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No White Is Illegal?

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Issue: 37 Section: Canadian News Geography: Atlantic New Brunswick, Fredericton Topics: police, racism

June 1, 2006

No White Is Illegal?

Fredericton police are accused of racism after arrests at "No One Is Illegal" march

by Chris Arsenault

Asaf Rashid believes he was targeted in part because of his Pakastani background. photo: IMC Maritimes

A small, peaceful demonstration for immigrant and refugee rights in Fredericton themed 'no one is illegal' ended when police illegally arrested four protesters on May 27.

"Out of the four people who were arrested, I was the only one who was physically taken down and hand cuffed," said Asaf Rashid, a PHD forestry student, who believes he was targeted in part because of his Pakistani background.

"An officer twisted my right arm behind my back and forced me to the ground, pushing his knee into me and then I was cuffed," said Rashid. "I didn't put up any resistance at all. I made no effort to fight back and I was still physically taken down and handcuffed."

The other three arrestees weren't people of color and none of them were handcuffed or assaulted. Instead, officers told them they were under arrest and marched them to police vehicles. All four arrestees say the police never read them their rights.

Duane Rousselle, another arrestee, was re-united with Rashid in a police interrogation room. "I was pretty much the only one there to witness how they grilled Asaf," said Rousselle, a 24 year old sociology student. "They asked if his family had status, if he was a citizen, if his brother had been deported."

"They didn't ask me, or anyone else who was white, those sorts of questions; they were obviously racially motivated," said Rousselle.

For their part, the Fredericton Police Department is keeping quiet. "Basically, our position on this right now is we're going to be reviewing the incident and not commenting any further on the matter at this point," said Constable Bobbi Simmons.

Since the arrest, New Brunswick media outlets, like CBC Radio and the Daily Gleaner, have asked police some tough questions about race relations and aggressive arrests, but managed to miss the point of the demonstration itself.

"Attention just focused on the arrest of this activist screaming racism, a nice human interest story - not on the struggles of non-status people," said Rashid, who helped organize the New Brunswick demonstration to coincide with 'no one is illegal' events in Montreal, Vancouver and other cities across Canada. The Fredericton protest was part of a national campaign to get status for all workers and families living in the shadows of Canadian society. The campaign is demanding the regularization of all non-status persons; an end to deportations; an end to the detention of migrants, immigrants and refugees; and the abolition of security certificates.

The federal government doesn't know how many non-status people are currently living in Canada, but some officials estimate 200,000 people.

Without papers and the legalized rights that come with them, non-status people are an easily exploitable workforce. "Think of who's picking fruit, working in the backs of restaurants or doing domestic labor... we know our economies are dependent on migrant and non-status labor," said Jaggi Singh, a member of No One Is Illegal in Montreal. "If you can't claim status, it's that much easier to exploit people and it's that much harder for you to claim your full rights and your full dignity," said Singh.

In the summer of 2005 Asaf Rashid and hundreds of others - including many who didn't have status themselves - marched 191 km from Montreal to Ottawa demanding status for all. "I met a lot of people who were non-status and had still taken action and demonstrated in the streets for their rights. We were all connected at that time," said Rashid.

"I saw people, met them, traveled with them and then suddenly, they're deported - gone," he said.

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