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With official targets unchanged, temporary immigration soars in Quebec

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MONTREAL — While Quebec’s official immigration targets have remained largely stable in recent years, the real number of newcomers in the province has surged due to an increasing reliance on temporary workers who often face more precarious conditions and long waits for permanent residency, a recent study has revealed.

The publication by the Insitut du Quebec found that while non-permanent residents represented nine per cent of international immigration to the province from 2012 to 2016, that number had climbed to 64 per cent by 2019.

Three experts who spoke with The Canadian Press said the growth in temporary immigration can help companies meet their needs in a tightening labour market, but the province needs to do more to adjust to the new reality in order to better serve both newcomers and its own goals.

As of 2021, the non-profit research institute found there were nearly 177,000 workers in Quebec classified as “temporary,” made up of international students with work permits, temporary foreign workers and skilled workers. In the last four years, permanent immigration levels have been capped at 40,000 to 50,000 a year.

Mia Homsy, an economist and co-author of the institute’s report, said the increase in temporary immigration is largely due to a labour shortage as well as an increasing numbers of foreign students.

She said that historically, temporary immigrants haven’t been a big part of the debate around immigration in Quebec, likely because they were such a small percentage of the total.

“Now that the trend has changed and the reality is completely different, it’s important to know what’s going on,” she said.

Homsy said the increase in temporary immigration is good for the province because it allows companies to fill needed jobs, especially in Quebec’s regions. It can also be a good thing for workers, because it can help them gain work experience and put them on a path to permanent residency.

However, many of them have permits that are closed, meaning they are linked to a single employer, “so their working conditions can be more precarious,” she said.

Adèle Garnier, a professor of geography at Université Laval who researches migration, says temporary immigrants face hurdles that permanent immigrants don’t. Those can include lower salaries, poorer working conditions and a lack of information on their rights as workers.

For years, she said, she and other organizations have been working to eliminateclosed work permits, which can make it harder for workers to push back against abuse and can “lead to exploitation.”

For Homsy, the biggest problem is the long wait times faced by temporary immigrants who want to obtain permanent residency. Currently, she said, the wait time sits at 31 months, even for those who have already received a selection certificate from Quebec — which can also take years.

Carlo Garcia, a 38-year-old worker from the Philippines, says his experience with the Canadian immigration system has been relatively smooth so far. Garcia, who is working in information technology on a skilled worker visa in Sherbrooke, Que., said he’s slowly learning French and hopes to become a permanent resident one day.

While he’s happy with the company that hired him, he said he wishes he could have an open permit to be able to take extra work from other clients and earn more money to bring his wife and two young children to Canada.

He said he’s debated eventually moving to another province because learning French — his third language — is a big challenge. But his gratitude to his employer and the city make him inclined to stay.

“With how (the company) helped us get here, as well as we’ve already established a connection with people here, there’s a high likelihood of me staying here,” he said.

Both Homsy and Garnier say the Quebec government has been reluctant to have an open discussion on temporary immigration.

Garnier said that while temporary immigration has the advantage of being “relatively politically invisible” for a Coalition Avenir Québec government that campaigned on limiting immigration, it means Quebec isn’t taking the newcomers into account when it calculates the demand for services such as public transit, education and health.

She said the government also needs to acknowledge that temporary immigration isn’t ending any time soon. “What worries me is the politics of putting their heads in the sand and acting like this is temporary,” Garnier said.

While Quebec has taken steps to facilitate their arrival — such as relaxing restrictions on how many temporary foreign workers a company can take — temporary workers are officially chosen by the federal government and are less likely to arrive speaking French. Ultimately, Quebec is hoping to be transferred control of the temporary worker program “in order to exercise a greater control over this program and better respond to the needs of Quebec and its regions,” the provincial Immigration Department said in an email.

Garnier and Homsy say the province needs to make more effort to ensure the workers who want to stay are given early access to French classes, and make sure their conditions of employment allow them to attend.

They also recommend the province increase its immigration targets, which could reduce wait times for permanent residency and create more certainty for both companies and workers. Homsy said the increase could come through a special program to fast-track applicants from Quebec’s labour-starved regions, which could accept a few thousand immigrants per year on top of the 50,000 person a year cap.

