by Steve da Silva
One of Toronto’s inner suburbs has become a focal point in the ongoing struggle in Venezuela between the Bolivarian transition to socialism and the fascist resistance that has been developing over the last month.
With its face to the bustling city moving past it on Dufferin, just a little south of Lawrence, the quaint little church of San Lorenzo appears as a modest sight to unwitting passersby. But the small church, and its Latin American Community Centre to the rear, are more than simple sites of worship.
Since its establishment in 1997, the San Lorenzo parish has become a beacon for many in the Latin American community who have fled fascist dictatorships and military juntas over the decades from places like Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala. But its message and ministry amount to more than a salve for the restless migrant soul, more than a home away from home. In the words of the Church’s patron saint, San Lorenzo: “The poor are the treasures of the church.”
That this church actually treasures the poor (as opposed to seeing the poor as a source of its treasures) can be seen in the day-to-day activities that drive the vibrant community organization that has built up around San Lorenzo. Its community centre is home to Radio Voces Latinas 1660 AM, Canada’s only 24-hour Latin American radio station and a key alternative to commercial news, views, and music that dominate the spectrum.
San Lorenzo is also the organizer of the annual “Inti Raymi – Festival of the Sun,” which draws thousands into Christie Pits under the summer sun to to mark the celebration of the summer solstice in the tradition of the Andean region’s Indigenous peoples. The festival routinely raises thousands of dollars for the church’s solidarity missions and charity drives.
Among those programs include fundraising drives for disaster relief in Haiti, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela; as well as the community centre’s “Caravan of Hope,” which drives decommissioned ambulances and wheel-trans buses to El Salvador annually.
However, over the years, San Lorenzo and its priest Hernan Astudillo, have courted more controversy than one may think such acts of humanitarianism would invite. When charity becomes solidarity — when one proceeds from charitable handouts to morally and materially supporting struggles to emancipate people from their class oppression — some hearts simply stop bleeding for the poor.
As the old proverb has it, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But what if this man is violently dispossessed of his fishing rod? His family chased away from his lake-side community and into the urban slums? What if the rivers are being poisoned by large corporations?
It is the understanding that such social inequalities are the basis for poverty and suffering that drives San Lorenzo’s and Hernan Astudillo’s theology, which is part of the liberation theology tradition in Latin America that has prioritized the poor and their emancipation and which is seen as reflecting historical Jesus’s lived practice.
This past March 9th, San Lorenzo held a mass to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — a tradition in keeping with past ceremonies held by the church for Latin America’s champions of the poor, with masses marking the deaths of various fighters for freedom, from the assassinated Che Guevera to the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Romero was the Catholic bishop in El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 in wave of terror that targeted thousands of leftists, including many clerical elements. Romero is also a key figure in Latin America’s liberation theology tradition.
“I did the mass in honour of Hugo Chavez, who I consider with all humility, a very holy man,” priest Hernan Astudillo told BASICS. The result was predictable and sadly not unfamiliar to Astudillo and the church.
“I received a fax saying they would ‘eliminate’ me personally… basically, a death threat, they will kill me. We have received death threats over the phone. We have received two messages: One sent by email from an anti-communist organization insulting our people who work on the radio station, saying that they are going to take out our [radio] antenna.”
On March 6, the church received a letter from an organization calling itself “Contracomunistas” in which the Radio Voces Latinas was cited as a target. On March 12, the fax threatening Father Hernan’s life came in.
But the threats are nothing new for Father Hernan: “This reminds me how when 14 years ago I performed a mass for Monsignor Oscar Romero in this same church, I had also received death threat letters because I was holding a mass for a ‘communist bishop’.”
If only this was all just some verbal aggressiveness from the Latin American community’s right wing, the threats could perhaps be dismissed as posturing from disgruntled elements anxious about their oligarchic families and classes losing their grips on power back home. But a history of these threats actually materializing on the Church gives great cause for concern.
In 2006, the antenna of Radio Voces Latinas was discovered to have been shot after having experienced some unknown technical problems for a period of time.
BASICS asked Father Hernan if the threats have ever translated into bodily harm: “I’ve received death threats more than ten times and on two occasions, a group has stolen money from us during our summer festival at Christie Pits park. In September 2008, they even came to my office, hit me, and dislocated my right shoulder. They were trying to instigate me to react violently, but I refused to.”
