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)
by International Women’s Alliance
Close to 80 women and their allies turned out to the International Women’s Alliance meeting in New York, October 5, 2013, hosted by local member groups including the Women’s Fightback Network and Gabriela USA.
The meeting came on the heels of a successful 4th International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees that had culminated in a rally in front of the United Nations the day before.
The women were primed to talk about the pressing issues of women in the Americas and the need for international solidarity between women’s organizations within the Americas and globally.
After a short video presentation of the last March 8 rally in New York City organized by the International Working Women’s Day Coalition, the meeting chaired by IWWD Coalition co-coordinator, Monica Moorehead and began with a short slide-show orientation on IWA, its origins and history by Marie Boti of Montreal Québec, Secretary General of the International Women’s Alliance (IWA).
This was followed by Brenda Stokely, a leader of Million Workers March and IWWD Coalition co-coordinator, who spoke about the Coalition’s IWD initiatives since 2005 including paying tribute this past March to two Black freedom fighters, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. She also pointed out the need to create a display for various communities on the amounts spent on the war and military budget that could be spent to meet human needs for food, housing and social services.
Monica Moorehead of Women’s Fightback Network (Executive Committee member of IWA) spoke about the importance of Can We Live demands like health care, education, childcare, etc. and connecting these overall demands to high-profile cases such as Marissa Alexander, a Florida African-American mother of three and survivor of domestic violence, serving a 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot at her estranged abusive husband.
Gwen Dobrow, from the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, spoke on the case of Lynne Stewart, a terminally-stricken human rights lawyer in prison for her stalwart defense of a client.
A student from the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee spoke about the campaign against growing militarization inside the U.S., with on-campus recruitment for the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) and the hiring of high profile former military commanders like David Petraeus to teach on campuses. This same student was arrested for a recent protest against Petraeus.
There were also representatives from Fanmi Lavalas, a Haitian group based in Brooklyn and Transport Workers Union Local 100.
Women participants got up to share their struggles: Lucia, an undocumented woman from South Africa told how an abusive husband forced her and her daughter to flee to the US; Mavie, a Filipina, talked about how she had survived human trafficking and was becoming empowered by the support of her community. Kendall Jackson from Picture the Homeless spoke about the 100,000 women and children in New York who were homeless. “The average homeless person is not a drug addict or a criminal, it is people like me and my daughter,” she said.
Jennine Ventura of Gabriela USA spoke about the Millions of Migrants mobilization which started October 2 with a flash mob dance in Manhattan, Hong Kong, and other cities and leading to a concluding event on International Migrants Day, December 18. Actions across the USA for migrant justice and legalization of the undocumented will take place while the US Congress discusses a bill for immigration reform.
Elaine Vilasper of Gabriela USA said the lack of decent jobs in migrants’ home countries that pushes them to leave to survive is a form of violence. “This is created by economic policies that try to kill our spirit,” she said.
Tess Tesalona from the Immigrant Workers’ Centre in Montreal, an IWA member organization, spoke about how IWA groups in Montreal were linking issues from members’ home countries with their conditions locally, with campaigns about mining aggression by Canadian corporations abroad and at home, and exploitation of sweat shop labour in the countries of origin and locally.
Rita Acosta of the Movement Against Rape and Incest in Montreal, a founding member of IWA, reported about the IWA member groups in Mexico and Ecuador dealing with issues like gender violence and opposing mining aggression.
Evelyn Calugay of Pinay Québec an association of Filipino domestic workers, spoke about the successful battle at the International Labor Organization to have domestic work recognized as work. “Now the countries have to adopt and apply that recognition, which is not easy. For example, Canada and the USA have yet to sign the Covenant to protect the rights of Migrants and their Families.” she said.
Marie Boti pointed out many of these issues were part of on-going campaigns underway with IWA, including the campaign against War and militarization, as the US shifts its focus from the Middle-East to Southeast Asia, accompanied by growing pressure on countries like the Philippines to build and re-activate US and foreign military bases.
A campaign to demand liberation of all women political prisoners has also been taken up by IWA internationally. The Oct. 5 meeting agreed by consensus to coordinate global IWD events in 2014, all supported by IWA.
