'Common-values' pledge gives immigrants a false impression

Quebecers fail to live up to the values we demand of newcomers

Déclaration sur les valeurs communes <br>Contrat d'adhésion

Under a policy announced this week by Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James, new immigrants in the economic and family reunification categories will be required to sign a declaration affirming their commitment to respect the "common values of Quebec society" before they are allowed to settle in this province.
This measure is supposed to be part of the Quebec government's efforts to help new immigrants integrate into Quebec society. They will be expected to recognize and uphold certain common values.
In addition to pronouncing French as the province's official language, and the primary language of public institutions, commerce and social life, the declaration characterizes Quebec as a free, democratic and socially pluralistic society that maintains a separation of church and state and respects the rule of law, including laws that uphold gender equality and equal freedoms for all individuals.

The government's purpose for this new declaration on common values might be to facilitate integration by providing immigrants with some guidance as to what will be expected of them as citizens in their new society. In fact, however, the declaration might lead to severe disappointment, bitterness, and alienation on the part of immigrants, if the Quebec society that a new immigrant encounters fails itself to live up to these declared "common values."
My family emigrated to Canada from China in the mid-1970s, and my mother, for example, experienced racism and sexism when she worked in the engineering profession in Vancouver in the 1980s. Canadians today think of multicultural recognition and gender equality as common values of Canadian society, but any honest and intelligent assessment of Canadian society would have to recognize a gap between these ideals and their actual and continued realization in the day-to-day interactions between citizens.
Statistical studies continue to highlight employment and wage gaps between new immigrants and settled Canadians and, indeed, between Canadians of different ethnic origins. And the recent riot in Montreal North reveals that the ideal of a tolerant, equitable and multicultural democratic society is far from the experience of many Quebecers and Canadians.
What is strikingly wrong with the declaration on common values proposed by the Quebec immigration minister, then, is its arrogant presumption that Quebec society already realizes these values and practises them.
While some people are worried that new immigrants pushed or pulled by economic and other incentives will sign the declaration in bad faith, in fact, the declaration itself is an act of bad faith. It is a self-congratulating document that does a disservice to new immigrants by presenting them with a falsely rosy picture of the society they will likely encounter.
Others might argue that such a declaration is not really meant for new immigrants and their integration; rather it is a pre-election strategy designed to appease those insecure elements of Quebec society who are worried that new immigrants will change Quebec in undesirable ways. Such an appeasement would also be strikingly wrong, because it would cater to the illusory views of this segment of the Quebec population that it is culturally "pure," and that immigrants are a danger to the social cohesion of Quebec society.
One should expect from a Liberal government better policy responses to the Bouchard-Taylor commission, guided by more honest and intelligent assessments of Quebec society.
Catherine Lu teaches political theory in the department of political science at McGill University.


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Catherine Lu teaches political theory in the department of political science at McGill University.

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