Permanent Resident Status for All Migrant Workers and Refugees, Now!

Oppose Canada's Role in Exploiting and Abusing Migrant Workers!

Canada creates many irregular migration programs to satisfy first and foremost the needs of the biggest exploiters of labour as well as a few small producers. These programs are the playground for human traffickers of every description, including agencies that mercilessly abuse and mistreat those workers that do not agree to submit to conditions of living and work which are unacceptable. 

Actions are ongoing across the country for the regularization of the status of all precarious migrants as well as to ensure that no undocumented migrant is deported. In that context, an action was organized in Montreal on September 23 outside federal government offices at Complex Guy-Favreau in Montreal. Organized by Solidarity Across Borders and the Immigrant Workers Centre in defence of all undocumented persons, participants were informed that 37-year old Mamadou Konaté, originally from the Ivory Coast, was apprehended by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on September 16 and has been detained at Laval's immigration detention centre pending deportation to his home country.

Mamadou Konaté

Accompanied by his lawyer Stewart Istvanffy, Mamadou, an undocumented worker, voluntarily presented himself that day to federal immigration authorities in an effort to have his removal order suspended until his application for permanent residency under humanitarian and compassionate grounds is re-examined. His lawyer wants to submit new evidence pertaining to his work in three different residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The response from immigration officials was to have him immediately apprehended and incarcerated at Laval's immigration detention centre.

At the height of the pandemic, Mamadou was hired by a placement agency to work in CHSLDs -- COVID-19 "hot zones" -- where he cleaned rooms and corridors contaminated by the pandemic. At the end of April, he himself contracted the coronavirus. Once recovered, he returned to work in the CHSLDs until being brought to the immigration holding centre.

In an email to the Huffington Post, CBSA spokesperson Louis-Carl Brissette Lesage wrote that "detention must only be considered under exceptional circumstances, when no reasonable alternative to detention can be implemented." However, Mamadou's lawyer insists that "no exceptional circumstance was mentioned" during his detention review and that he is mainly being kept because he is considered a flight risk.

"It seemed like the CBSA agent did not want to hear anything about COVID-19 or the fact that he worked [in the CHSLDs] during the pandemic," his lawyer reported to the media. "It's really heartbreaking to see humans being treated with so little consideration," he said.

On September 23 at an Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) hearing review, Mamadou's detention was upheld. At the hearing, a CBSA representative confirmed that deportations have restarted, a decision that has not been made public but is, apparently, the reason behind Mamadou's continued detention. His next appearance before an IRB judge is scheduled for October 19.

In response to an inquiry from Radio Canada International as to whether or not the removal of refugee claimants had recommenced after being placed on hold because of the pandemic, the CBSA responded that before the establishment of reinforced border measures back in March, it had attempted to remove people as soon as possible in accordance with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). The pandemic had resulted in changes at various levels, but that other measures, such as removals, were carrying on based on need, CBSA said.

Since March 15, Radio Canada International points out, the CBSA has continued to execute a more limited number and type of removals. It was informed by CBSA spokesperson Louis Carl Brissette Lesage that: "The removal of serious cases of inadmissibility (criminality, security, international or human rights violations, and organized crime) continues on a case-by-case basis, after assessment, as well as the removal of those wishing to leave Canada voluntarily despite the current global pandemic. Removal executed at entry points and through the normal administrative channels by virtue of section 240(3) of the IRPR [Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations] are also ongoing."

The CBSA also noted that the removal of a person from Canada "takes place following a complex series of appeal processes and mechanisms that grant foreign nationals the right to due process" and that it is only after all these procedures have been exhausted that the CBSA removes a person from Canada.

The federal and Quebec government's temporary special program conferring status to some migrant workers is restricted to those who provided direct care to patients in long-term care facilities. Those working in COVID-19 infected seniors' residences preparing food or cleaning, often working through temp agencies for less than minimum wage, such as in the case of Mamadou, are now facing the very real threat of deportation. Attempts to justify such treatment shows the unprincipled role the government of Canada plays in permitting the abuse of vulnerable workers.

Mamadou's Story

Mamadou first arrived in Quebec in February 2016 after fleeing the Ivory Coast, where he had been imprisoned during a military conflict that followed a 2002 failed coup. According to court documents, he was "beaten, mistreated, perhaps even tortured, during his detention" at the hands of Forces nouvelles, a rebel group, between 2004 and 2005. He had been involved with the group in 2002-2003. He claims that after he defected, he was imprisoned by them and now many of those responsible for the rebellion are in positions of influence in the present Ouattara government and Mamadou fears retaliation.

His asylum claim was denied because of his involvement with the group. Article 34 (b.1) of the IRPA, passed under the Chrétien Liberal government in 2001, stipulates that a foreign national is inadmissible on security grounds if "engaging in an act of subversion against a democratic government, institution or process as they are understood in Canada."

In a 2018 application for judicial review of the decision, his lawyer argued he was forcibly recruited by the rebels, which would not make him a "member" in the eyes of the law. However, that application was denied.

Two days before his scheduled July 9, 2018 removal, his request for a stay was heard. A doctor who had been treating him testified that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and insomnia, as well as other ailments, and that he feared he would be "tortured and killed by the army." The stay was granted.

Since the end of September, Québec Solidaire Members of Quebec's National Assembly as well as Alexandre Boulerice, NDP Member of Parliament for Rosemont--La Petite-Patrie, have been pressing both Quebec Immigration Minister Nadine Girault and federal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino to intervene in the file, but have been unsuccessful thus far.

"The refugee claimant and removal processes are exclusive federal government jurisdictions," Quebec Minister Girault said. "The issuance of a CSQ [Quebec Selection Certificate] besides running counter to [the Canada-Quebec Accord on Immigration], would have no effect on the current removal procedure," she said. Her press secretary Flore Bouchon added that the Quebec government is "appreciative of all essential workers who contributed to the collective effort in combating the virus." As for Immigration Minister Mendicino, no response has been forthcoming.

As of the morning of October 8, more than 37,500 people have signed an online petition calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government to annul Mamadou's deportation order, regularize his status by providing him with permanent residency and put a full plan in place for the regularization of all undocumented persons.

Their demand to Premier Legault and his government is that everyone working in CHSLDs at the present time be included in the special regularization program, not just those working as orderlies.

It is our social responsibility to protect these workers, who are used by governments as a source of cheap labour with no consideration whatsoever for their lives. Here in Canada, the lives of many like Mamadou are rendered a living hell. They work so that they and their families can survive, and face the denial of rights and the threat of removal.

It must not pass! No one is illegal! Permanent residency status for all now! It's a matter of human dignity for all!

To sign on to the petition click here.

A fundraiser for Mamadou has been organized by Solidarity for Mamadou Konaté on the website Go Fund Me. To date, over $11,000 has been collected. To contribute, click here

(Sources: Solidarity Across Borders, Huffington Post, CBSA, Radio Canada International, Québec Solidaire, Go Fund Me, Photo: Solidarité avec Mamadou, Migrant Rights Network, N. Jiminez)

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 38 - October 10, 2020

Article Link:
Permanent Resident Status for All Migrant Workers and Refugees, Now!: Oppose Canada's Role in Exploiting and Abusing Migrant Workers! - Diane Johnston


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