April 3, 2023 - No. 18
Cross Canada Actions Demand Status for All
Cross Canada Actions Demand Status for All
On March 30, eight people from two families died while attempting to transit from Canada into the U.S. across the St. Lawrence River in Akwesasne Mohawk territory. Four of them are said to be originally from India. The other four are said to be a family originally from Romania, including two toddlers, whose asylum claim in Canada had been turned down. A local resident who police consider a "person of interest" in the matter has yet to be located.
These eight deaths come just days after the Roxham Road border crossing between Quebec and New York State was closed at midnight on March 25, following an agreement signed by the U.S. and Canada to extend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).
According to the legal framework giving rise to STCA, anyone who makes a refugee claim in Canada can have their claim rejected and can be deported to a "safe third country" if the government can show that the claimant, while in transit from their home country, passed through a country where it was safe to make a refugee claim. This is refugee law. So if somebody crosses into Canada from the U.S. and makes a refugee claim here, the STCA bans them from arguing that the U.S. was not a safe country in which to make a refugee claim. They can summarily be deported to the U.S., regardless of any facts, because the U.S. is defined as a "safe third country." The converse applies in the U.S. Both governments are happy to have this self-serving, chauvinist position incorporated into an international agreement for propaganda purposes, and so they can continue their practice of keeping migrants in a precarious situation where they are subject to ruthless abuse and driven into the ranks of desperate unemployed workers.
This case shows that such measures have tragic consequences for all those seeking to transit the U.S.-Canada border at unofficial crossing points, whether or not they are seeking asylum. It could reasonably be assumed that had these eight people simply been able to cross by foot into the U.S. at Roxham Road or other "irregular crossings," their deaths could have been prevented.
It shows that measures such as the STCA do not address the conditions that drive people to migrate and cross borders in search of a livelihood and safe living and working conditions for themselves and their families, and that the tightening of the border through the extended measures of the STCA will only lead to more tragedies.
The Safe Third Country Agreement must be ended now.
Refugees and other migrants were already dying crossing via Roxham Road because the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) and other immigration laws made it impossible to travel safely. Now, with STCA expanded, both the U.S. and Canada have legislated a policy of turning away migrants. Any refugee crossing over will be able to be deported without due process within the first 14 days of arrival. This will force refugees to take even more dangerous routes and cause even more suffering and death. Prime Minister Trudeau says Canada welcomes migrants, even as he is slamming the door shut and putting migrants in danger.
We will deliver petition signatures on Tuesday April 4, Refugee Rights Day, to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino in Toronto. If thousands of people add their name, we can make sure this devastating policy does not go unnoticed, and shine a spotlight on the need for fundamental change including permanent resident status for all. Add your name now.
I am writing to condemn Canada's decision to turn back refugees along the entire border by expanding the Safe Third Country Agreement. This decision means that refugees crossing in both directions will be forced into even more dangerous routes putting their lives and safety at greater risk, even more will die. A refugee crossing into Canada and caught within 14 days of arrival will be deported without any process -- this will force people to make dangerous choices to not be criminalized, jailed and deported. The Safe Third Country Agreement and other immigration laws do not allow migrants more dignified or safer ways of crossing to travel or seek asylum in either country, a right that is protected under international law. I am writing to call on you to end the Safe Third Country Agreement, to ensure migrants can safely cross the U.S.-Canada border, and to ensure equal rights through permanent resident status for all migrants.
As of April 3, 4,700 people have signed.
Sign the petition here.
Affirm Rights of Migrant Workers on International Day for the
Edmonton, March 19, 2023
On the weekend of March 18-19, hundreds of migrant workers, refugees and undocumented workers and their allies took part in actions across Canada to demand Status for All Without Exceptions! Rallies and marches were held in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara, Sudbury, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria. The actions were organized by the Migrant Rights Network.
The focus of the rallies and marches was to get the Trudeau government to make good on its 2021 promise in the mandate letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser in 2021 to "further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities," and to do so before Parliament recesses for the summer.
Migrant workers and workers without status, including many who have lived here for years, addressed the rallies and provided testimony highlighting the daily hardships they face as a result of having no status in Canada. Migrant workers spoke of their exploitation and abuse at the hands of unscrupulous employers who force them to work long hours for low wages and without benefits. They spoke about the daily terror of having the threat of deportation hanging over their heads. They decried the living and working conditions to which they and their families are subjected because of Canada's racist immigration policy that denies them basic health care and other social benefits, and treats them as disposable.
Over and over the point was made that
migrant workers are essential workers in Canada, part of the Canadian
working class, and it is not acceptable that there be a hierarchy of
rights. Everyone must have the right to health care, education,
security at work and protection against super-exploitation by
employers. They affirmed the rights that belong to them by virtue of
being human, that Canada is duty bound to uphold, and that it must
regularize the status of all migrant workers now.