Father Hernan drew out the irony and hypocrisy of the attacks on his church’s concern with the poor and their social struggles: “I’ve been meditating over how during this time of Lent [the season of penance and prayer leading into Easter], I might receive even more letters like this [death threats] as I prepare mass for Jesus Christ, because he was really far stronger than Monsignor Oscar Romero and many other martyrs and prophets in the world. His actions, his life, his decisions were always with the poor people.”
BASICS asked Father Hernan if he’s seen any of this opposition or resistance to the church’s pro-poor messaging and its socialist sympathies from within his own parish: “This is from outside. This parish knows what kind of theology we have. We don’t practice the theology of the conquerors. We follow the theology of the historical Jesus Christ, a man who gave his life for equal rights, a man who was fighting the Roman Empire.
“Jesus Christ was not a person who was faking his spirituality in his life. He was a wonderful human being with a pure and transparent identity, to rehumanize the world he was living in at the time in Nazareth and Galilee.”
BASICS correspondent and San Lorenzo parishioner Pablo Vivanco was also in attendance at the March 9 mass for Chávez, which brought out a single anti-Chávez protestor.
“One individual brought out a placard in the mass that stated something to the effect of honoring the ‘student martyrs’ in Venezuela,” Vivanco commented.
“Of course, the names he had on there (some of them incorrectly spelled) were of Chavistas and others killed by the violent opposition in Venezuela. One of the names this individual was hailing as a ‘martyr’ was Juan Montoya [killed in mid February], who was actually a prominent member the Tupamaros.”
The Tupamaros is a decades-old leftist guerrilla organization with a strong base in some of Caracas’ poor neighbourhoods that has been supportive but independent of the Venezuelan government.
“So it’s entirely disingenuous to claim Montoya’s death for the opposition cause, and equally dishonest to not acknowledge that the vast majority of people who have been killed in the last month are the result of the opposition and their actions,” a fact of the reality in Venezuela that is being assiduously documented by independent researchers.
“But the right wing sectors in the community unfortunately do not have this sort of tolerance,” Vivanco elaborated. “This isn’t the first time that threats have been issued against Father Hernan for his principled stances. What’s more concerning is that the violent right wing opposition in Venezuela is killing people and has also attacked media and journalists, so who knows if those allied with the opposition in Venezuela will try something like that here.”
In 2010, Father Hernan Astudillo visited Venezuela to learn about the vast expansion of popular media projects in the country and to deliver the community-generated funds to victims of landslides.
From his own experiences in the country, Father Hernan shared with BASICS his view that: “The opposition in Venezuela is fighting not because they want to help the poor people, but because they want Venezuela’s oil wealth to themselves. They are not fighting because they want to help the poor people, like President Hugo Chavez did. That finally poor people have hope is beautiful.“
The evidence of the threats against San Lorenzo and Hernan Astudillo are now in the hands of Toronto Police Services. BASICS contacted 13 Division’s Criminal Investigations Bureau on the morning of March 19, but the assigned detectives were not available at the time of publication for comment.
With the legitimacy that the Canadian government has given to the violent opposition and the blame for violence that is has misattributed to the Venezuelan government, we shall see if the threats against San Lorenzo will be treated with the same severity that such threats would be met with if they threatened a corporate leader or a Canadian politician. Updates on this investigation will be made here.
This is an interview by Camila Uribe-Rosales of BASICS with Oscar and R (who prefers to remain anonymous), two Latin American youth who migrated to Canada from El Salvador and Mexico, and their experiences in the Canadian education system.
O: I was born in El Salvador. My parents migrated here. I didn’t speak the language at all as a youngster, and I remember I was about 7 years old. You definitely feel outcasted. I remember feeling that the only people that really knew me and the only place where I felt safe was at home amongst my family. I would go to the classrooms. Kids would laugh at me.
R: The first school I went to, there was no ESL program at that school. There was one Latina. Actually she was from Spain, she wasn’t Latina, and she refused to speak to me. I remember very clearly that she said she would be considered low class if she was to speak Spanish to me.
O: There was one particular incident where there were these two girls that were speaking and they were talking about my skin colour. Something along the lines that “We shouldn’t judge him because of his skin colour, like it’s not his fault.” And I was like “Really? Like why is that even a problem?” I didn’t even know that that was an issue.
R: I remember being picked on a lot. People would come to me and sing Daddy Yankee songs, like that was cool or that I would feel at home or something, and people bullying me. It was very hostile. A lot of people tried to fight me and I didn’t really know why.
