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Deport Injustice

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Issue: 37 Section: Features Geography: Canada Topics: social movements, migration

June 1, 2006

Deport Injustice

Protests across Canada demand status for all undocumented people

by Sarah Rogers

Many demonstrators wore colourful bandanas and masks in solidarity with the many non-status migrants who need to hide their identity. photo: CMAQ
On the heels of massive demonstrations south of the border last month and several high-profile deportation cases in Toronto, hundreds of Canadians took to the streets in late May as part of a national day of action against the deportation and detention of migrants and refugees.

"Immigration has always been a struggle for people coming to Canada," said Aaron Lakoff, a member of Montreal's chapter of Solidarity Across Borders, the main organizer of the event. Despite the increased profile immigration has recently been given in the mainstream media, Lakoff said the fight to protect immigrant rights in Canada is nothing new. "We're just looking for ways to continue and sustain the struggle," he said.

Protesters in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Fredericton called for status for all undocumented workers and their families living in Canada and for the abolition of security certificates.

Although it is difficult to place a number on non-status people in Canada, it is estimated that around 500,000 people live and work illegally in Canada. The issue is one of justice for many community advocacy groups and activists who took part in the march; if people work and contribute to Canadian society, they should be able to access the benefits of living in Canada, such as health care and secure working conditions.

"People are migrating here because often times they have to leave the places that they're living," Lakoff said. "They're essentially the backbone of this economy, but we don't let them live with the same dignity that others do. If we want to call this a democracy, we need to give these people the same rights we have."

Lakoff believes the way that we, as Canadians, view our own immigration system has to be linked to the way we view our international relations. According to Lakoff, Western governments often impose foreign policies that make it difficult for people to stay in their own countries. Lakoff gives Haiti as an example, a country wherein, he said, Canada supported a coup d'état of a democratically elected government.

"Canada needs to be able to accept the human impact of these policies that force people to show up at our doorstep," he said. "[Government policy] totally disregards the reality of immigration, where millions of people are forced to cross borders every year."

Most refugee claimants have three separate processes by which they can apply to remain in Canada, beginning first by appearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, a government appointed tribunal.

A Refugee Appeal Division was supposed to have been implemented as part of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in 2002, but has been delayed ever since due to a high volume of claims. The government's position now, under Immigration Minister Monte Solberg, is that the current system is in accord with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and remains fair and generous to claimants.

Status For All marches took place in Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Fredericton. photo: CMAQ

The case of the Lizano-Sossa family recently made headlines when 15-year-old Kimberley Lizano-Sossa and her 14-year-old brother Gerald were pulled out of their Toronto high-school on April 27 by Canada Border Service and taken to a detention centre.

The siblings and their parents have been living illegally in Canada for five years, since they came from Costa Rica. Their refugee claim was rejected in 2002 and now the family is set to be deported back to Costa Rica on July 2.

Advocacy groups have denounced the raid on the Toronto high school, calling it an unfair tactic by immigration officials to bait the children's parents.

"Undocumented workers are the people helping Canada's economy and taking the low-paying jobs," said Kimberley Lizano-Sossa, who took part in the Status For All march in Toronto.

She is scared to return to Costa Rica, where the family was threatened because of a family relation to an undercover police officer, she said.

"Hopefully we'll get a positive response from the government in the next couple weeks," Lizano-Sossa said.

Professor François Crepeau, who works with the Centre for International Studies at the University of Montreal, believes Canada needs to recognize that immigrants, refugees and migrants are all a distinct part of the country's social fabric. That said, Crepeau doesn't believe Canada will take the step of granting status to all undocumented people.

"The issue is that many of these people work here…which means there is a labour market and there is a need that they're fulfilling," he said. "But [granting them all status] is not realistic politically under the current government."

"If we had to pay each worker minimum wage, benefits, or overtime, it would cost us, and [Canada] is not ready to do that," Crepeau said. "It is, in part, exploitation. There is a big hypocrisy in that."

Crepeau said there are flaws in the country's immigration system, namely not having in-house appeal mechanisms under Canada's refugee board.

Sima Zeheri, founder of the Toronto chapter of the advocacy group No One Is Illegal, agreed that the Canadian immigration system is deeply flawed – it's a system she has experienced first-hand. Zeheri said that without a proper appeals system, there is little opportunity for people to access documentation, leaving newcomers "completely vulnerable."

"These families, who have been completely integrated into Canadian society… are not able to benefit from the same services that are offered to everyone else," Zeheri said. "We need to come up with a solution to this humanitarian crisis."

No One Is Illegal say they have repeatedly written letters, sent petitions and organized delegation with the Immigration Ministry and have been largely ignored. The Status For All march was a way to draw attention to a very serious issue, Zeheri said.

"[The march] signifies the beginning of a tremendous mobilization," she said.

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