(Photos: WF, MRN, Migrante Alberta, Solidaires sans Frontières)
As part of the pan-Canadian day of action organized by the Migrant Rights Network, an overnight camp was set up the evening of March 18 in front of the federal government's Immigration and Refugee Board in Montreal, to demand a "fully inclusive regularization program, with no one left behind, NOW."
"For weeks now, the media has not stopped talking about Roxham Road in a distorted way providing fertile ground for racist and xenophobic discourses blaming migrants for all social problems," writes Solidarity Across Borders, in a press release announcing the event. "This is how the wealthy are attempting to distract attention from questions of justice and equality, making migrants into scapegoats, and creating divisions among those excluded from wealth and privilege," it states. It adds that "undocumented migrants are left in the dark and cold of an exclusion that kills without mercy: on the borders, on the streets, slowly over years of exploitation and hard physical work, through lack of health care, and in the constant stress of precarity, family separation and fear of being arrested, detained and deported."
"We don't leave our countries for the pleasure of migrating to Canada, ... We come to Canada seeking refuge from diverse problems. The unjust immigration system makes us vulnerable," say those who are left without status.
"We have waited for a regularization program for more than 14 months, since Trudeau mandated the federal Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, to regularize undocumented migrants. We also demand permanent residence for all migrants.
"We make these demands in solidarity with unhoused communities, with all who face racial profiling, with exploited workers from all backgrounds, with Indigenous Peoples whose lands have been stolen ... and AGAINST the people who seek to divide, exploit and use us for their own political and financial ends."
Testimonies from Night Camp Participants
Many activists involved in the struggle in defence of migrant rights and for Status For All came by the camp to cheer on overnight campers, share experiences, and participate in activities that had been organized for the occasion. Below are some testimonies recorded during the event.
"During the pandemic, it was very difficult, because our work schedule began at midnight, while the curfew was in place as of 8:00 p.m. We had to arrive at work early. We lived in fear of being arrested by the police. It's very helpful to be living here, even though we would prefer to return to our own country, where there's a lot of insecurity. At our age, it would be very difficult to find a job and our future would be very uncertain. That's why we want status for all, in the hope that ... we can be regularized. If we are regularized, we will be able to regain our own peace of mind. We would have the right to health care and would have better work possibilities, which would allow us to fully flourish as persons."
"Prime Minister Trudeau had announced a regularization program for all undocumented and refused refugees. But he has been slow with regard to its application. Many folks like me are facing deportation. In fact, more people are being deported now than before. ...We undocumented immigrants need permanent residence and we need it now, without any conditions, so that we can be reunited with our families and live normal, safe lives as we continue to make our contributions to Canadian society. It is not enough to give us a work permit. A regularization program must provide us with permanent residency. Anything less is unacceptable and inhuman, not worthy of Canada ..."
"I arrived from Morocco in 2020. I was hired by a Canadian company while still in my country, to come and work in Canada. So I came here with a work permit and was approved when I entered Canada at the airport. I remember that when I passed before border services to complete my arrival procedures, my employer was called to let him know I had arrived. To my great surprise, I learned from him that my contract had been annulled." "He had already let go four other employees. The border services agent then produced a report banning me from Canadian territory. The news broke me. I would never have imagined this! I had arrived full of hope to change my family's situation. My dream was transformed into a real nightmare, in a matter of seconds. During all the steps I had taken, I received no news about my contract, which required a letter of invitation, being annulled. [...]. I didn't know what to do at the time.
"Everything suddenly fell apart, without anyone understanding what it means to invest in such a project and the sacrifice it takes to make it happen ... leaving your country, being separated from your family, your children, to get there. I had to leave [...] my former job. I sold family belongings, which was our only source of stable money. I left my wife who was pregnant and my two young boys [...] under a mortgaged roof, a family financially dependent on me. Some people may say 'you should return home and take care of your family.' With all the sacrifices made by my entire family and the small grain of hope I planted in them, I can't back down. It's too late. They will not accept me returning empty-handed. They counted on me..."
(Testimonies translated from original French. Photos: TML and Solidarity Across Borders)
Following a very cold night spent sleeping outside the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada's Montreal offices, undocumented migrants and their defenders, as well as a few members of the press, gathered at the same spot at 9:00 am for a press conference organized by Solidarity Across Borders.
are not the crisis!," declared Hady Anne, spokesperson for Solidarity
Across Borders. "The crisis is elsewhere. We are the solution to the
crisis. ...The crisis is climatic, planetary, social," he continued.
"How many women today can't even work, because they are without access
to daycare?" "How many people sleep outdoors because there is a housing
crisis? So I would like to forcefully say here to the politicians who
are attempting to instrumentalize the lives of migrants as a wedge,
that to claim there is a migrant crisis in Canada is false.
... They are trying to escape the reality by hiding behind migrants."
"Without permanent residency," he continued, "migrants are exploited at work, deprived of health care and separated from their families. A just society is based on equality, which is not possible without permanent immigration status for all." The undocumented and other migrants, he continued, "grow food, take care of the sick and seniors and are an integral part of the community. ...They are our neighbours, our colleagues, our classmates, our friends .... A regularization program that brings with it permanent residence status would lift half a million people out of poverty and provide the tools to protect them from abuse and injustice, reunite families and right historical wrongs."
