Lawyers fight Quebec in court over plan to scrap 18,000 immigration applications
A decision on the case is expected next week
Quebec immigration lawyers made their case Friday to overturn the province's decision to cancel thousands of immigration applications, saying the policy has left thousands of people "very devastated, very surprised and very shocked."
The Coalition Avenir Québec government announced earlier this month it is discarding 18,139 unprocessed files from skilled workers, the immigration program managed by the province, as part of sweeping changes to the way it takes in newcomers.
An association of immigration lawyers, known by its French acronym AQAADI, is seeking an injunction.
After a full day of arguments at the Montreal courthouse, Quebec Superior Court Justice Frédéric Bachand said he would make a decision in the next week.
The AQAADI argues the provincial government must respect the existing rules — and continue processing applications — until the proposed reforms are passed into law.
"For a week or more now, we've had hundreds of messages from people all around the world," Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, the association's president, told reporters at the Montreal courthouse.
"It's very devastating for these people, and what we're asking is for the government to do their job on the basis of the law now."
The CAQ says applicants will be able to reapply under the new system and be refunded the cost of their application.
Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette outlined the reforms in Bill 9, tabled on Feb. 7 at the province's National Assembly.
Jolin-Barrette has said the new approach would better match applicants to the needs of the labour market, emphasize French-language skills and adhere to Quebec values.
Ho Sung Kim, another lawyer with the AQAADI, called the government's decision to throw out the old applications "irresponsible" and said it will leave thousands of families in limbo.
"It's not just the numbers and stats," he said outside the courtroom. "It's not just the paperwork. There are people behind that who have been [devoting] their lives to immigrate to Quebec."
The court challenge was filed on behalf of Seeun Park, a trained nurse from South Korea who has applied to settle in Quebec as a skilled worker.
The AQAADI presented three additional affidavits detailing the consequences the policy has had on other prospective immigrants, some of whom have been waiting to come to Quebec for more than a decade.
Prospective immigrants, including Park, have already received a notice saying their applications will no longer be processed.
Lawyers for the province argued the reforms were put in place by a democratically elected government and that the decision to throw out the applications and come up with a more efficient system is within the rights of the immigration minister.
Plan derided as 'cavalier'
A number of groups, including unions, business groups and the Canadian Bar Association, have lined up against the CAQ's plan.
The CSQ labour federation, which represents 200,000 workers, issued a statement Thursday calling the CAQ's decision "cavalier" and "heartbreaking."
The Conseil du Patronat, which represents Quebec's biggest businesses, said it "undermines Quebec's credibility on the international scene and reinforces cynicism about our immigration system."
The Quebec chapter of the Canadian Bar Association sent a letter to Jolin-Barrette, saying it considers the move illegal.It said cancelling the applications "tarnishes Quebec's image among the applicants it seeks to attract."
Jolin-Barrette declined to comment on the bar association letter and said the government will defend itself in court.
The CAQ's promises to cut the number of immigrants and introduce a values test for new arrivals were key to their election campaign last fall.
The government tabled a plan last December to reduce the number of immigrants Quebec accepts this year to 40,000, down from more than 50,000 last year.
The immigration cuts have raised concerns from businesses already facing a labour shortage.
Quebec's unemployment rate reached a historic low of 6.1 per cent last year.
With files from Steve Rukavina and Sudha Krishnan