Marcelin François, an asylum seeker who worked part-time as a nurse’s aide, died of coronavirus in the loving arms of his wife this past April.
François was one of an estimated 1,000 asylum seekers working in Quebec’s health sector, fighting the coronavirus pandemic on the front lines. Many of them do not have access to healthcare, because they have no status in Canada.
The federal government is working on a program that will give asylum seekers a pathway to permanent residence for working in healthcare during the pandemic. It has yet to be approved by Cabinet.
I am glad to see the spirit of Canadian hospitality has not been lost on this government. In the weeks leading up to Minister Mendicino’s presentation detailing the particulars of this program, the discourse coming out of the Quebec government was cause for concern.
Quebec’s premier, François Legault, had dubbed frontline health care workers as “guardian angels,” but then treated the idea of granting permanent residence to asylum seekers working in the sector as a separate issue.
He was often quoted in the press saying, “…we cannot open the door to say, if you come— illegally— if you find a job, that’s okay, I’ll accept you as an immigrant, that’s not the way it works.”
The premier has softened his tone since then, and Quebec has announced a pilot program that will provide a pathway for certain healthcare workers to obtain permanent residence, as a part of recent provincial immigration system reforms.
The premier’s initial remarks did not come from a vacuum, they are rooted in common misconceptions about immigration.
The average person who does not understand the complexities of Canadian immigration might not understand that refugee class and economic class are separate entities with allocations set out by the federal government. These immigration levels are calculated based on labour market demands and support capacity. No one is taking away anyone’s opportunity to work.
Nurse’s aides are in high demand throughout the province. Though these jobs are so essential for our most vulnerable populations, they are difficult to fill given the demanding nature of the work.
Furthermore, it is not illegal to come to Canada and claim refugee status. The people who come to Canada seeking refuge have a resilience that many who grew up here may never know. They have made sacrifices and endured great hardship just to live in this country that many people often take for granted.
Asylum seekers who have taken jobs in healthcare have been suddenly thrust into a warzone during this pandemic. Literally, risking their lives for all of us.
These are the kind of people I want to call my fellow Canadians, people like Marcelin François and his family.
Securing the status of our guardian angels in this country is the simplest way we can say, “Thank you.”
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