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MONTREAL–A massive police operation in the Toronto area on April 1 caught the attention of major Canadian news outlets.
One hundred and twenty-five people were rounded up in a pre-dawn raid and charged with arms, drugs and organized crime-related violations. The arrests made top headlines across national media and were featured in most large metropolitan dailies.
A day later, another police operation in Ontario resulted in the arrest of nearly as many people, but hardly a word was written about it.
On April 2, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers and southern Ontario police officers arrested approximately 80 people on immigration violations.
While not as sensational as the first news item—which nabbed some 30,000 tablets of ecstasy and 40 firearms—the story contained much of the same interest, drama and newsworthiness: one hundred officers arrested undocumented workers at their places of employment and homes in at least three communities in Southern Ontario. And, according to the CBSA, it was the largest action of its kind in the Greater Toronto Area.
The April 2 raids received next-day coverage in small-circulation local papers like the Barrie Examiner. Not a word was mentioned in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail or National Post. CTV.ca and the Edmonton Journal eventually picked up on the story, but only several days later, when dozens of people gathered in Toronto and Edmonton (and other cities) to protest the raids and the workers' incarceration.
The Toronto rally was held outside the Rexdale Detention Centre, where those arrested were being held. The individuals were all living or working in the communities of Bradford, Markham, Leamington and East Toronto. Most were apprehended at their workplaces; some were reportedly followed home from work and then arrested. Most were migrant farm workers, employed by at least three companies, including two farms owned by Cericola Farms, Inc.
The raids come at a time when Canadians are questioning subtle but important changes in the Conservative government's immigration policy and in the CBSA's tactics when arresting undocumented individuals. Just as concerning, critical coverage of this event—and recent immigration policy issues in general—has been lacking in the Canadian press.
A recent report by Citizenship and Immigration Canada says that over the past year, crackdowns on illegal immigration in the United States is causing thousands of non-status immigrants to flood across the border to Canada. Last May, then-Minister of Public Security Stockwell Day applauded the arrest of 45 undocumented workers in Toronto and declared that "[large-scale operations protect] the integrity of our immigration program," signalling the government's intent to continue on this path.
Spokespeople from No One Is Illegal (NOII) Toronto and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) denounced the April 2 raids. "Clearly Harper and his Minister of Immigration are moving closer to a US-style immigration system where fear and enforcement are routinely used to terrorize migrant workers," said UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley. Both spokespeople expressed concern that large-scale raids on workplaces targeting undocumented workers have become regular occurrences.
In a release from the CBSA, no reason was given for the timing of the raids, simply that they came after three months of investigations. While this is the first police action of its scope in the area, in a report on the event NOII quoted several sources stating that this is not an isolated incident.
The Toronto Star recently ran an investigative piece on problems in Canada's home-care worker program, where individuals, particularly women, are incited to immigrate to Canada to work as domestic workers, only to find themselves labouring in extremely difficult and constrained conditions. The Globe and Mail recently reported that an immigration officer impersonated an individual's lawyer and lured him to a meeting before arresting him on immigration violation charges. The fact that nearly 80 undocumented workers were arrested in the largest raid of its kind in Canada's history and that the event was overlooked in news outlets is surprising. After all, both the Star and the Globe demonstrate a willingness to report to some degree on immigration issues.
But their commitment to these issues is disappointing. By declining to cover the April 2 raids, they shied away from deeper questions about Canadian government policy in dealing with undocumented workers.
Neither the Sun Media nor CanWest Global news chains covered the massive arrests in-depth, and recent articles—particularly in CanWest newspapers—raise questions about what Canadians can expect from immigration news coverage in the months to come.
CanWest papers recently ran an article highlighting the toughness and work ethic of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in his push to bring about an immigration policy revolution—without asking what that revolution might be. What they did highlight was that the government is continuing to use outreach policies, such as funds for immigrant communities to draw on to build statues and plaques.
According to NOII, the government has also given misinformation to the press: recently, as reported in CanWest, Conservative candidate Parm Gill claimed the government is aiming to reduce the number of rejected applications from Indian youth. New information reported by NOII and researched by the Canadian Migration Institute found that the number of refugees to be accepted from India is in fact slated to drop from 150 to 125 this year. And nowhere to be found in the article on Kenney was the news, reported by the Toronto Star in February, that the immigration ministry had admitted the economic downturn could reduce the number of immigrants accepted to Canada, all the while trumpeting a planned increase in immigration from 250,000 to 265,000 newcomers per year.
Tim McSorley is Media Analysis editor with The Dominion.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.