At one point, I went to Mexico to celebrate Christmas. And so when I came back, the teacher had a set-up with chunks of desks, like she had four here, four there, whatever. And when I came back, my desk was at the corner closest to the door. And everyone else’s was at the opposite corner, packed away from me. And so when I walk into the classroom the teacher says to me, “Look, we just really feel you shouldn’t be here, because you’re Mexican and we don’t want to catch swine flu. And so we wanna ask you not to come back to school.” I got completely bullied. I was harassed. People wrote this on my Facebook and made videos about it.
R: I got kicked out of the school because, well, I was in a classroom and the priest walked in and he started to ask people the commandments. And so I didn’t know them in English and so he threw a set of keys at me. And I picked them up and I walked to him and I gave them back to him in his hand. I mean, he was a priest and I was just coming from Mexico. And so he once more asks me for a commandment which I don’t know how to say. And so he throws the keys at me for the second time, and I pick up the keys and I throw them at him. And so I was like arrested [sic] by a teacher, and they took me to the office and they were just screaming at me. Like I understood what they were saying. They were saying I was stupid or I was gonna burn in hell, that Mexicans were violent, that it was all because I was Mexican. That Mexican people were horrible.
Then I arrived at Downsview which is where I completed my high school. There was a lot more Latinos at Downsview and things were a lot more enjoyable in the sense of students. I remember at one point we had a group of like 30 friends and we would help each other out. But as soon as I got there I was told by the principal that I would never be able to go to university, and that I would never achieve to graduate high school, because I would never be able to pass Grade 12 English.
And I was bashed out of many classrooms by teachers because I was called a communist, simply because I wanted to speak about things. I remember one time, this teacher wanted to give us a lot of homework for Thanksgiving. And I said to him, “No, this is a holiday.” And he started to argue to me and I said, “Look, this is not a dictatorship. You’re not an ultimate power. You are in a sense elected by somebody and if we all work as a collective and decide to walk out on you, you will be fired.” And he bashed me out of the classroom. He called me very nasty things and started to relate me to a lot of nasty characters in Latin American history. He started saying “Oh, don’t call Pablo Escobar on me,” and stupid things like that.
O: I remember this one professor, he was white, but I remember one of the first slides. He showed a little caricature, and he said, “Oh its scientifically been proven that those students that wear hats backwards, there is a correlation with lower grades.” So I purposely would bring in a cap. I wouldn’t always put it on backwards, but I would always bring it in, as a form of resistance. And you know, that’s bigotry right to the end because it’s based on absolutely nothing, and yet you’re claiming it to be scientific evidence, as a professor. I don’t know if he was joking but even if he was, like who jokes around about that? Why, out of everything, pick that? And I think that’s definitely targeting racialized groups. They don’t understand the culture that it even comes out of.
R: I was incarcerated [sic] by a principal. It was in high school and the teacher said we could do whatever we felt like doing, but our teacher had written on the board that we had to do a shitload of work, like a crazy amount of work. He had been absent and he hadn’t taught any of the material he wanted us to do, and so I was like “Wait a second, this guy never comes to class, never teaches the material and expects us to perform like a super student.” And so I said to the students “Look, if we all walk out of this classroom, the teacher can’t fail us all. If all of us get up and walk out right now, he’s screwed.” And so, we all got up… Well it took some convincing, took me a little more convincing. And so we all got up and started walking out, and the principal grabs me. Grabs me by the shoulders and yells, “Everybody get back into the classroom!” Everybody gets freaked out. Everybody started heading back in. And he says, “You’re coming to the office with me!” By the way, that class was very crucial to me. That was Grade 12 English and if I didn’t pass I wouldn’t graduate. And so he took me to the office and made me sit in a corner of his sketchy office. And so I said, “No, I’m an adult. You’re not gonna treat me like this. You’re not gonna segregate me, you’re not gonna outcast me because I was speaking about my rights.” And he was literally like, “Shut up, I don’t wanna hear you, go in your corner.” And so he locked the door and locked me in. And he left me in that office for two hours, just sitting there. And I remember kicking the doors and getting angry and screaming. I started writing step by step how I was segregated, and comparing it to acts of genocide which have happened in our society. Like I was locked in an office as a student for fighting for my rights! And I drafted this to the director of education. He looked at the paper and said, “Oh yeah, this is a good principal, don’t worry about it.”
At one point in my life, I was like, “Fuck this. These guys are all racist. I’m never gonna win against them. There’s no one like me. I’m a nobody. I’m not gonna go to university,” and I started believing it. And it’s really hard without teacher support, it’s really hard as a student. And it’s quite frustrating because you don’t have control over them. If a teacher wants to be racist to you, he will be racist to you. And to know that you can’t do anything about it, that you report it to the Director of Education and he does nothing about it. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking.
