Mireille Paquet on the Canadian and Quebec immigration

Immigration expert to deliver keynote address as part of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada's symposium on March 13
Mireille Paquet is a political scientist whose research interests include immigration policy and politics in Canada, North America and Australia.

Mireille Paquet is the Research Chair on the New Politics of Immigration at Concordia University with interests in how political institutions and bureaucracies affect the content of immigration policy. Her current projects focus on the new politics of immigration in Canada, sanctuary cities, the role of immigration departments in contemporary immigration debates and new state responses to emerging immigration challenges.

On March 13, Paquet will deliver the keynote address on federalism and immigration policy in Canada at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada’s one-day symposium on contemporary immigration politics.

In advance of her keynote address, Paquet spoke to the Reporter about immigration in Canada and Quebec

Why is it important to think about immigration politics in Canada and in Quebec right now?

I would say it is always important to think about immigration politics in Canada and in Quebec! While immigration has not always been the most salient political issue in the country – as compared to what is at play in other regions of the world – it is has been fundamental to the establishment of Canada as a country and remain central to contemporary state-building. And, in Quebec, immigration has been a central pathway through which French language has been protected and vitalized since the Quiet revolution.

Yet, it is important to think of immigration politics in Canada and in Quebec right now because new dynamics are unfolding.

Some of these have to do with population movement. For example, the rise of irregular border crossings at the Canada-United States border since 2017. Some of these have to do with changing policies, such as the decision to maintain a sustained growth in immigration intake up until 2021. And, some of these changes are political. The presence of a federal party defending a restrictionist position on immigration during the 2019 election is a good illustration of this. The sweeping immigration reform agenda of the Coalition Avenir Québec is another example of these changes.

All of these occur while immigration is becoming a contentious issue globally and as populism and associated political forces support closing down on immigration. It is very important to consider how Canada is affected by these forces.

We often think that Canada is exceptional when it comes to immigration: Is that true?

Canada has some distinctive features when it comes to immigration. It is one of the rare federations in which immigration powers are assign to both orders of government through the Constitution.

Its geography makes a large portion of its border difficult to cross. This feature is more important than is often acknowledged: It places Canada in the quasi-unique position of needing to attract immigrants, as opposed to solely fend off population movement. Ultimately, this feature is what makes Canada somewhat exceptional since it has considerable consequences for the capacity of the state to choose who comes into the country and its capacity to support immigrants when they arrive in Canada. Research has shown that these capacities, in turn, generate increased public trust in the immigration system and stronger immigrant integration outcomes.

I think this is important to underline since, sometimes, Canada is presented as exceptionally open to immigration. While public opinion on this issue is much worse in other parts of the world, it is crucial to remember that this opinion is developed in part as a function of these unique features, as opposed to simply through the goodwill of Canadians.

This event is co-organized by MISC and the Équipe de recherche sur l’immigration dans le Québec actuel (ÉRIQA). What is ÉRIQA?

L’Équipe de recherche sur l’immigration dans le Québec actuel (ÉRIQA) was created in 2019 and is funded by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et Culture. It is a team that includes researchers from Concordia, McgGill, UQÀM, Université de Montréal and Université Laval and collaborators from the Quebec Department of Immigration. It focuses on the production of novel research on immigration politics in Quebec and on research dissemination activities open to researchers, students and the general public.

ÉRIQA’s website includes a full description of the initiative and a calendar of upcoming activities.

What advice would you give to McGill students interested in learning more about immigration politics in Canada?

First, make sure to understand how immigration policies really work. More than ever, the current period is marred by misunderstanding about fundamental elements such as who can claim refugee status in Canada or what are the overall objectives of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Students can also interact with the great data provided by the IOM Migration Data Portal and contrast Canada’s situation with the one of other countries.

Getting the facts straight allow for a better appreciation of the strategies and discourses of political actors across the political spectrum. Are they speaking truthfully or do they misrepresent the facts? How do they conceive of immigration? What part of the immigration system do they focus on and why? These questions are important because the Canadian immigration political landscape is evolving and there is still a lot to learn.

Second, do your best to engage with the perspectives of those who have interacted with this immigration policies in Canada and elsewhere. A concerning feature of our times is a dehumanization of immigrants and displaced population; we must constantly fight to resist this trend and to reiterate that human mobility is constituent of our common history. A good starting point for Canada is the website of the Canadian Museum of Immigration History at Pier 21.

Welcome to Canada? Welcome to Québec? A symposium on contemporary immigration politics; Friday, March 13; 1 to 5 pm. The symposium is free and open to the public. Find out more and RSVP online.