IWA Book Project
Boti spoke about a major IWA book project, which would gather information about the issues of women and their experiences dealing with these on the ground in different regions where IWA is present.
IWA would produce a unified framework to put together data and testimonials about these issues and women’s resistance strategies, as well as input from progressive women academics. This project would be developed in line with IWA outreach and consolidation in each region. Fund-raising is underway for this project.
(NOTE: Those interested should get in touch with their local IWA groups for more information.)
Women at the meeting resolved to improve their linkages, share information on the International Women’s Alliance web site, Facebook, and send each other solidarity messages for special events.
A tool kit was made available to all, which included the Manila Declaration of Unity, the IWA Constitution and an application for membership for new groups.
Those present also agreed to move towards the establishment of a regional chapter of IWA Americas in the next year.
The upcoming visit in November 2013 of Lina Solano, an indigenous leader from the IWA group in Ecuador, Women’s Front Defenders of the Pachamama, would be another opportunity to bring together the IWA network in New York.
The meeting adjourned with a rousing chant session led by the dynamic head of International Affairs for Gabriela USA and IWWD Coalition co-coordinator, Irma Bajar, followed by a group photo.
Please see some of the photos at this link:
Also visit the International Women’s Alliance (IWA) web site at http://www.internationalwomensalliance.wordpress.com
by M. Cooke
“People walk over us, they do what they want” said Boniface as he stood on the front steps of the office tower that houses the Quebec Ministry of Labour.
Boniface and several other immigrant workers had braved the cold autumn rain to demand that the Quebec government create a bill to improve the work conditions for precarious workers.
“We are holding this action on the International Day of Decent Work to reiterate our demands for a more inclusive and just regulation of the labour market, as well as an immigration and social service system that fairly reflects the needs and rights of precarious and migrant workers” said Noé Artega, who works at the Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC).
Jasmin de la Calzada, an organizer with Pinay, a Filipino Women’s Organization of Quebec,spoke next. “Pinay, and its membership of live-in caregivers, has been struggling for over 20 years to keep the women workers free from abuse and exploitation from their employers, scrupleless recruitment agencies, and the unjust trappings embedded in the live-in caregiver program itself.”
A recent report by the Quebec ministry of Labour indicated that over 450,000 workers in Quebec have precarious jobs. These are jobs that: pay low wages, have no or few benefits, have few regulatory protections, and have no security.
The report also found that nearly 1.3 million workers in Quebec experience job and employment insecurity.
These are workers who have been unemployed in the last two years and regularly have to find new work.
“Precarious jobs are becoming central to the economy” says Mostafa Henaway, who works at the IWC.
“Agency work used to just be to find white collar workers. Now you see big agencies being used as a normal way of employing blue collar workers.”
Henaway says that he meets a lot of people working for placement agencies. The smaller placement agencies are often fly-by-night operations. They make money by hiring out workers to other companies and then they close down shortly afterwards. The owners of the agencies make their money and often close without having paid their workers.
While these fly-by-night operations are the most egregious, the larger placement agencies also trample on workers’ rights.
Henaway says that placement agencies “help create a permanently precarious workforce.”
“People are living on the edge. People are working six days a week, but they don’t know when they will have work again.”
The IWC and community organizations are demanding: a living wage, universal access to health services regardless of migrant status, access to accident insurance for domestic workers, and regulation of placement and recruitment agencies.
The groups met with the Ministry of Labour in May, but Henaway says the consultation “resulted in nothing.”
He says that the Parti Quebecois “actually doesn’t want to do anything because just like the Liberal party, they want to appease the interests of business. Which means not actually giving protections to precarious workers.”
“Now we realize that we need to put pressure in a public way.”
NEW YORK, NY—Over 350 migrants and refugees from across Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America gathered in New York City October 1-5 for the 4th International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR4).
The IAMR4 week of activities included a one-day dialogue between migrants, refugees, and church representatives, a press conference and flash mob in Washington Square Park followed by 3-day conference at St. Patrick’s Church in Long Island City.
“We are gathering just 3 miles away from the UN High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development [UN HLD], where state governments are discussing how to manage the lives of 215 million migrant workers worldwide to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goals. But they don’t want to hear from us migrants about how their policies really affect us and our home countries,” states Eni Lestari, Chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), the main convener of the IAMR4 and an Indonesian domestic worker working in Hong Kong since 1999.
