French people

Refugees in Quebec will have to learn French within 6 months

The Quebec government is moving forward with a controversial part of its language bill, which will require all officials to communicate with new immigrants exclusively in French, six months after their arrival, with no exceptions for refugees and asylum seekers. ‘asylum.

The section of Bill 96, tabled in the National Assembly last May, was recently approved by the legislative committee responsible for studying the bill, amid criticism from Liberal opposition and Quebec MPs. solidarity. The bill is expected to become law this spring, but has yet to undergo detailed committee study.

Some organisations, members of the opposition and even the civil servants’ union tried to persuade the government to relax the rule, to no avail.

“For newly arrived immigrants, the basic principle of the law is clear: from day one, it’s exclusively in French,” said Simon Jolin-Barrette, Minister of Justice and Minister responsible for the French language.

There are exemptions in the law, which allow communication in a language other than French, “when health, public safety or the principles of natural justice require it”, such as obtaining health care.

In addition, the bill provides for a six-month grace period for “specific situations requiring the use of a language other than French with new immigrants,” according to Élisabeth Gosselin, spokesperson for Jolin-Barrette.

The bill says that after the expiry of this six-month period, communication must be in French.

“Currently, the government communicates with immigrants who have been requesting it, sometimes for years, or their whole life, in a language other than French, which does not promote integration,” Gosselin said.

Learn French in 6 months

Community organizations working with newly arrived immigrants have called on the government to extend the grace period by six months.

“We all agree that the government cannot respond to immigrants in all languages. But we have to give them time to learn French”, declared Élodie Combes, member of the Round table of organizations serving refugees and immigrants (TCRI), a working group that represents community organizations working with immigrants.

Combes believes the bill could actually hinder the integration of immigrants, by making it more difficult for them to access government services.

“It’s as if we were telling them to withdraw into their linguistic minority, that the government isn’t there for them, because they aren’t francophone enough,” she says.

Ruba Ghazal, a Quebec MP in solidarity with Mercier, says Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette is “insensitive” to the challenges faced by newcomers, especially refugees and asylum seekers. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Garine Papazian-Zohrabian, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Montreal who studies French language training for immigrants, says the six-month cap will be most detrimental for refugees and asylum seekers, who arrive in a vulnerable state.

“Members of this population are already disoriented when they arrive in Quebec. They may be burdened by a difficult past and face cultural challenges. They are not ready to learn a new language, like French, right after they arrive,” Papazian-Zohrabian said. .

“Suffice to say that we do not accept refugees or immigrants, rather than putting so many obstacles to them,” she added.

The opposition denounces the “excessive” measures of the bill

The union representing the 40,000 Quebec civil servants, the Union of Public and Parapublic Employees of Quebec (SFPQ), is also in favor of extending the grace period by six months.

In its presentation to the committee reviewing the bill, the union suggested the deadline could be extended to two years, to give new immigrants more time to adapt.

Ruba Ghazal, Québec solidaire MP for the riding of Mercier in Montreal, proposed a three-year grace period, saying that Jolin-Barrette is “totally disconnected from the reality of newcomers”.

“The minister makes no distinction between a refugee and an economic class immigrant,” she said. “These people need more kindness and understanding.”

Jolin-Barrette rejected the idea of ​​extending the grace period, saying six months was a “reasonable” period.

Ghazal said that while the bill takes a tough stance with newly arrived immigrants, it contains a clause that allows the government to continue to communicate in languages ​​other than French with people who have immigrated to Quebec in the past. .

“There are a lot of inconsistencies,” she said.

Gaétan Barrette, Liberal MP for La Pinière, used a baseball metaphor to describe the position in which the government places newly arrived immigrants.

“When they arrive, they will already have two balls and two strikes against them,” Barrette said. “We don’t give them a chance to succeed.”

While her party favors measures to improve the use of French, Barrette called Jolin-Barrette’s attitude “unpleasant” and said the government should take into account that many people arriving in the province experienced “traumatic situations”.

Barrette also cited long wait times for French training as an additional barrier.

“In the Montreal area, the delay is maybe two months,” he said. “That leaves immigrants only four months to learn French.”