The premier of Quebec appears to be walking back comments he made last week that seemed to slam the door on allowing asylum seekers working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis to stay in the province by applying as immigrants.
“We can’t open the door and say, ‘If you come illegally, and if you find work, it’s OK, we’re going to accept you as an immigrant,’” François Legault said Thursday at his daily press briefing.
“That’s not how it works.”
It now appears that may not be so.
The door–ever so slightly–is ajar.
Legault, whose populist Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) won a provincial election in October 2018 partly by saying potential immigrants would have to pass a “values” test, said he would ask his immigration minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, to look at the situation on a case-by-case basis, as a way of saying “thank you.”
Quebec has the exclusive responsibility of choosing immigrants and refugees still living in their own countries and wishing to relocate to the province, but asylum seekers are a federal jurisdiction, so Jolin-Barrette will have to talk to his federal counterpart, Marco Mendicino, about the situation.
Asylum seekers make up a large portion of the so-called “guardian angels” Legault has praised in his daily briefings — orderlies, working in the province’s troubled long-term care homes, known as CHSLDs, who have no guarantee they’ll be allowed to stay in Canada.
While the province says it has no record of the total number of asylum seekers doing work in long-term care homes, Marjorie Villefranche, executive director of Maison d’Haiti, estimates that about 1,200 of the 5,000 Haitian asylum seekers the organization has helped since 2017 have become orderlies.
It should be noted that Legault, who said last week he was mulling over a complete overhaul of the long-term care system, issued no promises about asylum seekers on Monday.
“We have to be careful. I don’t want to send the message that in the future we will accept everybody if they find a job in Quebec,” he said.
“But we also have another situation where it’s really critical to get more people working in our CHSLDs. So those people, they are already working in CHSLDs. So how can we bring them via the normal immigration process? That’s what I’m looking at.”
Quebec reported 85 additional deaths linked to COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total number to 4,069 since the beginning of the pandemic.
About 80 per cent of the deaths have come at long-term care homes.
With files from CBC News (Benjamin Shingler) Radio-Canada