“The UN HLD claims migration can be managed as a tool for development, but what kind of development do they mean when our home countries are getting poorer and migrants are facing greater exploitation? The IAMR4 is the international grassroots-level dialogue of migrants and refugees who can speak for ourselves and can speak on what our home countries need for genuine development,” Lestari continued.
Highlights from the assembly also included a visit from Cuban mission representative to the United Nations, Ariel Hernandez, who delivered greetings in person to a packed assembly hall, and a cultural performance by Bronx hip-hop activists Rebel Diaz.
March to the United Nations
After the first day of workshops, IAMR4 launched a 400+ march from Times Square to the UN Headquarters where the UN HLD was taking place.
IAMR4 representatives who registered to UN HLD walked out on the first day and joined the march when efforts to assert genuine migrant voices inside proved futile.
Chanting “We are workers! We are not slaves!” the IAMR4 march first passed through the consulates of the Dominican Republic, where the march was joined by Frente Amplio President Fidel Santana, and of Nigeria, where IAMR4 keynote speaker and Nigerian refugee Rex Osa-Aghedo led a spirited rally.
“Migration should not be treated as a tool for development but rather as a development concern which should be addressed in the post-2015 agenda,” stated Garry Martinez, Chairperson of Migrante International, an alliance of Filipino overseas organizations and IAMR4 convener. “Migration, as a choice or an obligation for family survival, should serve as a measure to see whether development goals are working.”
Marchers passed through Dag Hammarskjold, down First Avenue until they reached the front of the UN Headquarters building. It was the first time since 9/11, protesters were able to march down the heavily police-barricaded First Avenue to demonstrate at the UN.
Speakers at the IAMR4 rally in front of the UN included Fidel Santana, Frente Amplio President of the Dominican Republic, and Saul Arellano, son of IAMR4 spokesperson Elvira Arellano, who became a symbol of undocumented immigrants in the US in 2006 when she defied a federal deportation order and sought sanctuary with Saul in a Chicago church.
March for Genuine US Immigration Reform
Responding to the national day of action for US immigration reform, IAMR4 delegates marched for genuine comprehensive immigration reform across the Brooklyn Bridge last Saturday, October 5.
“The US must lead the way in how it treats its immigrants and foreign workers with dignity and respect, and we immigrants need to be in the forefront of this struggle,” stated Terrence Valen, President of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), an IAMR4 convening organization.
Chanting “Whose Bridge? Our Bridge!” the IAMR4 march called for legalization and denounced deportations, militarization of the borders, and neoliberal trade policies.
“If Obama wants to get rid of undocumented immigrants, he should first stop pushing policies that wage war and plunder our home countries, that force us to migrate,” Lestari stated, explaining US immigration reform can never be genuine without addressing the root causes of forced migration.
IAMR4 delegates capped off a successful assembly and march at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge near City Hall with a flash mob dance entitled “Millions of Migrants Mobilizing Worldwide.”
For pictures, videos, and more information on the IAMR4, visit www.iamr4.com.
by Steve da Silva
Many of us have the impression that immigration policy in Canada is driven by so-called “Canadian values” like humanitarianism. This may have been part your or your parents Citizenship test, or maybe you learned this in school.
However, since the 1870s, Canadian immigration policy has primarily been about attracting workers to feed its expanding capitalist economy. In the century leading up to that, immigration policy was primarily focused on colonizing Indigenous lands with British settlers.
By 1942, just as most of Canada’s 23,000 Japanese were about to be branded as “enemy aliens,” dispossessed of their property, and removed to concentration camps, the government began thinking seriously about the crisis of legitimacy they would face after the war, especially in the eyes of non-Anglophone peoples. They did not want a repeat of WWI, which sparked the takeover of Winnipeg by workers in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
In the same year, the Department of National War Services established an Advisory Committee on Cooperation in Citizenship that was charged with studying the views of immigrants for the purpose better cultivating their allegiance and loyalty.
Throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, a large section of the immigrant population and a growing section of the lower middle class were orienting towards the Communist Party and their vision for an egalitarian society; and communists played a leading role in building unions for industrial workers. So cultivating the allegiance of certain sections of labour in postwar Canada would be just as important as cultivating the allegiance of immigrants in general.
