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14 August 2017

Asylum seekers: Our guiding principles

Since the end of July, Quebec has faced a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving on its territory by their own means, by routes other than recognized border crossings.

Certain elements need to be clarified:
These people are asylum seekers and not “migrants” or “illegal immigrants.” This category is regulated by well-defined laws and procedures overseen by federal authorities, with whom our government is collaborating to provide certain services until they have made a decision on these asylum requests. At this time, these people are mostly of Haitian origin, but we should assume that people from other countries are proceeding or will proceed in the same way over the coming months. This situation is not unique to Quebec; other provinces are facing—or will face—the same challenges.

Our government is present on the ground and responding to this situation in accordance with three well-established principles that reflect our society’s tradition and values:

1. Compassion and respect for human dignity
2. Equity
3. Security and respect for the rule of law

Compassion and dignity: Quebec has a long and proud tradition of welcoming asylum seekers. The “boat people” from Southeast Asia, victims of the earthquake in Haiti, and, more recently, Syrian refugees, have all been welcomed within this tradition. While awaiting a definitive ruling on their status, it is our government’s duty, in concert with the federal government, to ensure human dignity. To achieve this goal, we provide emergency healthcare, education for children, last-resort financial aid, temporary and more long-term lodging, and access to a work permit issued by federal authorities. I would like to pay tribute here to all the people (government agents, healthcare workers, community groups, and others) who have worked tirelessly to assist vulnerable people and families. Thank you.

Equity: Helping asylum seekers takes absolutely nothing away from those who are waiting to immigrate after receiving a Certificat de selection du Québec. It is wrong to suggest that welcoming a refugee will “set back” an immigrant waiting to arrive through the established procedure.

Security and rule of law: Our government will never compromise on matters of security. As soon as they cross the border, asylum seekers are taken into custody, identified by the police, then led to a temporary shelter. Security and public health checks are also conducted without compromise. It is important to remember that there is no mechanism in place that would allow a territory or municipality to exempt asylum seekers from the law.

We are very conscious that this is a delicate situation, especially on a human level. It is unfortunate that these very vulnerable people were convinced that admission as a refugee to Canada and to Quebec would be simple or automatic. That is not the case at all. There is no guarantee that asylum requests will be accepted, given the strict rules that regulate them.

Until then, I can assure you that our government will demonstrate a heightened sense of responsibility. I invite political and other leaders to do the same and avoid all remarks that misconstrue an already complex reality.

I am fully confident in the sensitivity and judgment of Quebecers, in their profound sense of equity, in their often demonstrated compassion, and in their desire to safeguard human dignity.

Under the current circumstances, let us all make sure to call on the noble side of human nature, rather than on its darker aspects. I have also asked government authorities to do everything in their power to preserve our security, provide all necessary services, and ensure the equitable application of the law.

Philippe Couillard
Premier of Québec