canada would accept in 2017.

Even when discussing the challenges of immigration, attitudes about it were positive overall.

“Participants also strongly believed that Canadians have a distinct approach to diversity and a unique sense of openness to difference,” the report said.

“Several times, participants compared Canada to the United States to express how Canada was ‘better’ when it comes to being welcoming and respecting differences.”

The meetings in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg and London, Ont., were held in July and August. At the time, the U.S. approach to immigration was under scrutiny as part of that country’s presidential elections, but in Canada the talk had not yet turned to the relationship between newcomers and Canadian values.

That took off in September, when Conservative party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch asked whether newcomers should be screened for anti-Canadian values, a move that drew accusations she was playing to the same nativist fears that helped President Donald Trump draw so much support in the U.S.

The idea of a values test remains a dominant part of Leitch’s campaign; she released a new video seeking to expand on the proposal over the weekend, which was criticized roundly on social media afterward for both its message and the video’s quirky production. She repeated the same message in a French-language video Tuesday ahead of a planned Conservative leadership debate.

Screening immigrants did come up during the focus group sessions.

“Although some participants cited vetting as an important aspect of the immigration process, this was within the context of ensuring the immigrant was a ‘right fit’ for Canada in terms of potential economic immigration and successful settlement outcomes,” the report said.

“Very few participants in either group cited security as an immigration issue or concern.”

Researchers also asked the 99 participants for one piece of advice for the federal government on immigration. Among the list was “tighter control of immigrants’ values.”

Leitch has said she’s heard from many people who want to ensure newcomers to Canada agree with Canadian values.

She defines those as believing men and women are equal, supporting the ideas of hard work and generosity, leaving people to worship as they see fit and accepting there’s one law that applies to all Canadians equally.

Focus group participants hit on similar themes when discussing whether newcomers were given tools, information and background on what they described as the “shared values of Canadians,” the report said.

“Participants did not suggest or discuss elements tied to Canadian identity, patriotism or the need (for) newcomers to conform to a ‘Canadian way of doing things,’ the report said.

“The ‘values’ we heard were related to gender equality, fairness, compassion, empathy, to be a good law abiding citizen, to be open to difference, or to remain tolerant. etc.”

The Leger marketing report on the focus groups was published online this week.