In February of 1944, the federal government passed an executive order recognizing trade unions; by March 1945, 133 new unions had been certified; and a fierce 99-day strike at Ford over the summer of 1945 led to the compulsory check-off of union dues from members’ pay cheques (the ‘Rand’ Formula, which is being threatened today). But these moves were not a concession to the communists: rather, bringing labour relations within the law went hand-in-hand with the subsequent policy of isolating and fiercely attacking communism during the Cold War period that followed.
In 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act was passed, and in 1950, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent made clear that the goal of the Act was “to make Canadian citizens of those who come here as immigrants and to make Canadian citizens of as many as possible of the descendants of the original inhabitants of this country.” In other words, the objective was assimilation, for immigrants as well as for Indigenous peoples.
Once the flow of cheap European labour began drying up in the 1960s – the last waves of which were the Greeks and Portuguese – the Canadian state began looking towards other pools of immigrants, and to varying degrees grudgingly ‘tolerating’ non-white peoples migrating and gaining citizenship.
Canadian immigration policy responded to these labour needs by introducing the “points system” by 1967, which formally lifted the racial criteria (which identified “preferred races”) for immigration and set out ‘objective criteria’ for the recruitment of prospective immigrants, such as education background, language skills, occupation or professional experiences, as well as family ties to Canada. These policy shifts in immigration became institutionalized with the Immigration Act of 1976.
Meanwhile, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (DCI) oversaw Indian Affairs from 1949 to 1966, at a time of the height of the Indian Residential Schools. A 1961 report from DCI explicitly stated that the government intended using off-reserve educational opportunities – such as the Residential Schools – as a means of depopulating reserves and effecting the assimilation of Indigenous peoples.
By the mid-1960s, however, the Federal government became frustrated with the pace of assimilation of natives, and the Trudeau government decided to proceed with its infamous ‘White Paper’ of 1969, which called for a complete dismantling of the Indian Act and the direct assimilation of natives as ‘Canadians’ – which would have made them into the most dispossessed and poorest strata of the working class, and completely eliminated their self-determination.
The policy of native assimilation, the demand for cheap labour, and the need to tame Quebec nationalism, therefore, were driving forces behind the policy that we have come to know in the benign terms of multiculturalism.
But in his own day, Trudeau was clear that his policy of multiculturalism sought to “promote creative encounters and interchange among all Canadian cultural groups in the interest of national unity”. What national unity? Whose nation?
Many would point to Canada’s refugee policies (at least until very recently) as an example of Canada’s humanitarianism. However, as Pablo Vivanco analyzed in BASICS recently, it wasn’t until solidarity activists forced the Canadian government to accept Chilean refugees fleeing the Western-backed dictatorship that Canada’s refugee policy was partially opened up to refugees who weren’t anti-communist. Until the Chilean refugee crisis, Canada’s Cold War refugee system only granted asylum to people leaving ‘socialist’ countries, like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Vietnam. Recruiting anti-communist refugees had a lot to do with national unity as well: the unity of Canada as a capitalist country.
With the banning of religious symbols in the public service in Quebec’s new Charter clearly directed at Muslims, many are wondering what happened to ‘tolerance’ in this country. But the emergence of the policy of ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada was never the product of some progressive enlightenment of Canada’s political system, its nationals, or its elites. It was developed in the postwar era as a strategy for the assimilation of immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and containing Quebecois nationalism. It was a policy for assimilating and managing an increasingly diverse population in the interests of capitalism and colonialism.
Many of us want to live in a diverse society where all peoples from all nations are genuinely respected and can fully participate in society for the benefit of all. But that was never Canada. Not yesterday, not today. That’s a society we have yet to build.
 See p.444 of Bohaker, H. & Iacovetta, F. (2009). Making Aboriginal people ‘Immigrants Too’: A comparison of citizenship programs for newcomers and Indigenous peoples in postwar Canada, 1940s-1960s. Canadian Historical Review 90(3), 427-461.
by Syed Hussan
Every year thousands of refugee claimants, migrant workers or temporary residents on family, visit and study visas are denied permit renewals or permanent residency in Canada. These migrants have to make the difficult decision of choosing to return to a place where they may not be able to work, live, or be safe, or instead to stay in Canada without papers, and thus without rights and benefits. Many choose to stay.
