Journal des Alternatives

Quebeckers at Heart

Integration is Only Skin-Deep

Alykhanhthi Lynhiavu, 21 April 2009

The statistics speak for themselves.
In Quebec, the unemployment rate
among those of North African origin is
29% compared to a rate of 7% among
the general population. Discrimination
exists, and the Quebec government is
struggling to tackle it.

A Quebecker of North African origin,
Nacer, 50 years old, has lived in
Montreal for 20 years. Despite his
best efforts, he and his family have
been unable to break off of the path
of poverty. With an elegance and
softness that are out of place with the
harshness of the acts of racism that he
recounts, he speaks of the employment
discrimination of which he is a victim.

In September, Nacer enrolled in
a two-month training program for
security guards funded by Quebec’s
employment ministry, Emploi-Québec.
At the end of November, following an
unpaid two-week internship, he found
himself— again— jobless. Nor was he
the only one. In fact, half of his class— 3
Arab and 6 Black— have found nothing.
The other half— 8 White Quebecois—
have had no such problem. Yet the
training center boasts “of a privileged
relationship with security agencies”
and a placement rate of 100%. Nacer
summarizes: “From the beginning,
it was clear that the school was
committed to finding us an internship
and a job. It promised us, as well
as Emploi-Québec. Native White
Quebeckers had no trouble finding a
job without going through an internship.
In contrast, the ‘Quebeckers at heart,’
as I like to call us— Blacks and Arabs—
have had nothing.”

In December, an official from Emploi-
Québec attends the end of the course.
The teachers, who speak on behalf of
the students, lead him to believe that
the school has fulfilled its promises.
Though the Ministry of Employment
and Social Solidarity (MESS)
organizes such visits, surely it should
demand greater accountability from the
professional training schools to which
it allocates significant subsidies. Is it
natural that public funds continue to
be poured into these training centres
from which, when all is said and done,
only native White Quebeckers benefit?
With a touch of indignation in his
voice, Nacer remarks: “Do you think
I would want to spend two months
taking a course in order to, at the
end, find myself in a trickier situation
than before? Even after a financial
investment from Emploi-Québec, I
find myself empty-handed once again,
back at square one, on welfare!”

A petition, signed by the students
who were discriminated against, was
twice presented to one of the school’s
managers by Nacer and a fellow pupil.
She requested their silence and even
tried to “arrange” things. Nacer adds,
“With guaranteed contracts, the
school does not want any trouble:
$2,300 multiplied by 17 is a lot of
money.” Supported by the Centre for
Research-Action on Race Relations,
a Montreal-based organization that
fights against racism, he filed a
complaint with the Quebec
Human Rights Commission.

Help Needed

If it is seeking integration
for all, the government of
Quebec must reassess
its assistance programs,
which are not adapted to
immigrant populations. In
general, immigrants are
educated and live in twoparent
households. However
assistance programs are
developed according to a
“profile,” that of the majority
in Quebec, where poverty
is associated with single
parents and people with little
education, as shown in a
study by sociologists Rachad
Antonius and Jean-Claude
Icart. These programs
therefore contribute to
the systemic exclusion of
newcomers.

That is not all. While the Ministry of
Immigration and Cultural Communities
recognizes the existence of a process
of exclusion or disqualification of
immigrants and visible minorities, the
Ministry of Employment ultimately
refers to the individual’s responsibility
to emerge from unemployment.
Barriers are not related to the system,
but rather to individual shortcomings.
Thus, on the Emploi-Québec website,
the MESS provides tools for “income
simulation” through which “the
recipient of financial assistance as a
last resort” can assess “the financial
benefits of following a path that leads to
integration into the workforce.” In sum,
the barriers that prevent the individual
from emerging from unemployment
are those that he imposes on himself,
a sort of desire on the part of those
affected by unemployment to settle
into a life of poverty.

In order to integrate and find work,
immigrants need improved programs
that take into account their specific
circumstances and a friendly openness
that runs counter to racism. As long
as the MESS considers the principle
of racial discrimination as a separate
object and secondary to policies of assistance, there will be a failure
of integration and a perpetuation of
unjustified professional discrimination.
Like many others, Nacer immigrated
to improve his living conditions, and
with a desire to integrate: “We all
come here seeking peace and the
security of a job. Nobody comes
here to make trouble, because we
are all Quebeckers. Our children are
witnesses to this injustice. I hope
for a change, I hope for it with all my
heart.”

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