Quebec Immigration Minister Jean Boulet rejected the idea of raising the 2022 immigration target beyond its current level of 50,000, which he said is the maximum the province can properly integrate.

The Immigration Department email said thresholds for upcoming years will be set around the time of the fall provincial election campaign.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2022.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Memorial service held for RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, killed in N.S. mass shooting

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HALIFAX — An RCMP officer who was among 22 people killed in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting was remembered Wednesday during a regimental service in Halifax for her “fierce” character and brave actions.

People lined a street leading to the service for Const. Heidi Stevenson, watching as Mounties and municipal police marched, bagpipers and drummers played, and a hearse brought the officer’s urn to the ceremony at the Cole Harbour hockey arena.

COVID-19 restrictions had delayed the official ceremony, though a family funeral took place five days after Stevenson was killed.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said during the service that Stevenson would be remembered for “her courage and strength of character.”

She said the force will remember Stevenson’s “heroism that day and the bravery she demonstrated and the actions she took to protect the community she cared so deeply about.”

A public inquiry into the mass shooting has indicated that the veteran officer was racing to support an injured colleague on April 19, 2020, when the fatal encounter occurred on a highway interchange about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.

The 48-year-old officer died in a gunfight with the killer, who had jumped a lane of traffic in his replica police vehicle in order to drive the wrong way down a ramp and slam into Stevenson’s cruiser.

Public inquiry documents say bullet fragments from Stevenson’s pistol “likely” struck the killer’s head, and — about 35 minutes later — blood on his forehead tipped off an officer who shot and killed the gunman at a gas station.

The inquiry has also noted that Stevenson had at 8:44 a.m. that morning called for the public to be notified about the killer driving a replica RCMP vehicle. Her request never received a response.

During the service, four friends noted her strong personality and sense of justice.

Her longtime friend Angela McKnight described Stevenson as a “fierce woman” who chose the RCMP over kinesiology and developed physical strength through playing rugby at university.

She said Stevenson had to undergo laser eye surgery and overcome a torn knee ligament in order to make it into the RCMP following her graduation.

“Heidi surrounded herself with strong women focused on supporting each other,” she said. “I know no better … no tougher, more determined woman than her.”

Childhood friend Nona Heinbecker recalled Stevenson’s sense of loyalty to her female friends, telling those gathered how the officer had happily found a spot to sleep on a hospital floor when Heinbecker was in labour.

People watching the procession to the service also described their admiration for Stevenson, who is survived by her husband and two children.

Randy Stevenson, a military veteran, and Jan Hill, whose husband had worked with the constable, were among those waiting on the sidewalk for the procession.

The veteran, who is not related to the fallen Mountie, described her as exemplifying “what the police and the military are about,” while Hill praised the officer’s deep involvement in her community of Dartmouth, N.S.

Heidi Stevenson grew up in Antigonish, N.S., and attended university in Nova Scotia. She was with the Mounties for 23 years, developing expertise in drug recognition, general duty policing and communications. She also spent time in Ottawa as part of the RCMP musical ride, even though she had no previous experience with horses.

In a statement provided to the inquiry, the Stevenson family said community support was helpful following her killing. “There were months of meals provided and seeing the Nova Scotia Strong stickers on everyone’s car meant so much. The phone call from the Prime Minister was very personal,” the family said in their statement.

Police estimated about 1,300 people attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live.

The Anglican minister presiding at the service noted Stevenson’s Christian faith, and quoted from a New Testament text emphasizing that hope, faith and love “abide,” and that love is the greatest of the three due to its eternal nature.

Rev. Katherine Bourbonniere said during her homily that even in death, “she (Stevenson) will constantly be trying to touch you in different ways.”

She recalled accompanying Stevenson when she drove to homes to notify next of kin of a death. “I saw her love in her job and in her position many a time. She would show compassion for every person she met, and it was … beautiful,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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Explosive devices found in a vehicle connected to B.C. bank robbers killed

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SAANICH, B.C. — Multiple explosive devices were found in a vehicle related to the two suspects who were gunned down outside a bank in Saanich, B.C.

Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie said Wednesday an RCMP explosive disposal unit was able to transfer the devices from the vehicle to a local landfill and destroy them.

