While Quebec’s move to impose a values test on immigrants has prompted some criticism, experts say it likely won’t cause the same uproar as the province’s ban on religious symbols.
The values test for new immigrants to Quebec will be enforced starting Jan. 1, 2020. The government has said immigrants will be expected to obtain “an attestation of learning about democratic values and the Quebec values expressed by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”
The test is one component of the Coalition Avenir Québec’s controversial 2018 election platform on immigration. A ban on religious symbols for some workers was another promise the party made.
Stephanie Plante, executive director of the International Commission of Jurists Canada, explained to Global News that both stem from a similar idea that Quebec should have more control over who lives in the province.
While Plante said she has concerns about the test, she noted the test doesn’t have the same life-changing ramifications as the religious symbols ban.
“It’s kind of a bureaucratic step that isn’t really going to lead to anything other than a fulfilment of a campaign promise,” she said.
Legal challenges not likely
Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, explained the two are also legally quite different.
He explained that the ban on religious symbols, which is already being legally challenged, will likely end up in the hands of the Supreme Court of Canada. The values test, as it stands, doesn’t have the same potential.
Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette shared sample questions of what may appear on the values test during a press conference Wednesday. Many of the examples provided were true-or-false questions.
“In Quebec, women and men have the same rights, and this equality is written into law. True or False?” read one example.
Another one read: “Since the government passed Bill 21, every new police officer cannot wear a religious symbol while at work. True or false?”
Mendes explained the wording of the sample questions is key to why a legal challenge will be difficult.
“I don’t think it’s going to be challengeable because they’ll be just basically true or false questions,” he said. “If it in any way, shape or form requires people to say they approve of restrictions behind Bill 21, that could be something which could be litigated.”
In other words, Mendes said as long as the test focuses on “knowledge questions” rather than opinions or beliefs, it will be difficult to challenge.
How the test will work
Those seeking permanent residency will be able to take the test online, either in their home country or in Quebec. They will need to score at least 75 per cent on a 20-question, multiple-choice exam, to be completed in 90 minutes. If a prospective immigrant fails, they will be able to take it again. If they fail a second time, they will have the option to sit through a 24-hour class on Quebec values.
Because immigration falls under federal jurisdiction, the provincial test cannot apply to immigration itself. Rather, it will apply to some immigrants who want to be considered for permanent residency in Quebec.
Passing the test will be a requirement to obtain a Quebec Selection Certificate, which does fall under provincial jurisdiction and is needed for permanent residency in the province.
Concerns about the values test
While enforcing a test isn’t discriminatory itself, Amira Elghawaby of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network told Global News it raises concerns.
“Observers have said that this doesn’t really do anything, it doesn’t offer anything different than the citizenship test,” she said. “Some of the questions do feed into stereotypes about immigrants being backwards or not believing in equality between men and women.”
She added the concerns are especially heightened in light of Bill 21.
Plante added that the values test may “discourage” educated and qualified individuals who want to come to Quebec.
“When you’re trying to integrate somewhere, there are already enough hurdles. This is just another thing and something that could discourage people,” she said.
“The idea that you have to go somewhere and you are going to be questioned on your values — whether or not it’s true or false, multiple-choice or whatever — it’s kind of an alarm bell.”