MONTREAL — “Working people and our unions should oppose Premier Francois Legault’s anti-working-class campaign against immigrants. This is now centered on demanding that Ottawa shut down the unofficial Roxham Road crossing between Canada and the U.S. used by thousands of immigrants from Haiti, Mexico and the Middle East seeking a better life,” said Beverly Bernardo, Communist League candidate for the Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne district in Quebec’s March 13 provincial by-election. She was speaking at a candidates’ meeting here March 7 attended by 70 people.
“We should also oppose his government’s moves to ban all non-French-speaking immigrants from coming to Quebec by 2026. And we should demand the repeal of Bill 21 and Bill 96, which weaken the ability of working people to defend our common class interests by dividing us by country of origin, religion and language.”
In 2022 nearly 40,000 people crossed into Canada and claimed asylum — almost all at Roxham Road, an hour’s drive south of Montreal.
Under a 2004 treaty between Washington and Ottawa, the Canadian government doesn’t honor asylum claims made at official border crossings, claiming the would-be refugee is already in a country — the U.S. — where they should not fear retribution.
However, if a migrant is able to cross the Canadian border unofficially, then makes an asylum claim from within Canada, it must be considered.
Bill 96, passed in 2022, declares French to be Quebec’s only official language and restricts the use of English and other languages. Bill 21, passed in 2019, bans government workers who are in so-called positions of “authority” from wearing religious symbols, like the Muslim hijab, Jewish kippa and Sikh turban, on the job.
On this and all questions debated at the meeting, the Communist League candidate differentiated the party from the others by putting forward a working-class course.
‘Stop stigmatizing immigrants’
Denis Bolduc, general secretary of the Quebec Federation of Labor (FTQ), opposed the government’s course. The Coalition for the Future of Quebec (CAQ) government “must stop stigmatizing immigrants,” he said Sept 29. Such “comments fuel unfounded prejudice against immigrants.”
The union called on the Quebec government to welcome immigrants while maximizing their ability to learn French by organizing French courses in the workplace.
The FTQ’s position would be much stronger if it came out and opposed Bill 96. Instead, the federation supports Quebec’s discriminatory French-language-only policy.
The CAQ government claims that French, the language used by 74.8% of those living in Quebec, is threatened by the growing number of immigrants who speak English — often as their second language.
CAQ leader Legault insists these immigrants threaten Quebec’s culture and values. During last fall’s Quebec general elections, he argued allowing more immigration would be “suicidal.”
Ottawa recently agreed to his demand that the Roxham Road refugees be shipped out of Quebec to be held in immigration centers elsewhere in Canada.
Canada’s government is also reinforcing Quebec’s anti-working-class campaign through federal Bill C-13, a proposed revision of the Official Languages Act. That act recognizes the right of people anywhere in Canada to work in, and be served by, the federal civil service in either French or English.
Bill C-13 incorporates Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, which declares French the only official language of Quebec. It doesn’t recognize the rights of those who speak other languages, apart from those who live in Quebec that went to English schools. The reactionary bill is supported by all parties in the federal parliament.
History of Quebec national struggle
Up until the last decades of the 20th century, Quebecois — the French-speaking majority in the province — faced systematic discrimination in wages, jobs, education and government services.
Through decades of struggle — including mass labor and street battles in the 1960s and ’70s –– the working class in Canada pushed back the rulers’ oppressive divide-and-rule strategy. This was a significant victory for the entire working class.
There is no longer any discrimination against French-speaking people. According to the 2016 census, francophones in Quebec now earn 7% more than anglophones with comparable education.
Today French is the language used on a regular basis at work by over 90% of the province’s people.
“I don’t see a retreat of French. I see more people speaking both French and English,” Alexandre Bolduc, 34, a francophone train conductor here, told the Militant, adding “That’s not a problem.”
He and his English-speaking wife plan to help their four children become bilingual. He disagrees with the government restrictions on francophone children learning English, saying it should be a matter of choice.
Fight for status for all
“The immigration policies of both the government of Quebec and federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are designed to serve the class interests of Canada’s ruling capitalist families,” Bernardo told the Militant March 8.
“While Ottawa is bringing in record numbers of temporary foreign workers to Canada, it refuses to give the vast majority permanent status. This opens them up to superexploitation as cheap labor,” she said, “leaving them vulnerable to the threat of deportation if they fight for their rights.”
In 2017 there were about 500,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada. Ottawa deported over 12,000 migrants in 2020.
The FTQ, the Confederation of National Trade Unions and the Congress of Democratic Trade Unions — three of the four labor federations in Quebec — signed onto an open letter in Montreal’s La Presse Dec. 7 demanding that people without immigration status, such as those on work permits and refugees, be granted permanent status.
“It’s essential that our unions, and all defenders of democratic rights, join together to oppose the Legault and Trudeau governments’ anti-immigrant policies and laws denying minority language rights,” Bernardo said.
“We also need to demand Ottawa grant permanent status to all immigrants and refugees and end all deportations.”