Approximately 50 people gathered by the steps of the Palais de Justice de Montréal on Sept. 12 to protest the recent reform of the Québec Experience Program (PEQ). The small but vocal crowd cheered speakers on while remaining socially distant. The protest was organized by the activist group Le Québec c’est nous aussi, which advocates for inclusivity in Quebec.
The PEQ reform, implemented on July 22, has tightened the immigration program’s eligibility conditions, requiring increased work experience for international students and temporary foreign workers in Quebec.
Andrés Fontecilla, a Québec Solidaire Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Laurier-Dorion, spoke with verve about his opposition to the new reforms.
“[With] the reforms being fundamentally unjust, there are always reasons for us to mobilize […] and we will mobilize […] until we correct the principal injustices of this program,” Fontecilla said.
Fontecilla also outlined the group’s principal demands to the CAQ government.
“[The government] must respect its word,” Fontecilla said. “The Quebec Premier François Legault and the former Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette gave their personal word as minister and Premier [that] international students would have a granted right [to work]. This means that, despite the reforms, the people that are already here will be able to apply following the old rules of the PEQ program. [The government] has to respect its promise. It is a state promise.”
Ramatoulaye Diallo, treasurer at the Conseil central du Montréal métropolitain-CSN, an organization that represents the rights of over 100,000 workers from nearly 400 syndicates across Montreal, explained the importance of standing up for foreign students and workers.
“Fighting against injustice is what we do,” Diallo said. “[We’re] here today because we think that the PEQ reform is an unjust reform towards racialized people and […] immigrants.”
Diallo noted the importance of foreign students to Quebec, highlighting that their participation in the economy is undervalued by the CAQ government.
“My impression is that if we create an injustice like this, we will be missing workers, and in that sense, it can affect my work,” Diallo said. “I want young people, especially young graduates to be able to come here in Quebec and to be able to find work [so that] they can contribute to the development of this country.”
Saïd Apali, who is part of the Syndicat des étudiants salariés de Montréal, felt that while his syndicate represents many international student workers at the University of Montreal, he took part in the protest because he believes it is also an important social cause.
“There are already many studies that demonstrate that people who are ethnic minorities […] and women […] face structural barriers on the labour market, that are discriminated against, [be it] direct, indirect, or systemic,” Apali said. “But now [instead of helping], the Legault government is saying, ‘we will put even more barriers’ […] which will make it even harder to integrate into the labour market [….] We see that this has many different ideological motives and that these are racist ideological motives.”
Fontecilla explained that the PEQ reform, which was introduced by the CAQ in mid-July, was able to pass under the radar because the public was primarily focused on the pandemic.
“[The government] profited […] from when everyone had their eyes turned towards the healthcare system, the CHSLD, and the number of [COVID-19] deaths,” Fontecilla said. “The government, especially the former Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette took profit from this to pass the reform in […] hiding—and his operation hasn’t worked—but he’s profiting from the mediatic attention being elsewhere to pass this reform. It’s a rather sad political tactic, pretty unimaginative, but heck, it’s politics.”
All interviews were conducted in French and translated by the author.