Around fifty people gathered in front of the monthly meeting of the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSM) on Wednesday to advocate for the rights of all children, especially those without immigration status, to attend primary and secondary schools in Montreal.
The protest was organized by the Education Across Borders Collective (EABC), part of migrant justice group Solidarity Across Borders (SAB).
According to SAB, there are 40,000 non-status families and thousands of children who are not currently able to attend school in Montreal. These children, many of whom have had difficult pasts, face isolation and social exclusion, issues that are exacerbated by not receiving a formal education.
Non-status children face many barriers to attending public schools in Quebec. They are required to pay up to $6,000 in tuition fees, which are unaffordable for many immigrant families. Non-status children without papers such as health insurance cards or birth certificates can also be rejected from enrolment.However, families often do not apply for this documentation in fear of deportation.
Romina Hernandez, spokesperson for the EABC, told The Daily in French that this is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is a signatory. However, she noted that that these types of agreements are not necessarily binding.
“If countries want to engage themselves internationally, in order to have a good image, but the people in their country that need the help, we usually don’t see any change,” Hernandez said.
Whether or not non-status children who manage to go to school are able to receive a diploma after graduating is uncertain. In order to get a valid diploma in Quebec, students need a permanent code – which are only given to people with legal immigration status.
“My son graduated from a secondary school in Montreal, but they won’t give him a diploma, so he can’t attend CEGEP….If there is no change, he will not be able to get a job in the future,” a father who was at the protest, and who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Daily in French.
During the demonstration, protesters were invited inside the building, where representatives of EABC were given the opportunity to speak to the commission. Other people attending the demonstration were asked to remain in the hallway.
The EABC demanded that proof of immigration status should not be required in order to enrol in Montreal schools, and that primary and secondary education be made free for immigrants. They also asked that graduates be given permanent codes, allowing them to pursue their studies at CEGEP’s and universities.
“We also think that every child of school age in Montreal has the right to free education. It is not favourable that children stay at home, don’t learn French, and cannot integrate himself or herself in a Montreal school or Quebec society,” Daniel Duranleau, president of the CSM, said in French.
However, members of the CSM said that they were unable to give children permanent codes. Duranleau gave EABC the option of working out a precise solution to this problem, and told them to come back on March 27.
“This is a very urgent matter. One solution for the problem could be a temporary permanent code, or the politics and bureaucracy have to change in such a way that the permanent code is not necessary anymore. The commission has been supportive, and we hope that they will use their power to change the situation next time,” Hernandez told The Daily in French.