Undocumented in Toronto: You’re not alone! A guide to your rights as an undocumented person

Supporters of the 'Solidarity City' campaign at Toronto City Hall Chambers for the vote on allowing non-status people to access services (Solidarity City Network)

Supporters of the ‘Solidarity City’ campaign at Toronto City Hall Chambers for the vote on allowing non-status people to access services (Solidarity City Network)

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.