There are nearly 500,000 undocumented or non-status immigrants in Canada, and over 200,000 of them are in the GTA. If you’re undocumented or know someone that is, here is what you need to know.
1. Basic Services: For decades, undocumented migrants and their supporters have struggled to get basic services for themselves and their communities. As a result, undocumented children can access schools, emergency health services, food banks, public health services, emergency shelters and hostels, labour rights protections and more. To find out all the services that are accessible to you, how to access them and what to do if you are denied, visit www.solidaritycity.net.
2. Your rights at work: Just because you don’t have immigration papers does not mean that someone can pay you less than minimum wage, or not give you overtime pay or holiday pay. You have the same labour rights as someone with immigration documents. If you are being mistreated or not getting the money you are owed and want to get support, contact the Workers Action Centre at www.workersactioncentre.org (416) 531-0778 and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change at www.migrantworkersalliance.org
3. Make an “in-case-of-arrest” plan: Many migrants live without papers in Toronto without being arrested by immigration detention or police, but it’s important to have a plan just in case. Have a friend you trust that can knows where your important papers are, can tell others what’s happening and get in touch with a trustworthy lawyer on your behalf. You may also want to have a bondsperson, a Canadian citizen with some money, who may be able to bail you out. The most important ingredient to stopping a deportation is having a large number of people willing to make noise on your behalf – so stay involved in groups and have friends who will fight for you.
4. Know your Rights when coming in to contact with police and border guards:
Right to Privacy: The RIGHT TO PRIVACY means that, in general, officers aren’t allowed to enter your home. But they can legally enter your home if you invite them in, or if the officers have the TWO necessary warrants.
Right to Silence: The RIGHT TO SILENCE means that you do NOT have to speak to an officer in any situation, unless you’ve already been arrested or detained.
There are lots of important things you need to know about how to exercise these rights. Although you are legally entitled to these rights does not mean that police officers or border guards will necessarily respect them. But you should know your legal rights you do have. The Immigration Legal Committee of No One Is Illegal (Toronto) has prepared a full guide in Spanish, French and English that has all that information. Download it for free at http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/knowyourrights
5. Fight for justice: Immigration controls that deny citizenship to some and not others are unfair and unjust. Its not migrants that are stealing from Canadians, it’s the Canadian government that is stealing status from migrants after exploiting their labour and their countries. Get involved with struggles against detentions and deportations. Only when we fight together can we get justice.
A combination of political action and legal strategies have stopped people’s deportations, changed some unjust laws in the short term and created safety for their families. Reach out to organizations like No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Health for All, Migrante Ontario, Justice for Migrant Workers, Gabriela-Toronto or the Caregivers Action Centre, FCJ Refugee Centre, and many others that are part of the migrant justice movements in the GTA.
Documentary Review by Ashley
I had the pleasure of attending the documentary film screening and director’s presentation of a fascinating film “Tied in a Knot: Narratives from Bride Seeking Regions of India”. It examines the newly emergent phenomenon of bride buying and commoditization of the female body in India, and the attendant gender based violence that the sourced, bought, or trafficked brides undergo in their marital homes, directed by Reena Kukreja and her team.
The documentary was the fruit of Reena Kukreja’s 2 year journey travelling to 226 villages and interviewing over 56 brides, their respective families, and people living in the surrounding villages. Some of the main issues highlighted in this film are patriarchal influences, as well as the socio-economic impacts that neoliberalism and imperialism have on women and their communities in poor rural areas in India. The film is not only a geographic journey, but one of self-discovery and rich political analysis that attempts to go beyond the ‘othering’ of the Northern India’s rural women and focusing on the greater socio-economic forces that contribute to a tendency to look at India through a narrow lens. The film provides a holistic view of the situation in India from the subtle changes in perspectives of the caste system that force men from one state to find brides in a different geographical location regardless of their caste, to the greater imperialist forces like ‘tied aid’ and rapid industrialization that have contributed to severe poverty in rural areas.
