July 20, 2024
Why Quebec's immigration and secularism bills get it right
I think many Canadians, not just Québécois, feel that policies like Bill 21 will be a positive force for social integration of immigrants.
I think many Canadians, not just Québécois, feel that policies like Bill 21 will be a positive force for social integration of immigrants.

Quebec’s Bill 21 is finally law. Premier François Legault’s government invoked premature closure to end fierce debate over the weekend, and it passed 73-35, the Parti Québécois in support, the Liberals and Québec Solidaire opposed. The law enjoys overwhelming support amongst ethnic québécois, but almost none amongst minority groups, who read xenophobia and even racism into its proscription of religious symbolism in the public-service sector. The bill, as passed, includes the Notwithstanding Clause, which is expected to discourage Charter challenges to the law.

I’m on record in support of Bill 21. The government’s philosophical position is that secularism, as an existential component of Québécois identity, may reasonably trump the multiculturalist paradigm in areas of civic interaction under the state’s aegis, such as public education, law enforcement and the bureaucracy. Multiculturalism is one vision of society that happens to prevail in most Western societies. But it is not the only vision that is entirely consistent with democratic principles, especially in societies desirous of preserving and strengthening the cultural identity that made their nation (or as in Quebec quasi-nation) the attractive destination it is for immigrants.

I think many Canadians, not just québécois, feel that policies like Bill 21 will be a positive force for social integration of immigrants, just as Bill 101, the 1977 Charter of the French Language, equally contested, ensured that immigrants to Quebec became successfully integrated linguistically. Progressives should resist the facile reflex to label it “Islamophobic,” even though extreme distaste for face cover in Quebec — and the forthrightness to say so, unlike in the rest of Canada, where it is viewed with almost as much distaste — was the spark 11 years ago that got this whole ball rolling.

Bill 9 was also passed in the wee hours of Sunday morning. This law reforms Quebec’s immigration system over which, uniquely amongst the provinces, the province has near-autonomous control. New selection criteria will more efficiently match immigrants with employment needs, as opposed to the first-come system of the past.

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