You don’t feel like you belong in the school, all your teachers are white, and they talk about white behavior, and they’re all racist towards you, and it’s like well, what am I? A fucking alien? Am I the weird one? We talk about why there is so much violence in youth, why there is so much anger…fuck, what do you think this frustration builds to?
O: I feel like a lot of times we have to resort to those things [violence], or fit into the stereotype that was being projected onto me. As a young Latin American male, you’re like cholo, gangster, like you have to do that. You have to be a drug dealer, beat people up, treat women like shit, be a scumbag, machista. Even with all the bullshit that we have to go through, I imagine it’s much, much more difficult for a Latina.
R: My girlfriend was told to take parenting classes five times because she was told by a guidance counselor that all she needed to do was go to university to find a husband. And that once she found a husband that what she would do for the rest of her life was be a mom, so she might as well take a lot of parenting courses. And so it took her two extra years to graduate high school because of that, because the courses she was supposed to take were not given to her because she didn’t need to be smart. All she needed was to find a good husband, so she was given almost a semester and a half of the same subject. Just because she was Latina.
R: There was definitely a lot of pride in the land where we came from and I never wanted to turn my back on mi gente and my community. I was blown away by the lack of community that I experienced here. Coming from a little colonia back home, it was all like one family and that was something that I lost. Every time you try to explain to people who we are as Latin Americans, we aren’t listened to. Like I feel that we are a minority and not even recognized…things like the constant need to remind people that we’re not Spanish but Latin American, and the constant need to remind people that we’re not all Mexican. We’re not all the same. It’s important for us to come together; I remember one of the chants in El Salvador that is used all over Latin America. “El Pueblo unido jamás será vencido” [The people, united, will never be defeated] and I truly believe that.
by Jesson Reyes
In December 2013, the newly appointed Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, announced that the handful of proposed changes within the Family Reunification Program will be effective as of January 2, 2014. Together with this announcement is the assurance to the applicants of its main motives: to decrease processing time (currently averaging 4 years) and to clear backlogs in the application pool.
Most of the changes constitute an additional burden to what is already a challenging process to begin with: Citizenship Canada has been quoted as saying they are doing everything to reunite ‘families’ as quickly as possible. But the CIC defines a family as per the nuclear family model — family members that can come with you when you immigrate to Canada are your spouse, dependent child and the child of a dependent. Grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles are not allowed to be sponsored unless they are streamed into a particular program.
Also, an applicant who does not declare their “dependents” when they initially apply for the permanent resident form, will not be able to “add a dependent” in the future. This may not appear to be an issue for most applicants but it certainly affects those who may come from a particular situation where reasons for not claiming their children may come from the fear of persecution from either family members or their government.
The CIC’s definition of the family actually contradicts Statistics Canada’s, which in 2002 broadened its definition of family to include couples of any sexual orientation, with or without children, married or cohabiting, lone parents of any marital status, and grandparents raising grandchildren.
In addition, the age of who would be considered as a “dependent” will be changed from 22 to 19. It is important to remember that this particular change was considered to “better the economic integration” of dependents coming in to the country.
In 2012, Canada’s Economic Action Plan was released where the Government cited its immigration priority goals: to fuel economic prosperity, transition to a fast and flexible economic immigration system, and select immigrants that have the skills and experience required to meet Canada’s economic needs.
Research has demonstrated that older immigrants (age 19+) have a more challenging time fully integrating into the Canadian labour market, and so the policy is meant to promote immigration only of those deemed economically useful. The policy does not give consideration to family unity.
But one of the major barriers that those above the age of 19 face in finding jobs remains with the employers’ inability to recognize their working experience and/or their professional credentials. The Ontario Human Rights Commission even considers this requirement for ‘Canadian experience’ to be a violation of human rights. But the prevalence of such requirements leads to deskilling or deprofessionalization of well-qualified immigrants.
Clearly, Canada or at least its current government has demonstrated with its immigration policies that it is not willing to acknowledge and engage in the issues of transnational families. This is reflected in its reluctance to sign the United Nations Convention to Protect Migrant Workers and their Families. Canada has contributed to separating families through strict laws regarding migrant workers, since the 1920s with the Chinese railroad workers up until the introduction of the live in caregiver program in 1993.
All that matters is what is economically expedient, not family values! Statistics indicate that family class decreased from 43.9% of all immigration in 1993 to 21.5% in 2010.
