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Quebec forcing refugees, migrants to learn French ‘tout de suite’

25 February 20220 comments

The government of the Canadian province of Quebec is passing a law to effectively force all new immigrants to learn French within six months.

Under its proposed ‘language bill’ all government officials will be required to communicate with new arrivals exclusively in French six months after their arrival – with no exceptions for refuges or asylum seekers.

The move has been criticised by community groups who say it will actually hinder the integration of immigrants, by making it more difficult for them to get government services. 

Community organisations, opposition MPs and even the union representing public servants have urged the government to soften the rule.

But the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec is insistent. 

“For newly arriving immigrants, the basic principle of the law is clear: as of Day 1, it’s exclusively in French,” said Simon Jolin-Barrette, justice minister and minister responsible for the French language. 

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

“Currently, the government communicates with immigrants who have requested it, sometimes for years, or for their whole lifetime, in a language other than French, which does not foster integration,” a spokesperson for the Quebec Government said.  

Local community groups say the bill may actually hinder the integration of immigrants, by making it more difficult for them to get government services. 

They say it amounts to telling migrants o retreat into their linguistic minority; that the government is not there for them, because they aren’t francophone enough.

The opposition Québec Solidaire party says the law is insensitive to the challenges newly arrived immigrants, particularly refugees and asylum seekers, face.

They say the six-month hard cap will be most harmful for refugees and asylum seekers, who are arriving in a vulnerable state. 

University of Montreal psychology professor Garine Papazian-Zohrabian told local media: “members of this population are already disoriented, arriving in Quebec. They can been burdened by a difficult past and face cultural challenges. They’re not ready to learn a new language, like French, right after their arrival”.

“You might as well say that we don’t accept refugees or immigrants, rather than place so many obstacles in front of them,” she said.

The union representing 40,000 Quebec civil servants, has also called for an extension of the six-month grace period.

In its submission to the committee examining the bill, the union suggested the delay could be extended to two years, to allow new immigrants more time to adapt.

Opposition MPs also point to the long wait times for French-language training as an additional barrier. 

In the Montreal region, the delay is maybe two months, which leaves immigrants with only four months to learn French.