On September 24, close to 40 people gathered outside the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) to protest the lack of access to schooling for undocumented, or non-status, children. The demonstration was organized by the solidarity group Education Across Borders Collective (EABC), a part of the migrant justice group Solidarity Across Borders.
EABC is a collective advocating for access to education for all, as well as a clear and accessible process for families that guarantees them confidentiality and free access to school.
A few members of the collective attended the CSDM’s meeting, while the rest remained outside for a discussion. Jaggi Singh, a member of EABC and a Montreal-based social justice activist, spoke to the crowd over a megaphone.
“There are children here in Montreal, probably numbering in the thousands, who can’t go to school because they don’t have documents. To put that in context, in the States, since the [1980s], all children regardless of immigrant status have [had] the right to attend school.”
“Deportations still happen, and there are still problems, but at a minimum, children are allowed to go to school. Except here in Quebec,” he continued.
With a new directive issued by the Quebec government this summer, education is more accessible to children who lack a permanent code, typically a marker of immigration status. Now, it is sufficient to provide a birth certificate and a proof of residence, such as a hydro or water bill. However, non-status children are still asked to pay up to $6,000 in tuition per year.
The protest was the most recent in a series of demonstrations organised by the EABC to put pressure on the CSDM. Representatives of the CSDM told the crowd that they were neither elected officials, nor in a position to change policy, and questioned why the group was targeting the bureaucracy rather than the politicians.
“They have the power to stop sending people bills, they have the power [to] say that it’s in the directives that we’re not going to ask for your immigration status,” said Singh in response.
Tensions ran high as representatives from the EABC tried to address the CSDM. Some protesters were told they could attend the meeting, only to be blocked by security at the entrance, leading to scuffles and shouting between activists and representatives of the CSDM.
Catherine Harel-Bourdon, the president of CSDM, said in French: “Please note that the CSDM agrees that the education of every child should be privileged, but as a public institution there are laws set by the ministry. [...] We are in direct contact with the people, but if you have other requests, you should contact the ministry, because it is the ministry making the rules.”
“We encourage [non-status] families to present themselves at our administrative centre, where we will help them through the administration process in a personalized and confidential approach. During the last weeks, we only received seven families without immigration status at our office,” said Harel-Bourdon.
The EABC replied that there is no clear statement on the issue of confidentiality of documents specifically for non-status families, and criticized the alleged lack of information on the CSDM’s webpage.
“The commissioners say just to ignore the letters, but they don’t understand the situation of those families,” Romina Hernandez, spokesperson for the EABC, told The Daily.
“They see those letters coming again and again and don’t know what is going to happen, or if the education office is communicating with immigration. They live in constant fear.”