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Racism persists in Quebec, immigration committee told

Wednesday, 01 April 2015

The long process of revamping the province’s immigration policies got off to a sobering start Wednesday when provincial human rights officials said racism and discrimination persist in Quebec’s workplaces.

In a no-holds barred presentation, Jacques Frémont, president of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, used words like “systemic and widespread” to describe the kind of discrimination immigrants — even of a second generation — face in trying to find work.

And he criticized the government for displaying what he described as a “certain ambiguity” toward the problem by saying in a discussion document prepared for the reform that racism exists in all societies and is no worse in Quebec.

“These concerns are qualified as legitimate in the document,” Frémont told a committee of the legislature undertaking the review of the province’s policies.

“The commission fears that qualifying this malaise under the angle of common values risks reinforcing rather then combating it.”

The only way to rebuild confidence between Quebec society and the immigrant population is to systematically introduce equal opportunity programs, he added.

The rights commission — the same organization that rocked the boat of the previous Parti Québécois over its charter of values — was among the first to appear in what is shaping up to be a year-long review of the immigration process.

On her way into hearings, the minister responsible for the reform, Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Kathleen Weil, said she’s ready to listen to what’s right and wrong with the system.

“Quebec has changed, our immigration has changed, and the international context has changed,” Weil said. “What’s important for me is to listen.”

Weil insisted that the immigration review process should not be confused with another working group struck by the government to fight religious radicalism.

But she conceded the values issue — indeed, the whole issue of treatment of minorities — may be raised by any number of the 50 groups from which the committee plans to hear.

Frémont came packing data, too, noting the unemployment rate for immigrants is twice as high as for the rest of population, and three times as high for immigrants who are visible minorities.

Tests have shown a Quebecer with a Franco-Quebec-sounding name like Simard or Trémblay has a 60 per cent better chance of getting a job interview than someone named Ahmed or Carlos.

But the scene is set for an arduous review of the immigration process, which Quebec assumed almost 25 years ago when it took over the jurisdiction — with $320 million a year in financial compensation to run it — from Ottawa.

The province has the right to select 70 per cent of its immigrants in the category of workers and private foreign investors.

Ottawa retains the power to select refugees and cases of family unification.

Each year between 50,000 and 55,000 immigrants (52,959 in 2013) settle in Quebec.

The province draws most from Africa; specifically, the Maghreb or western North Africa. From 2009 to 2013, one immigrant in five (21 per cent) came from Algeria or Morocco. That’s because Quebec’s policies were originally tailored to compensate for the province’s low birthrate and preserve a francophone presence in North America.

Still, even with the policy, 43 per cent of all immigrants arrive in Quebec unable to speak a word of French, and 80 per cent of all immigrants to Quebec settle in the Montreal region.

Also, Quebec’s needs are becoming more complex.

Immigration officials explained one of the goals of the hearings is to find ways to modernize the system to match the province’s chronic need for labour — from seasonal agricultural workers to top brains to work at Bombardier.

The new reality is well-educated skilled workers are increasingly mobile and selective about where they will settle.

Quebec’s bureaucratic, plodding system is not helping it stay competitive. Other models being studied in Australia, New Zealand and in the rest of Canada are much more efficient, dealing with clients in real time.

Quebec has been warned by its own bureaucracy that the system is outdated and inflexible.

The rules now stipulate every immigration application must be processed, in chronological order, regardless of whether it meets the selection criteria.

From 2009 to 2011, there were almost 100,000 immigration applications, way more than Quebec can possibly accept or process. Wait times are now as long as three years.

And even though Quebec needs workers, in 2013, the level of unemployment of new arrivals was 11.6 per cent, four percentage points higher than that of the rest of the population.

Source: Montreal Gazette

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