Grassroots community organizations such as Migrante Canada, Filipino Migrant Workers Movement, Justicia 4 Migrant Workers, No One Is Illegal, and Migrant Workers Alliance for Change are all at the forefront of migrant struggles in Canada.
These groups are fighting both the injustices on foreign soil and against the systemic displacement of people through what countries like the Philippines call their ‘Labour Export Policy.’ Imperialist interventions and systematic underdevelopment provoke people to look for work abroad. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the struggles of migrants start way before they land on Canadian soil.
by Muriam Salman
Rogerio Marques DeSouza, an undocumented worker, died an untimely death. However, the discrimination he faced due to his immigration status did not end with his passing.
At 49, Rogerio, the father of three teenage children, had been fighting colon cancer for over three years. As an undocumented migrant from Brazil, he was denied access to health care and had to hide his illness.
When his bosses discovered he was coming to work with a colostomy bag, they fired him.
Unable to keep up with his rent on top of the $100,000 he incurred in medical fees, he began working in a bakery and moved in with his children to save on rent. Shortly thereafter his condition quickly worsened and Rogerio quietly passed away at Toronto Grace Health Centre on January 18 earlier this year.
“We got a call from Rogerio’s relatives asking for support. They had been trying to get [the City of] Toronto to fund the funeral, as they didn’t have the resources themselves but were being denied because he didn’t have status,” Syed Hussan of No One Is Illegal – Toronto told BASICS.
“We wrote the city a strongly worded letter giving them 24 hours to resolve the situation, but they responded with an offer that was starkly inhumane.”
Using his immigration status as an excuse, the City of Toronto denied Rogerio’s low-income family the City’s funeral subsidy and instead offered to quietly burn the body. As Barbara Steeves, guardian of Rogerio’s three children, explained in an interview with the Toronto Star, “They said we must sign the release of the body to the city, so they can bury him in an unknown spot. And that’s the only way.”
Adding insult to injury, the treatment of Rogerio’s remains and his family come just in advance of the one year anniversary of Toronto City Council reaffirming its commitment to providing services without fear to undocumented residents on February 21, 2013. The reaffirmation was the result of two decades of community mobilization, and caught Toronto up to over 50 American cities with longstanding “sanctuary city” laws of the sort.
But as we mark this date, we must also step back and reflect on the work that has yet to be done.
“Seeing that the City bureaucrats weren’t going to live up to the promise of a Sanctuary City, we released the details of Rogerio’s case in a Toronto Star story and planned a delegation to Metro Hall,” added Hussan. “Minutes before heading in, we received a call from a private organization that wanted to pay for the funeral.
“After much deliberation the family accepted the offer, but insisted that we can’t always rely on charity. The overall structure must change.”
No One Is Illegal has since launched a Change.org petition calling on the Ontario government to make its services accessible to undocumented peoples.
A report released by the Solidarity City Network in December recommended that the City identify key city-funded services accessed by undocumented residents and develop department specific policies to ensure full access. Test-calling to hundreds of city agencies showed huge numbers of undocumented people being turned away and the city has still shown little sign of upholding its promise to make Toronto a fully functioning sanctuary city in practice, not just on paper.
Immigration status, for those fortunate enough to receive it, is becoming much more temporary and easier to lose. Sponsoring family members, getting refugee status, and going from temporary worker to permanent resident are all being choked off by the federal government. Systematically, racialized immigrants and refugee workers remain insecure, while paying income, sales and property taxes for services they are not entitled to use and to subsidize tax cuts for the wealthy in a climate of increasing income-inequality.
Poor health, isolation and repeated displacement are made worse with the criminalization of migrants through indefinite detention, raids, and surveillance in our communities. The result is that an entire section of our communities is living in fear — the same fear Rogerio felt three years ago when he first began experiencing symptoms, afraid of being reported to immigration authorities by the hospital. This indignity followed him into death, when his family found out the City hadn’t implemented its own policy.
Rogerio’s story sheds light on the high cost of denying our friends, neighbours and coworkers access to basic services based on immigration status. While it is the federal government that determines citizenship, the actual result of that denial would be far less dangerous were it not for provincial and municipal policies that place citizenship requirements on accessing basic services. Both the city and the province can enact changes to fill this gap and resist such blatantly racist and exclusionary Federal immigration policies, by refusing to deny health care, social housing, medical services, post-secondary education, and other important services to people based on citizenship.