What was most compelling were the diverse stories that came from this project. The film did not hold a one-sided view that all Indian women are ‘coerced’ into these marriages. While anti-Trafficking units have been created, Reena insists that trafficking only happens in a small percentage of cases and that most people choose to be married off into families outside of their homes because of other reasons. She asserts the importance of not placing all women in the ‘trafficked’ category and in ‘need of saving’. She speaks to class and caste issues, along with the larger legislative policies that dictate ‘equal’ treatment of people, but rarely is put into practice. In fact, she further researched the impact of lax policies that lead to an increase in gender-based violence (ie, disappearances, kidnapping, rape and assault).
In the discussion, Reena also raised the importance of examining whose stories and issues are brought to justice and profiled in the media, such as the Delhi rape case of a middle-class woman which received a great deal of media attention and a large outcry from the ‘community’ in contrast to those whose stories and lives are not treated with that same importance. For example, Dalit women, who are among the lower classes, face gender-based violence everyday but their stories do not garner the attention.
The film highlights the “family planning” campaign that came out of Donor Aid (with developments in reproductive technologies with their structural adjustment policies and aid from the UN) to ‘control’ the population by introducing ultrasound machines in communities. Coupled with male preference and female feticide, this has led to a ‘female shortage’ in many states, alongside poverty that affect communities in ways that lead men to look out of state for brides. There are a small group of people that are indeed trafficking women and girls within the regions that she explored. Reena critically looks at the the real intentions and agenda the anti-trafficking units funded by the Western countries, and their approach to ‘save the brown women from their ‘savage’ native husbands’ to ‘liberate the women’.
Interestingly enough, caste rules are being broken because of migratory bride selection because men are desperately looking for brides to fulfil their need for free labour – in the fields and bearing children (sons) that will eventually inherit their land. Women make up 80% of UNPAID, productive labour, from agricultural, daily work, childcare and household chores. The film captures all sides of the story and is a powerful testament to the resiliency of women who will do almost anything to uphold the honour of their family.
“Tied in a Knot” are stories of women that travel long distances, away from their family, language, traditions and community. It speaks to their loneliness and isolation, racism, abuse and exploitation. It looks at intersections of globalization, greed, industrialization and market economies, poverty, and its connection to how all of these things affect people and exacerbate the struggles of daily life.
The screening was hosted by the Education Committee of the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly (GTWA) and Centre for Feminist Research (CFR) at York University. The film is available on the Directors website: http://www.tamarindtreefilms.com/film-store.php
by Christopher C. Sorio (MIGRANTE Canada)
Migrante Canada (Ontario) which is an alliance of 19 Filipino organizations in Canada and have 5 members organizations in the province of Ontario, supports the campaign to increase minimum wage from $10.25 to $14.00 per hour.
For the last three years, the minimum wage in Ontario is pegged at $10.25 and there is a mechanism to address a review process that will look at the necessity of increasing minimum wage.
In a study conducted by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in 2008 the report showed that calculates a living wage in Toronto should be more than $10.25 per hour.
The CCPA study which was conducted in 2008, by Hugh Mackenzie and Jim Stanford, calculated that a two parent family with two children would need to make at least $16.60 an hour, working full-time year round, in order to obtain a reasonable standard of living that promotes health, well-being and participation in the full life of their community.
The living wage for a single parent with one child would be $16.15.
According to Sonia Singh of Worker’s Action Centre, there are 544,000 people in the province of Ontario that subsist on a pay of $10.25 an hour, and more than 750,000 earn around $11 or $12 an hour. Singh further adds says many low-wage earners are older and have families to support. They are mostly women, recent immigrants, and people of colour.
This becomes very important, more so to immigrant newcomers in this province. Most immigrant newcomers are earning minimum wage and are at times working two or more jobs in order to meet the needs of their families.
Increasing wage increase will be good for poverty reduction for this province.
By Nicole Oliver
On September 17, immigration detainees launched a strike over detention conditions at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario. Due to the forthcoming closure of the Toronto West Detention Centre, 191 immigration detainees were relocated to the maximum-security facility known colloquially as the “Lindsay Superjail”.
