On September 4, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre declared that the city was prepared to welcome more refugees from Syria. He also called on the federal government to establish a special program for the 4.5 million people fleeing the crisis, saying, “We have not done enough.” On the same day, he ignored activist group Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), which held a rally outside his office in City Hall, demanding that he take a position on the October 2014 arrest and deportation of 17-year-old Daniel*, a hearing-impaired student who fled Mexico City in 2008 with his mother. Federal action to accept more refugees is indeed sorely needed, but Coderre’s call for such action is disingenuous at best when Montreal fails to support refugees and displaced people who are already here.
Quebec, unlike any other Canadian province or the U.S., charges undocumented children to attend public schools, with the Ministry of Education requiring them to pay $5,000 to $6,000 per year. Daniel, who had lived in Montreal for over six years, changed high schools when school administrators found out about his undocumented status and demanded this discriminatory fee. He was later arrested by Montreal police while visiting his former high school on his 17th birthday, and was put in solitary confinement for one week at the Laval immigration detention centre. Despite multiple protests and a pending claim for him to stay in the country on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, Daniel, a minor, was separated from his family and deported back to Mexico in October 2014.
While Daniel’s case is specific to Montreal, it is also a symptom of Canada’s unjust immigration system. According to Canada Border Services Agency statistics from 2013, Canadian immigration officials accepted only 5,790 people that year, while deporting over 10,000 people, most of whom were refused as refugees. According to a SAB press release, the number of accepted refugees dropped by 30 per cent between 2006 and 2012. Not only is Canada failing to accommodate enough Syrian refugees, but it is becoming increasingly hostile to people already here seeking refugee status – a fact that Coderre refuses to acknowledge.
If Coderre wants to support refugees in the city, he should be using his platform to call attention to the fact that Montreal is the largest city in Canada where undocumented children do not have free access to public education. In addition, he must act to prevent institutions under municipal jurisdiction, such as the police, from exacerbating these migrants’ already precarious situations. As Coderre says, Canada has not done enough – but neither has he.
*Name has been changed.
—The McGill Daily editorial board