During Thursday night’s French-language debate, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau affirmed Quebec’s right to impose a “test” for new immigrants moving to the province.
These remarks were made in response to a question about Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to push ahead with a French proficiency and “Quebec values” test for any newcomer who wants to stay in the province permanently.
“Quebec has a lot of power over immigration, more than any other province, and that’s a good thing because of the Quebec identity and because of the need to protect the French language,” Trudeau said.
However, there was initially some confusion over exactly what Trudeau said and what he supports in terms of this test.
The live English translation of Thursday’s debate made it seem like Trudeau said it was appropriate for Legault to implement a “values test” for newcomers. But Trudeau did not use these words. In fact, he did not use the word “values” at all.
In January, Quebec’s immigration minister Simon Jolin-Barrette reiterated his government’s commitment to implementing the test, saying newcomers would be expected to pass within three years of their arrival .
Legault has also said that “anyone acting in good faith” who moves to Quebec will likely pass the test without difficulty — meaning if they move to the province and work diligently to integrate into Quebec society, the test will not be challenging.
However, if someone fails the test, they may no longer be welcome in Quebec, Legault has said.
“But if it ever happens that someone is not acting in good faith, we will advise the federal government, as we do in the case of workers whose work permit has expired,” Legault said.
“It will be up to the federal government to decide what they will do with this person who is in Quebec illegally.”
During post-debate questioning, Trudeau doubled down on Quebec’s right to impose a test for newcomers, saying that under Canadian immigration law, it’s Quebec’s right to set up a process to ensure newcomers meet the province’s criteria.
“Quebec has the power to impose or to ask a particular test for a selection certificate,” Trudeau said. “The questions on that test are to be determined by Quebec.”
Under both the Canada–Quebec accord on immigration and provincial legislation, Quebec wields significant powers over selecting newcomers to the province. These powers include the ability to test for French-language proficiency and a framework for implementing a “Quebec values” test.
Following the debate, Trudeau was pressed on whether the test could become a problem, especially since the questions that will appear on the test are still unknown.
Trudeau acknowledged that he did not know what, exactly, would be on the test and said he could not comment on questions he has not seen.
Trudeau’s remarks also come amid debate and disagreement over how the federal government should approach Quebec’s Bill 21, the controversial religious symbols ban that bars certain public sector employees from wearing religious symbols, including religious head coverings, at work.
Trudeau has said he will wait for the outcome of two court challenges before deciding if he would intervene on Bill 21.
“I have confidence that Quebec will ask questions that are relevant to the government,” Trudeau said, referring to any test the province could impose on immigrants.
It’s unclear what would happen to those who fail the test — and whether they could be deported or removed from Canada. On background, a Liberal Party official said this was “hypothetical” given that no test has yet been implemented.
But Trudeau said any test imposed by Quebec relates only to their status in Quebec.
“It has nothing to do with Canadian citizenship,” he said. “It’s a Quebec process.”
Liberals previously dismissed need for ‘Canadian values’ test
Legault is not the first Canadian politician to propose a values test for new immigrants.
In 2017, while running for leadership of the Conservative Party, Kellie Lietch called for all new immigrants to Canada to be required to take a “Canadian values” test. She also said newcomers should be required to undergo a face-to-face interview with an immigration officer.
Lietch’s proposed test, which sparked outrage from the public and her then-rivals for the Conservative leadership, would have included questions such as:
- Are men and women equal, and entitled to equal protection under the law?
- Is it ever ok to coerce or use violence against an individual or a group who disagrees with your views?
- Do you recognize that to have a good life in Canada you will need to work hard for yourself and your family, and that you can’t expect to have things you want given to you?
But Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s first Muslim immigration minister, dismissed the idea of a values test, saying the government did not believe there was need for newcomers to be questioned on Canadian values.
“We have laws, we have the rule of law in Canada, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have multiculturalism that respects differences and believes that those differences make us stronger, not weaker,” Hussen told Radio-Canada International in March 2017.
“Our diversity is great source of strength and gives us a competitive advantage around the world because we are able to have individuals in Canada who immigrate to our country, who have different faiths, from different backgrounds, different languages, and yet we integrated them successfully,” he said.
Hussen’s comments were in line with Trudeau’s statements on immigration.
The remark “diversity is our strength” was widely used by the Liberals and Trudeau in the face of rising anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment in Canada.
The NDP, Greens and Conservative Party have all said they do not support Legault’s proposed values test for new immigrants.
Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet is in favour of the values test.