Quebec immigrants face uncertain future

Controversial bill criticized for human rights violations

Despite the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) harsh rhetoric over the Canadian immigration policy, it remains to be seen how far the newly elected government is willing to push the boundaries of its parliamentary minority in proposing long sought-after immigration and language policy reforms.

In particular, the PQ has heavily criticized the Harper government for its proposed Bill C-31, “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act.”

Introduced by Conservative Minister of Citizenship Jason Kenney, Bill C-31 is an attempt to clean up abuse and fraudulence in the refugee system, and has been condemned by some as a violation of basic human rights.

Since passing its third reading in June, the act has been slammed by PQ critics for putting unprecedented power over citizenship in the hands of a few cabinet ministers, while leaving those legitimately seeking asylum vulnerable to an array of emotional and psychological dangers.

PQ Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Bernard Drainville identified the bill as an ideological departure from Quebecois values, adding it to the list of policies that would divide an autonomous Quebec from the rest of Canada.

“Again, this situation demonstrates how Quebec needs to control immigration on its territory and not be subject to the decisions made by another country that does not share our values,” he told the National Assembly in French in May.

Stephan Reichhold, Director of the Table de Concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et Immigrantes (TCRI), told The Daily, “From my past experience in the business of refugees, between the Liberals and the PQ, very little changes. They are similar in terms of policy, funding, and budget.”

“Although the discourse may change a little, the PQ has been more outspoken about Bill C-31 in the past. But now they are in a position that makes it easier for them to criticize the current system,” he continued. “Fortunately, the PQ has always been open minded to humanitarian and refugee policies.”

Under Bill C-31, refugee claimants can be automatically detained for up to one year without judicial review if the Minister of Public Safety deems their arrival “irregular.” The process would include less consideration of individual cases, instead allowing an expedited judicial review for refugees applying from countries that are deemed generally “safe” by the minister.

According to an Australian parliamentary inquiry, incarceration in a foreign country, coupled with previous traumatic stress and isolation from social groups, has been proven to increase chances of depression, self-harm, and a plethora of stress-induced physical ailments and disease.

The bill also allows parents to be separated from their children and kept from reuniting with other family members in Canada for up to five years.

Quebec’s immigration policy is currently unique in Canada in that it allows immigrants who are at risk of federal deportation to remain in the province on humanitarian grounds.

However, the PQ has recently faced heavy criticism surrounding proposed laws that would strip newcomers deemed “not proficient in French” of a number of political rights, including the ability to hold public office or raise funds for political parties.

“It is not only for newly arrived Quebecers; it’s for everyone,” Marois told journalists in French in August. “Every citizen of Quebec that wants to be elected as a mayor, as a councillor, as a MNA must have a knowledge of French.”

Still, refugee defense groups like the TCRI are hopeful that the PQ will make good on past promises and make settling immigrants into the labour market a higher provincial priority. Whether the PQ will try to reconcile its liberal stance on refugee reform with more severe attempts at preserving traditional Francophone heritage, however, remains to be seen.

The Parti Québécois declined to comment for this article.