Since the most recent provincial election in fall 2018, Premier François Legault’s right-wing party – the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) – has continued to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. The party’s campaign promise of public secularism resulted in the passing of Law 21, a thinly veiled attempt at erasing visible minorities and subverting religious freedoms protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Additionally, Premier Legault underwent scrutiny in January for denying the existence of Islamophobia in Quebec when he opposed the motion for an anti-Islamophobia day in the wake of the 2017 mosque shooting.
The party’s xenophobia is evident in its immigration policy reforms, including Law 9, which was passed in July 2019, revising the current immigration programs. The stated purpose of Law 9 is to meet the demands of the Quebec labour market, a rhetoric which, in effect, scapegoats immigrants for economic downturn. Currently, there are two ways for university graduates and “skilled workers” to apply for a Certificat de Sélection du Québec (CSQ), which is necessary to obtain permanent residency at the federal level: the Quebec Skilled Worker Program (QSWP) and the Programme de l’expérience Québécoise (PEQ). Law 9 impacts both the PEQ and the QSWP, making the permanent residency process more difficult. The PEQ is the fast-track version of the QSWP; it is available for students who graduated from a Quebec institution or skilled workers who have lived in the province on a temporary work permit.
One of Law 9’s main changes to the QSWP replaces the previous immigration application platform with the Arrima system, which matches applicants with a possible employer in Quebec. Applicants can only receive the CSQ if there is an employer who will hire them. The Law’s exclusive focus on applicants’ potential employment commodifies them, reducing them solely to the possible economic benefit of their presence in Quebec. This stance is made explicit by the CAQ’s dismissal of 18,000 pre-existing applications to the QSWP, which were filed but not processed prior to the Law’s approval in July. Applicants will have to resubmit their files, which will be assessed through the new economic framework that values labour needs over all else.
On November 1, the CAQ government announced a tightening of the PEQ, in which only 155 programs remained eligible, very few of which are in artistic fields or the humanities. After appeals from international students, the CAQ government added a grandfather clause on November 5 – currently-enrolled students will still be eligible under the previous requirements. However, new international students will still have to adapt to the list of programs eligible for the PEQ, which is set to change every year based on the labour needs of the province. Through these measures, it has become increasingly obvious that students who are considered less economically beneficial are not welcomed by the Quebec government.
The CAQ government has also decided to implement a “values test,” which new immigration applicants would have to pass in order to get their CSQ. Many of the possible incorrect responses to questions included in this test incorporate stereotypes associated with Muslim people. This misrepresentation implicitly positions “acceptable Quebec values” as superior and opposed to “other” values. The fact that these “other” values are associated with certain cultural and ethnic groups is alarming, and the supposed merit of these questions is based on xenophobic assumptions. This “values test” also presents Quebec as a homogeneous population with no differing opinions on social issues, and holds potential immigrants to a different standard than current residents, who have never been expected to unilaterally agree. It is yet another example of the CAQ’s efforts to establish Quebec as a “distinct society” – i.e., one that excludes those who fall outside the white majority.
Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi sent out an email to the McGill student body on November 8, stating that the University will be discussing the issue with the Quebec government. Thirty per cent of the McGill student population is comprised of international students, and many of them have a personal stake in the new immigration reforms. We must hold McGill accountable in these discussions with the government – McGill should work to ensure that the rights of international students are protected. We must call on our student associations, including SSMU and PGSS, to promote the voices of international students, especially those for whom the immigration process is costly and inaccessible, and to safeguard their rights.