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Quebec demands immigrants accept shared values

By Archives November 4, 2008

New immigrants to Quebec will have to sign a pledge committing them to learn French and live by Quebec’s “shared values” before they will be allowed to settle in the province. Immigration minister Yolande James announced the measure last Wednesday, as part of a five-year plan to help new immigrants integrate into Quebec society.
According to the pledge, Quebec’s “shared values” include equality between men and women, the separation of church and state, as well as recognition that Quebec is a “pluralistic society.”
“These values are mainly the ones that are in the charter, and are in our laws,” said Claude Fradette, spokesperson for the Quebec ministry of immigration. He said the pledge will be part of an “info session that will be given abroad to all candidates, so they will be more aware of how society works in Quebec.”
“It’s more to say they have been well informed and they want to live by these principles.”
“It seems to be more like a pledge of allegiance,” said Fo Niemi, director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations. “It’s still a moral declaration, there’s nothing wrong about that, because as long as it doesn’t have any enforcement to it, people can sign it and it doesn’t mean people have to live by it.”
Fradette said that while there may not be consequences for not following the pledge, because most of the values are in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or in law, people who break the pledge could face criminal charges for those infractions.
But Niemi said focusing on the pledge misses the point.
“There are more important things in the plan of action, with regard to employment integration and integration of public service and providing access to civil rights recourses,” he said. “Those are the things that are more important, that unfortunately do not get talked about.”
Niemi said the real issues that are of concern to immigrants and minorities are “access to fair employment opportunities; how do I get concrete access to, for example, foreign credential recognition, the more bread-and-butter issues.”
However, he added that he has some concerns about the government’s plan.
“One of the things that is of most concern to us . . . is that this plan of action does not carry a price tag, so we don’t know what kind of money we’re talking about,” he said.
Niemi said he also has concerns about the lack of any sort of review for the plan.
“The concern that many of us have is that it’s only good on the paper it’s written on, because we don’t know how effectively some of these measures are being implemented or whether they are implemented at all.”
Michel Despland, a religion professor at Concordia who has studied reasonable accommodation, said the pledge may serve a purpose of educating new immigrants about the constitutional differences between the United States and Canada and about Quebec’s language laws.
He said that as immigrants increasingly work in the service industry and play a more visible role in society, integration is increasingly important.
“It’s a two way street, it’s easier to maintain walls of mutual ignorance,” he said. “Because then each side does not hear what bad views the other side has; the grievances of the immigrants, or the indignation of the guys who pay their taxes for social welfare.
“Mutual ignorance and letting the laws of economics prevail keeps everybody in a bubble, but everybody in a bubble is not making a society. If the only language two people know is the language of the dollar, then it’s not much of a society,” he said.