"We ask Mr. Trudeau to create a regularization program aimed at granting permanent residency as well as a temporary work permit to all the undocumented here. Each day brings with it exploitation, removals and at times, death," said Hady Anne.
Mamadou Konaté, a Côte d'Ivoire national who continues to fight deportation, spoke on behalf of the Immigrant Workers Centre. He informed that over recent weeks deportations have increased and that undocumented migrants continue to be detained at the federal government's Immigration Holding Centre in Laval, deprived of the means to secure a guarantor and of being released on bail.
A member of the Student Coalition for an Environmental and Social Shift (CEVES) said: "The government and media are fuelling hatred towards migrants, particularly those who enter through Roxham Road," adding that "immediate regularization [is] incontestably a moral obligation of governments."
Nazila Bettache of the Caring for Social Justice Collective, made up of students, practitioners and activists in the health care field, expressed her profound admiration to migrants who have been mobilizing for years, if not decades, for status for all. She said: "People have spent the night in the cold outside of this Immigration Canada monstrosity to demand status for all ... and to denounce immigration policies." In order to access housing and daycare and not have to live in fear, she said, permanent residence status, by way of an inclusive, massive regularization program, is needed. She condemned Canada's present immigration policies as being "inefficient, hypocritical, unjust and violent," adding that "immigration policies kill, ... as was seen with Fritznel Richard and more recently with Jose Leos Cervantes, who literally froze to death at the border. Such deaths cannot be normalized, cannot be accepted as the status quo."
Amy Darwish, of the Comité d'action de Parc Extension, said it is "not possible to talk about housing without speaking about status for all. ... Having a roof over one's head is fundamental, however, many are deprived of access to decent housing and face discrimination. She said they "are refused because of a lack of identity, of credit references."
Because of exclusionary Quebec government policies, she said, undocumented persons also have no access to subsidized or emergency housing programs, adding that they are forced to live under substandard conditions and must fork over most of their income to pay the rent as well as accept precarious working conditions simply in order to survive.
She also noted that we are increasingly hearing "racist and opportunist politicians claim that the housing crisis is being caused by migrants, particularly those who entered through Roxham Road. ... This is a way of instrumentalizing people without status and is absolutely false." "If community groups and public services are overwhelmed," she asserted, "it's because of austerity and neo-liberal policies, the same policies which uproot people."
"It is our responsibility and duty," she stressed, "to oppose racism and xenophobia and to stand in solidarity with those facing the housing crisis. Everyone must be able to access housing."
Her comments, like those of other speakers, were greeted with warm applause.
1. On February 21, in an opinion piece entitled "It's time to close the breach at Roxham Road and enforce Canada's borders" contributed by Quebec Premier François Legault and published by The Globe and Mail, he writes that "during the year 2022, the number of asylum seeker entries in Quebec has exploded" and that "Quebec's capacity to take care of the asylum seekers has now been largely exceeded."
"The new arrivals struggle to find adequate housing and are more likely to find themselves in a situation of homelessness," he notes, adding that "community organizations that provide them with direct support are at their wits' end, and Quebec's public services also face increased, unprecedented pressures, particularly in regards to health, education and social assistance.
"This situation comes at a time when, like everywhere in Canada, our public services are already strained," he says. This "has become unsustainable and cannot continue any longer."
"The people working to receive and care for asylum seekers," the Premier continues, "are limited. The number of new classes we can add to accommodate children, many of whom are distressed or traumatized, is limited, and that's not to mention the shortage of teachers.
"Similarly," he adds, "there is the scarcity of housing, which cannot be built in such a short time. As elsewhere in Canada, the health care system is already fragile."
"People must be able to find housing, children must be able to attend school and the sick must be able to receive treatment," he writes.
A day earlier, a letter Premier Legault had written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was leaked to the press. In it, the Quebec premier notes that "tens of thousands of asylum seekers who remain in Montreal have continued to exert pressure for many months, and even years, on our public services."
Premier Legault then raises his "serious concern" over the decline of the French language in Montreal and states that "the massive arrival" "of tens of thousands of migrants, a significant proportion of whom do not speak French, greatly complicates our francization task."
The Premier also claims that "because of the significant number of asylum seekers welcomed over the past year, costs have exploded and now amount to many hundreds of millions of dollars."
On September 21, 2022, during a Quebec election debate in the Mauricie region, former Immigration Minister Jean Boulet falsely declared that "80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, do not work, do not speak French and do not adhere to Quebec society values."
2. Jose Leos Cervantes, a 45-year-old Mexican national, died shortly after crossing the border into Vermont from Quebec on foot at the end of February. He was one of the hundreds who have tried to cross into Vermont this year alone.
(Translated from original French. With files from Solidarity Across Borders, CityNews, Journal de Montréal, Journal de Québec, The Globe and Mail. Photo: Solidarity Across Borders)
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