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Migrating Justice

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Issue: 68 Section: Foreign Policy Geography: Ontario Toronto Topics: migration, G20

June 21, 2010

Migrating Justice

Globalizing labour rights, regardless of status

by Robyn Maynard

A protest in support of migrant workers in Toronto on May 2, 2009. If the G8 and G20 are allowing for capital to move more freely, they must allow for migrant workers to move more freely as well, say migrant justice organizers. [cc 2.0] Photo: Tania Liu

MONTREAL—As the G8 and G20 meet in Huntsville and Toronto from June 25 to 27, resistance movements in the making since 2009 will take to the streets. A major focus of the community organizing and protests is migrant justice. On June 25, a “Free the Streets” demonstration will highlight the differences between politicians and dissenters on the themes of migrant justice, women’s and queer rights, and economic justice.

Fred McMahon, a globalization expert at the Fraser Institute, an influential pro-free-market think tank, says these protests are misguided.

“Nobody forces anybody to become a migrant labourer to Canada,” says McMahon. “The people who are protesting on the streets should ask how the migrants would feel if they were disallowed from coming to Canada. They wouldn’t be happy with the rich-kids street protesters. Migrants come here and see a better life for their families.”

SK Hussan from No One Is Illegal Toronto and the Toronto Community Mobilization Network counters that the migrant justice movement’s opposition to the G8/G20 emerges from a widespread dissatisfaction within migrant communities.

“People are angry and afraid of being deported, of unsafe working conditions, and of the rise in workplace raids,” Hussan told The Dominion.

Mostafa Henaway, director of the grassroots Montreal-based Immigrant Worker’s Centre, calls attention to economic “push factors,” factors that compel people to migrate. He specifically names Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) and their negative effects on the economies of the global South in recent decades.

“The de-regularization of labour laws has been an outcome of the race to the bottom, which is necessary in this system to remain competitive. In this time we’ve seen the largest migration in human history,” says Henaway.

Henaway believes this migration trend largely benefits the governments of the global North, due to the way migrant workforces are exploited by host countries such as Canada. Henaway says that changes to temporary worker programs bring workers rendered impoverished by SAPs to Canada, meaning companies don’t have to relocate for low wages.

“Since NAFTA, we’ve seen tens of thousands of Mexicans working in exploitative and precarious conditions under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker’s Program,” says Henaway, who explains the workers generally cannot challenge these conditions because they’re afraid of deportation.

Henaway notes that in previous generations, immigrants who worked in Canada became citizens, but that this is no longer the case.

“They do not have the same rights as those with citizenship, and under these programs it is impossible for them to [become citizens].”

The numbers of temporary workers has been steadily increasing, nearly doubling since 2004 according to the Canadian Council for Refugees. Simultaneously, the number of refugees allowed into Canada has been drastically reduced. According to the Ottawa Citizen, in 2008 almost 22,000 refugees were accepted; in 2010, the projected acceptance rate is between 9,000 and 12,000.

Hussan says increasingly more migrants are being brought to work in exploitative conditions through temporary workers programs, but not allowed the benefits of Canadian citizenship.

“The increasing use of ‘flexible’ workforces allows Canada to profit from migrant labour without allowing migrants the right to remain,” he says.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s recently announced changes to immigration policy reflects these ambitions, deepening the “temporary” nature of these jobs. After having worked in Canada for a cumulative four years, temporary workers are not eligible to work in the country for six years, a move Henaway likens to a deportation order.

“If migrants are seen as good enough to work, then why aren’t they good enough to stay?”

Other proposed changes in Kenney’s newly announced “Balanced Refugee Reform” include measures that deny the right to appeal negative decisions to refugees deemed to come from “safe” countries, rather than evaluating claims on individual cases of persecution.

Henaway says it’s important to bring the voice of migrant justice to the anti-globalization movement. “The G8 and G20 [countries] are crucial to these policies that create migration, and are beginning to regulate migration. The G8 and G20 manage the global economy, and migration is becoming sort of a central pillar of the global economy. If they want to globalize capital then we have to fight for the right for the freedom of movement and for labour rights for all, regardless of status.”

The G20 protests this spring are attracting a wide variety of community members. Hussan expects around 5,000 people for the “Free the Streets” march, largely to be led by racialized people and immigrant communities.

“We have been and continue to host community forums in 15 migrant neighbourhoods in the months leading up to the G20. Each of these should bring out from 100 to 300 people,” says Hussan. “People want to talk about status, and about labour standards, about the world that they want to live in.”

Robyn Maynard is a radio journalist and community organizer based in Montreal, focusing primarily on issues of migrant justice, police violence, and racial profiling.

This story was published in The Dominion's special issue on the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario. We will continue to publish independent, investigative news about the G8 and G20 throughout the month of June.

For up-to-the-minute G8/G20 news from the streets of Toronto, visit the Toronto Media Co-op.

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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.

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