Although the government does not keep track of its undocumented residents, estimates hover around 200,000 throughout the country. Every day, people like Rogerio resist the forces that seek to criminalize them. Enrolling their children in school, feeding their families, and accessing basic services - the day-to-day struggle to survive carries the ultimate risk. And in Rogerio’s case, surviving as an undocumented worker can carry the even greater cost of one’s own life.
Those of us working and living with status have nothing to lose and much to gain by standing alongside people like Rogerio. Let’s end these divisions imposed amongst working people and struggle for “Status for All.”
by Lesley Valiente and Sarah Salise
Kenneth Aldovino stood in the brittle cold after receiving an envelope from the mail this past 21st of January. The letter was disheartening: it was from Citizenship and Immigration Canada letting him know his permanent residence application had been denied, and he was asked to leave the country before the end of the month.
Aldovino has been in Canada for just six months. Edna Aldovino, his mother, had learned she had terminal cancer back in February 2011. Since her diagnosis, she had longed for her son, to be with him in her last days. But she was a live-in caregiver, faced with the choice of returning home or staying in Canada working to complete the requirements of her program before her son Kenneth could be eligible to join her. Mother and son spent only a week together before Edna’s passing in July 2013. And now Kenneth is being told to leave. Read more…
by Alessandro Drago
Montreal | “For temporary foreign workers there are a lot of injustices,” Noé Arteaga told a room of supporters and journalists. “We want justice, not just for me… but for everyone”.
Arteaga had organized a press conference at the Immigrant Workers Centre on December 17 to draw attention to his struggle for justice. Five years ago, he was unjustly fired after organizing a work stoppage to protest the maltreatment of a fellow employee. Arteaga is in the process of filing a complaint against his former employer.
Arteaga first came to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program. He was hired to work for an agricultural company in Shawinigan, Quebec.
One day, a co-worker of Arteaga’s was tasked with using pesticides despite never having being trained on the use of pesticides. That day the worker was exposed to the pesticides and required medical attention. However, the employer refused to take him to the hospital. The employer claimed that the worker’s symptoms were pre-existing. To make things worse, the employer forced the sick employee to keep working.
The employer came up with excuses as to why they would not take him to the hospital. After a few weeks of preventing the worker from seeking medical attention, Arteaga and his fellow co-workers decided on a work stoppage to force the employer to take the sick worker to the hospital.
For his role in this work stoppage, Arteaga was fired and then deported to Guatemala.
But Arteaga did not accept this injustice and he returned to Canada shortly after his deportation to file a complaint against his employer. His complaint is currently in its fifth year. He is seeking several weeks of severance pay (which he is owed by the employer) and payment for the airplane ticket (which the employer is contractually obliged to pay).
Joining Arteaga at the press conference were 3 former TFWs who spoke about their experiences in Canada. Arteaga was also joined by groups such as Mexicans United for Regularization, Solidarity Across Borders, PINAY (Filipino Women’s Organization in Quebec) and several others who were there to show solidarity and support for Arteaga. Kathy Pescador of PINAY stated that the solidarity of multiple groups for Arteaga is beneficial as “the more we unite… the stronger our voice.”
Some of the other TFWs spoke of their experiences and work conditions which included working long hours, sometimes without overtime pay, being insulted by their managers, being threatened with deportation and general exploitation as many workers have to pay expenses that in reality the employer must cover. Racism is another hardship that TFWs face. For instance, Arteaga and his coworkers were forbidden to speak Spanish while working.
“Most workers remain in silence because of their vulnerability” explained Carmelo Monge of Mexicans for Regularization, who was referencing Arteaga’s strength for pursuing his complaint.
Mohammed Ali Ben Dellej, a former TFW himself and a member of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association, spoke about how most such workers do not have enough courage or are too scared to speak out against their bosses out of fear of punishment or losing their jobs.
The number of TFWs in Canada has increased to nearly 300,000 and the conditions they face have not improved. As Mostafa Henaway explained, “Noé’s case… sort of exemplifies a situation that no longer are these people are on the fringe… but that they have become the unfortunate norm.”
The discrimination faced by TFW is codified in Canadian law. Henaway further expressed, “If we want justice for Noé… then there has to be fundamental changes to the labour and immigration policy of Canada.”
As International Migrants’ Day was celebrated December 18th, it serves as a reminder of the continuing struggle and hardships faced by temporary foreign workers all over the world. Their increased vulnerability often leads to maltreatment and it is also difficult for them to seek justice afterwards.
Arteaga’s case is important as an example to all temporary foreign workers that there are ways to fight back against injustice.
