Quebec Demands Immigrants Sign-Off on ‘Shared Values’

Graeme Hamilton, National Post, Oct. 29, 2008

Future immigrants to Quebec will be required to sign a declaration promising to learn French and respect Quebec’s “shared values,” the government announced on Wednesday.

In a document with echoes of the controversial code adopted last year by the rural town of Hérouxville, immigrants will be informed that Quebec is a democracy where men and women are equal and violence is prohibited.

“Quebecers have said yes to immigration, but they said yes to immigration on the condition that these immigrants integrate into our society,” Immigration Minister Yolande James said as she announced the policy, which takes effect in January. She added that immigrating to Quebec “is a privilege not a right.”

With Liberal Premier Jean Charest expected to call an election next week, critics denounced the initiative as an attempt to undermine the opposition Action Démocratique du Québec and Parti Québécois, which have both made defence of “the Quebec identity” a battle cry.

“There is a political calculation here that the Liberals want to make sure they have arguments to get PQ and ADQ support,” said Daniel Weinstock, a professor of philosophy at Université de Montréal. It is aimed at voters in the Quebec hinterland who approved of Hérouxville’s initiative, which among other things informed newcomers to the town northeast of Montreal that it is prohibited in Canada to stone women or throw acid on them.

While the content of the Quebec government declaration is banal enough to be rendered meaningless, Mr. Weinstock said, it sends a negative message to newcomers.

“It’s as if the Jews, the Muslims, the whatever who come here are all indisposed to the equality of men and women, and we have to tell them what’s what,” he said. “It’s cheap symbolism, and I can’t express how depressed it makes me.”

The shared values spelled out in the declaration are: Quebec is a free and democratic society; church and state are separate; Quebec is a pluralist society based on the rule of law; men and women have equal rights; and rights and freedoms are exercised while respecting those of others and the general well-being.

It also stresses that French is the official language of Quebec, as laid out in Bill 101. Signatories will declare their intention to learn French if they do not already speak it.

The Immigration Department plans to bombard potential and new immigrants with messages stressing Quebec values. There will be a section on values added to the immigration forms filled out overseas and an explanatory pamphlet will be distributed. Immigrants will also receive a DVD on shared values and be directed toward a new Web site whose name translates as “shared values of Quebec.” Information sessions on shared values will be offered to immigrants after they arrive.

“Once our new Quebecer has got off the plane at the airport, she will follow a course on how to live in Quebec, how things work here, what the socio-economic realities are,” Ms. James explained.

Victor Armony, professor of sociology at Université du Québec à Montréal, said he is disgusted by the government’s approach. Many immigrants to Quebec are successful businesspeople or professionals in their native countries. “They don’t need Quebec society to patronize them,” he said.

He immigrated from Argentina in 1989. “When I came here, I valued democracy perhaps more than many Canadians, because I grew up in a dictatorship,” he said.

Mr. Charest first raised the notion of forcing immigrants to sign a declaration last May when the Bouchard-Taylor commission released its report on reasonable accommodation. The issue of integrating cultural and religious minorities had been an emotional topic in Quebec since late 2006, and it gave the ADQ a boost in the March 2007 election. After a year of research and public hearings, the commissioners did not recommend such a declaration for immigrants.

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