Police had evacuated the area shortly after the shooting on Tuesday as the RCMP’s explosives disposal unit was called in.

Six officers were shot and two suspects were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday.

Duthie said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one who is in intensive care, while another officer will require more surgeries.

He said he spoke with one of the officers in hospital and said the police department will be there to support him.

“We’re here for his family … to let him know that the policing community is behind him 100 per cent.”

The chief said police are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect, although they don’t believe there’s a risk to the public.

He said police were acting on vague information.

“Our goal was to keep the public safe,” he said of police ordering residents near the bank to stay inside on Tuesday.

Police said in a statement that they aren’t able to confirm identities, background or motive of the suspects.

Duthie said work is underway to try to confirm the suspects’ names.

Duthie has looked at much of the video footage of the incident and said it’s a miracle that no one else died.

“It’s astonishing that there was no other citizen or member of the public injured,” he said, crediting the quick actions of officers who responded.

“Both patrol officers and Greater Victoria emergency response officers (put) themselves in harm’s way to bring it to a successful and safe conclusion as quickly as possible.”

A woman trapped inside the bank during the robbery told CFAX radio she was in a meeting with the manager when she heard a loud explosion and then silence.

Shelli Fryer, 59, of Langford said she looked from the doorway and a few feet from her was “a man in full assault gear, holding an assault rifle.”

Fryer said the masked man was wearing all black, had an armoured vest over his jacket and was holding a black rifle that was shorter and stockier than what she was used to seeing in the media.

“The energy from them was completely calm,” she said.

She heard one gunman quietly say to the manager, “vault,” and the manager handed him the keys and they both walked out of the office, she said.

Fryer said the other suspect was pacing the floor, just walking back and forth past the office, “like he was going for a walk in the park, just pacing as if he was waiting for something.”

The robbers put all 22 people who were in the bank against a wall in a back hallway and they waited for what felt like an eternity, she said. “We heard nothing at all of what was transpiring outside, we couldn’t hear sirens.”

She heard in a loud voice, “Police!” and then a hail of gunfire, and everybody ran to hide.

Fryer said every one of the police officers involved in the “absolutely insane incident” handled themselves professionally, and then later treated those who were in the bank with kindness and concern.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Montreal police announce second arrest in drive-by shooting that killed 15-year-old

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Montreal police announced Wednesday they have arrested a second person in the drive-by shooting death of a 15-year-old girl last year.

Cmdr. Paul Verreault, head of the Montreal police service’s major crimes division, said a 27-year-old man was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with the February 2021 killing of Meriem Boundaoui.

Police believe the suspect arrested Wednesday and Salim Touaibi, who was arrested Monday, were “directly involved” in the shooting, Verreault told reporters Wednesday.

“These two people were in the vehicle at the time of the event,” he said, but he declined to comment further on what role each of them is alleged to have played in the crime.

“We’re still very early in the investigation,” he said. “This is an investigation that is still ongoing.”

Touaibi, 26, faces one charge of first-degree murder and four charges of attempted murder.

Verreault said he couldn’t say when the man arrested Wednesday, whose name was not released, would appear in court. He said police arrested four other people Wednesday morning who are allegedly part of a criminal group linked to the two men.

He said the shooting came after the escalation of a conflict between that group and another criminal group, but he did not provide more details. The four other people arrested will face charges of drug trafficking, uttering threats and assault, he said.

Boundaoui was sitting in a car with another person when a second car drove up and someone opened fire. Boundaoui and a 21-year-old man who was on the sidewalk were hit by bullets. Boundaoui had no link to the conflict, Verreault said.

Montreal’s interim police chief, Sophie Roy, said she hopes the arrests will give Boundaoui’s family some comfort.

“Like the rest of the public, we were shocked by the murder of young Meriem and other young people,” she told reporters. “We may be police officers, but we’re also humans with families and children.”

Boundaoui was the first of several young people to die violently in the past year and a half in Montreal, prompting widespread concern and calls to do more to reduce gun violence in the city.

Montreal has had one of the lowest homicide rates of major cities in Canada. In 2020, the most recent year for which data was available, the homicide rate in Montreal was less than half the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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