Part of the detainees protest action has included a hunger strike. The demands of the striking immigration detainees include: “Better access to medical care and social workers, cheaper phone calls and access to international calling cards (many have family overseas), access to better food, like the food on the non-immigration ranges, an end to constant lockdowns, keep the improved canteen program going, better access to legal aid and legal services, and granting of specific requests to move individuals to facilities nearer to their families, legal resources, and social services.1
According to the group No One Is Illegal-Toronto, “Between 2004 and 2011, 82,000 people were locked up in immigration detention. At least another 13,000 have been imprisoned since 2011. Just this year 289 of the detainees were children, many of them under the age of 10.”2
Back in June of 2012, the Conservative government’s Bill C-31, entitled the “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act”, came into force. This bill, championed by then Immigration minister Jason Kenney, brought about dramatic changes to Canada’s refugee determination system (which came into force on December 15th, 2012) and included provisions requiring that biometric data (fingerprints and photo) be collected as part of a temporary resident visa, work permit, and study permit application amongst other things.3
A community worker in Montreal who assists individuals in precarious immigration situations stated that, through Bill C-31 and Canada’s move toward increasing detention for migrants, the government appears to be making it more and more difficult and unattractive to come to Canada and claim protection. “That the only country ever awarded the Nansen Refugee Award by the United Nations is moving in this direction is a troubling sign for refugee protection on an international level”, she adds.
Under Bill C-31, appointed Immigration Ministers have the power to designate refugee source countries as “generally considered safe”. The Canadian Council for Refugees holds that “The Minister’s opinion is not dependent on expert opinion regarding country conditions, nor need the Minister take account of the differential risks faced by certain minorities in a country that is ‘safe’ for some, but not for others”.4
Additionally, with the introduction of Bill C-31, Clause 10 contains rulings of how Ministers are to proceed with “irregular arrivals”. “Irregular arrivals” according to Immigration Canada may include a group of people who arrive together in Canada. The Minister can designate a group as an “irregular arrival” for one of these reasons: suspicion of human smuggling or trafficking involving a criminal organization or terrorist group or the border authorities are not able to assess group members in a timely way regarding their identities or admissibility. Much criticism has been raised that such a policy appears targeted at particular groups of refugee claimants, such as Tamil and Roma peoples. Under Clause 10, those deemed irregular arrivals face mandatory detention, which includes children under 16-years of age. There are other stipulations under this clause that result in what some migrant justice groups label as a “two tiered refugee system” that arbitrarily distinguishes between “regular” and “irregular” arrivals.
When asked if her organization had formulated an official opinion on the so-called “two tiered” refugee system and as to whether the changes made seemed to be targeted at particular groups, the community worker responded “to be honest, due to the current context and our limited resources, we are in survival mode and really focusing on individual case work. It’s hard to focus on the big picture when we have to work so hard on ensuring that individuals have timely access to accurate information about their rights and, albeit limited, recourses in an ever-changing system.”
The community worker did note that they have observed that “persons of Mexican descent are especially hit hard” with the changes being made after the implementation of Bill C-31. She cites that “over 1000 Mexican refugee claimants were accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2011”, yet Mexico has been placed on the Designated Country of Origin list by the immigration minister as, in his opinion, it is “generally considered safe”. She explains “that many folks coming from Mexico have very compelling humanitarian reasons to remain in Canada. For those whose cases do not fit within the narrow definition of a refugee, their recourses have been drastically reduced.” For example, failed DCO claimants who submitted their claim after December 15th 2012 do not have access to the Refugee Appeal Division, cannot apply for a work permit within the first 6 months of their arrival in Canada, have very limited health care coverage and do not benefit from a stay of removal if they choose to access their only recourse, a judicial review at the federal court.
The worker concludes our chat by emphasizing that, “our newest concern is with proposed changes being made to the family reunification process where the definition of a dependent child would be drastically narrowed beginning in January 2014”. She explains that the “general trend is devaluing family reunification, which has always been a priority for the Canadian government, and moving towards viewing family reunification through an economic lens”. In the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement for this proposal (now archived), the government explains “that older dependent children (those who arrive between the ages of 19 and 21) have lower economic outcomes than those who arrive in Canada at a younger age (between 15 and 18 years old)….that older immigrants have a more challenging time fully integrating into the Canadian labour market; this is more evident for immigrants who are not selected based on their own merits (e.g. dependent children).”5 This policy direction clearly demonstrates that a family’s worth under the Harper government is purely economical. Such shortsighted capitalist lenses will result in families who have been waiting years to be reunited remaining separated indefinitely.