The Quebec Education Act guarantees for every child the right to elementary and secondary school. On paper, it would seem that universal access to education for children is not an issue ñ but the reality on the ground in Quebec is quite different.
Undocumented, or non-status children – those without immigration papers or legal status, or those with non-status parents ñ face significant hurdles in attending school. The decision to admit non-status children into schools is left up to individual school boards in Quebec, but school boards are rarely sympathetic. This is complicated by Quebec law, which requires that all children have a permanent code (PC) to register for school.
To obtain a PC, children must have birth certificates or other official documentation. Non-status immigrants don’t have these documents, and if they try to obtain them, they face the possibility of deportation. Even if an exception is made, and non-status children without a PC are allowed to attend public primary or secondary school, families can be made to pay upwards of $5,000 per year per child – and without a PC, even children who graduate can be denied their diploma.
This is not a situation found in many regions of North America. In Ontario, children only have to provide proof of a local address; it is illegal to refuse education based on status. In the United States, schools are not permitted to refuse education based on childrenís status. Montreal and Quebec donít have any excuse for barring non-status children from their right to education.
The Education Across Borders Collective, a part of the migrant justice group Solidarity Across Borders, is one of the most visible organizations fighting these prohibitive rules. A small number of migrant justice activists and parents of non-status children attend the monthly meetings of the Commission scolaire de Montréal and fight for the education of non-status children. The organization has been critical of the PQ government’s most recent adjustments to the rules for non-status children, as they largely amount to minor administrative changes that will make very little real difference in the lives of migrant families.
According to Solidarity Across Borders, there are 40,000 non-status families – and thus thousands of non-status children – in Quebec. The arbitrary requirement of status to access free education, which is a fundamental right, is systemically racist and anti-immigrant. For all the furor around tuition hikes and budget cuts in recent years, and all the arguments for education as a universal right, non-status children have been all but erased from the public consciousness.
If Quebec considers itself a place where human rights are respected, there is only one solution: allow all children to go to school.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board
To stay updated on meeting times and actions, see the Solidarity Across Borders Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CiteSansFrontieres, or their website, www.solidarityacrossborders.org.