Community seeks to organize against inequality
by Noaman G. Ali
“It’s shocking! I am shocked!” said a parent attending a community meeting in Thorncliffe Park held last Sunday, December 22.
She was responding to a presentation by Sadia Khan, a teacher and community organizer, about educational inequality between public schools in Thorncliffe Park and those in neighbouring Leaside—schools that are about ten minutes apart by car.
Over 30 parents, students and other community members attended the meeting, organized by Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In (TRT), about the causes of educational inequality and building community power through solidarity in order to address the issues that face the community.
We interview two long-time organizers around the issue, whose positions though not necessarily contradictory somewhat reflect the long-standing debate between those pushing for “decriminalization” and those advocating “abolition”. We speak to Chanelle Gallant from Maggie’s-Toronto, a Toronto-based sex workers action project; and Suzanne Baustad, co-founder of Grassroots Women – an anti-imperialist women’s group that was active in Vancouver between 1995 and 2010 and worked to address the systemic marginalization of working class women. Baustad also wrote in to BASICSNews.ca with an Op-Ed that you can read here.
by M. Cooke
MONTREAL – “We are foreign temporary workers, any day we could be expelled. That’s why we need a strong and flexible association” said Enrique Llanes, a temporary foreign worker from Spain
Enrique was speaking to a group of over 50 temporary foreign workers who had gathered in Montreal this past Saturday to launch the Temporary Foreign Workers Association (TFWA).
They had gathered not only to fight for their rights, but also for the over 300,000 temporary foreign workers currently in Canada and those who will come in future years.
Mohamed and Helena, temporary foreign workers from Tunisia and Spain, welcomed the workers at the start of the day.
“I would particularly like to thank you for your dedication despite the cold and the distance” said Mohamed.
The workers had come from throughout Quebec: the Laurentians, the Eastern Townships, Chicoutimi, Quebec City, Montreal. These workers came from a range of industries including working as farmers, butchers, machinists, welders, translators, lab technicians among others.
Helena continued the introduction saying: “The obstacles temporary foreign workers face are infinite. The system is created to keep us misinformed and isolated”.
Shortly after, one after another, the workers introduced themselves and shared their experiences of working in Quebec.
One group of farm workers talked about recently discovering that their employer had withheld an average of 2 hours of wages per day for over 6 years.
Several workers complained about being tied to a single employer. One worker explained that the company had laid him off for 3 months, and due to his work permit he could not apply to other jobs, nor could he apply for employment insurance. He was forced to work under the table to survive.
In the legal workshop held earlier in the day, groups of workers shared stories about their employer forcing them to rent his apartments or else being fired.
Workers also shared stories of being told to apply as “single” despite being married and having children back home, putting their future plans to apply as permanent residents in jeopardy.
Other workers shared stories about language barriers. They were not allowed to take French courses and they could not access translation services at hospitals nor within some unions.
But these are only a few of the stories of what is happening throughout Quebec and Canada.
The number of temporary foreign workers has been steadily increasing in the past few years. In 2011, there were over 300 000 temporary foreign workers in Canada.
There has been a shift in the Canadian immigration system says Manon Perron, a union leader with the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN).
“Last week, I was in meetings with a top immigration bureaucrat and he told me that they are looking for workers, not citizens” said Manon Perron to the group of workers.
The temporary foreign worker programs are set up to bring cheap labour in to Canada. The workers work here for low wages and no benefits and once they are no longer needed, they are sent back to their countries.
In 2011 there were more temporary foreign workers than immigrants accepted into the country.
The launch of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association is a big step in challenging a program that is set-up to, as Helena said “keep [workers] misinformed and isolated”.
The association will provide workers with access to legal aid clinics, workshops on labour rights, as well as translation services.
In addition, the association will fight to address the policies that lead to the issues faced by foreign temporary workers. The association hopes to win access to employment insurance and health care, open work permits, easier access to apply for permanent residency, as well as the right to unionize.
Despite the obstacles the workers face, there was something electric about having workers from throughout the province meet with each other and begin building an association that would break the isolation and fight for their rights.
by Giibwanisi – Early Autumn 2013
Summer has come and gone, and the crisp autumn air of September is finally here. Soon the skies will adorn the flighted ones making their long voyage home. And not just the flighted ones, but the hoofed ones, the swimmed ones, and everything in between.
Anishinabek people are migratory too. According to oral herstory (history) we migrated from the East Coast of Turtle Island (now called North America) and travelled inland, and continued to do so all the way until the Rocky Mountains. Our migratory patterns did not end there, as we continued to be a “moving” people. We always moved with the changing seasons, from our summer camps, to our winter camps, year in and year out.
