4 reasons why a CAQ values test is pointless demagoguery

Once again, Legault is introducing a solution in search of a problem.

Starting Jan. 1, the Quebec government is going to make a values test mandatory for those seeking permanent resident status.

Like the CAQ’s secular legislation (Bill 21), the values test is another perfect example of a solution in search of a problem. It appears to do something to safeguard Quebec culture and language, without, in fact, doing anything at all.

Considering how badly Quebec needs immigration to tackle its chronic labour shortages, this new legislation is not only pointless, it’s downright counter productive.

A Quebec values test is offensive and barely disguised xenophobia.

To many well-meaning Quebecers, a values test is merely a way for new immigrants to familiarize themselves with the basic tenets of behaviour expected in their new home, a path to a smoother transition and integration. Where’s the harm, they say, in reminding new immigrants that men and women are equal here, and that gay marriage is legal in Quebec?

The harm is in the assumptions. If you think that new immigrants arriving here are sexist, misogynist and homophobic, then you need to “educate” them in the new rules that they must adhere to if they are to be accepted here. The test treats newcomers as a problem, not as equal partners in building the future, and implies and feeds into xenophobic notions that Quebec values and immigrants’ values are incompatible, which is a lie.

There is no research that suggests that immigrants (particularly the ones this test will be administered to, who have a much higher education level than the average Quebecer) would be more racist, sexist or homophobic than someone born here. A test that asks highly qualified applicants to answer such questions reinforces the insulting, discriminatory and unfounded belief that immigrants are far more likely to display regressive social behaviour and need to be tested and “weeded” out.

A key point to keep in mind: Quebec can only administer this test to immigrants in the qualified worker or economic categories; not refugees or people in family unification programs. So, as the Beaverton humorously, but caustically, observed, “Province with the lowest high school graduation rate in North America demands immigrant with PhD take values test.” I can see why many qualified candidates would simply choose a more welcoming destination.

Finally, by claiming gender equality and the lack of discrimination as de facto Quebec values, the test implies that gender inequality, gender-based violence, homophobia, etc. are not issues currently affecting Quebecers, which is another lie — albeit, a very comforting one. Every six days a woman is killed by her partner in this country and this province is no exception. We tell ourselves stories to make us feel better and refuse to hold ourselves up to the standards we adamantly demand of others.  

A Quebec values test is redundant

Newly arrived immigrants already sign a piece of paper agreeing to respect and value their new home. The Déclaration sur les valeurs communes de la société québécoise reiterates most basic values we all know and hopefully strive for: equality between men and women, secularism, French as the primary public language, democratic rights for all, etc. This declaration on the common values of Quebec society must be signed by anyone applying to emigrate here. Implementing a new “values test” serves what purpose exactly?

Do most Quebecers in favour of this new values test know that there’s already such a declaration? I’m guessing they don’t. But those both unaware and worried about “the wrong kind of immigration” now have a champion in the CAQ. What often matters in politics is the perception of solutions — even to non-existent problems.

A Quebec values test is ineffective and pointless

A test with some very basic multiple-choice questions that one has three tries to pass (online and unsupervised) and which anyone can easily answer after some rudimentary studying, will do nothing to further along an immigrants’ integration into their new society or “weed” out undesirables.  

Legault himself admitted how ineffective this test ultimately is, when he told reporters that “an immigrant can easily memorize the 5, 10, 15 values by heart, even if he doesn’t believe in them.”

Then what in the world is this watered-down toothless test for, if not to appease those who want it to bite?

As it stands, it’s nothing more than a symbolic gesture aimed at appealing to staunch nativists who think we are being invaded by the “wrong kind” of immigrants. It makes people who are afraid of the “other” feel like an extra wall has been erected, an extra hoop that immigrants need to jump through to prove their “worthiness.”

Legault spoke of the test helping to detect “extremists.” Would a values test have been able to detect an extremist like Alexandre Bissonnette who walked into a Quebec City mosque and massacred six innocent Muslim-Quebecers? Or someone like Richard Bain who killed Denis Blanchette while targeting former Quebec Premier Pauline Marois? Because, so far, despite thousands of refugees and immigrants coming to Quebec in the past few years, those are the only homegrown terrorist acts that have recently been committed on our soil. Do extremists only come in shades of brown and were born elsewhere as far as the government is concerned?

And, really, who is Legault kidding when he insists that this test will, in any way, weed out extremists? As if someone harbouring extremist views and trying to gain access to Quebec residency is going to be foiled by a simplistic multiple-choice test!

“Do you believe in gender equality?”

“Hmm… of course I don’t. I think women are inferior to men in every way.”

Checks the “no” box.  

“Doh! Foiled by Legault! Damn this values test!”

The real work of integration involves investing in French-language schools, hiring more teachers, fixing our badly-in-need-of-repairs schools, ensuring qualified immigrants don’t suffer from systemic racism and discrimination that leaves their skills underutilized and their spirits dampened, making sure the proper channels are in place to ensure their degrees are recognized and that newcomers feel welcomed and part of the whole and ensuring that Quebecers understand the benefits of immigration and don’t equate different to threatening. This is where successful integration begins.

A Quebec values test is dangerous demagoguery

Acting in a very ethnocentric and nationalist fashion, the CAQ seeks to reinforce the notion that integration is a one-way street and only a new immigrant’s responsibility. Like Bill 21, adjustments are only required of the people who are in the minority and not of the majority.

When I talk to new immigrants, regardless of whether their name is Mohammed, Joel or Rosa, they tell me about their kids in university, their country of origin, how much they love Montreal, the jobs they juggle, the dreams they have, how bad the roads are here. They sound exactly like you and me. This xenophobic notion that humans from another country, religion and ethnic background are intrinsically different or inferior than the humans already here has been the essence of anti-immigration since time immemorial.

The same nonsense has been repeated for centuries, the same parochial arguments have been trotted out as ammunition, the same fears have been regurgitated and manipulated so politicians can get elected, and people keep falling for it, time and time again. The only thing that changes is that a different wave of immigration bears the brunt each time. We never learn from history.

We currently have a government that fails to recognize the profoundly damaging effects of how political opportunism disguised as cultural and linguistic protection normalizes fear of the “other.”   

Immigrants are not a threat to Quebec’s French language and identity — they are what its very survival hinges on. But tackling the issues of proper integration and systemic discrimination is time-consuming and expensive and requires a long, hard look in the mirror. It’s much easier and politically more rewarding to dangle simplistic tests masquerading as solutions, aimed at manipulating prejudices and pacifying unfounded fears. ■