With the implementation of the Indian Act in 1876, the creation of Indian reservations, and residential schools, our migratory patterns were essentially outlawed, thus drastically altering our way of life forever. We were prohibited from any of our cultural practices, ceremonies, languages and from ever leaving the reservation.
As time wore on, and as we became more “Christianized, “civilized” and “assimilated”, some of those rules and laws within the Indian Act became less necessary to enforce. Eventually we were no longer required permission to leave the reservations, and are now free to come and go as we please.
Now, Anishinabek people have taken on new forms of migration. We no longer migrate in search of abundant fishing waters, or in search of big game. In many cases reserve lands are too small to support this lifestyle, but the harsh reality is that resource industry like mining, forestry, and tar sands have poisoned the land and waters making this more difficult and less viable. We still migrate in search of sustenance. For starters there is Pow-Wow season. Each and every year, thousand of dancers, drummers, singers, vendors travel long distances in search of “cash prizes” and “honorariums”. For some people it’s not about the money, but it’s merely their only exposure to anything “Native”. Whatever peoples reasons, financial, cultural or otherwise, it’s about sustenance.
The most common form of migration known to Anishinabek peoples is the migration away from reserves and into urban centres. On many reserves (including my own, Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island) the traditional way of life is non-existent, and economic opportunity is based on how many family members sit on Chief and Council. People are forced to either fight amongst each other over the few positions at the Band Office, collect welfare cheques, or to leave the reservation entirely. With reservations located in remote desolate areas, and with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AADNC) firmly clutching the purse strings on any/all economic developments on reserves, its hard to imagine this as anything but intentional.
Growing up in a foster home, my sister and I had limited access to our biological father who lived a kilometer down the road. Each and every single year he would make one of these “seasonal migrations” looking for work, and we’d be left wondering if we’d ever see him again. For many years as a youth, I would cry myself to sleep, alone in my bed wondering if we would ever feel the warmth of his hugs again. When the fall came, he left whatever farm he was working on, and would return home, and if we were lucky the visitations would continue.
When I was 15, my father made one of these “migrations” to Toronto and never returned. My dream of the 3 of us being a family once again died, when he died. I was only 19.
After the death of my father, I made my own migration away from the reserve and into the metropolis of Toronto. I have been migrating to and emigrating from city to city, all across Turtle Island (Canada) ever since. For the most part I have been running. I’ve been running away from myself. Unable to cope with drug and alcohol addictions and past unresolved issues. For many years I had been on the run. Running away from everything. That was until I decided that I wasn’t going to run anymore, and that I was going to sober up. It was a miracle, that the legendary Elder Vern scooped me up, and under his tutelage I began the process of what we call in Ojibway, biiskaabiiyaang – which means, decolonization. I’m sure that I am only one of the thousands he must have helped over the years.
One time I found myself seeking the wisdom and guidance of an Elder in British Colombia. I had told him of many profound visions that I had been having. After much discussions and interpretations, he told me, that “I must return home, and return to my people.” So I made the migration back to the east side of the continent.
When I got back to Toronto, I soon discovered that my “people” were in the process of “surrendering” over 10,000 acres of lands within the Coldwater Narrows Land Claim Settlement for $307 million dollars. When I conceptualized the thought of “surrendering all lands forever” and what that means to Anishinabek people, I made a conscious decision to migrate back to the land in question.
The result: Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp was born. Oshkimaadziig in the Anishinabek language refers to the New People who will emerge in the time of our current era, what we Anishinabek view as the time of the 7th Fire Prophecy. It will be the task of the Oshkimaaziig to retrace the steps back to the original teachings of their ancestors.
Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp maybe just a cabin in the bush, beside a big rock with some “controversial” inscriptions on it, but the camp itself serves as an entry point to begin this “migration” back to the land. At least for me it does.
With the onset of Fall already here, I am often reminded of the nostalgia of my father when he would return to the rez. There won’t be any return of my father this year or any other year. But perhaps someday, there will be a great migration of Anishinabek people back to our lands, like our people once lived. Perhaps it might not be this year, or it might not be next year. Perhaps it may never happen. But Oshkimaadziig must exist, and continue to prepare like our people will return.
I hope. I pray. It is what sustains me.
Giibwanisi (Red Tailed-Hawk)
Mkwa Dodem (Bear Clan)
Oshkimaadziig Anishinabek (I am of the New People of the 7th Fire Prophecy)