Over fifty people gathered in front of the building of the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSM) during the CSM’s monthly meeting on March 27. The demonstration, organized by the Education Across Borders Collective (EABC), sought to change the government’s policy on non-status children, who currently face barriers to accessing education in Montreal schools.
Demonstrators were invited inside the CSM building, where two representatives of the EABC spoke for their cause in front of the CSM board.
“We want a free education for all children from the kindergarten to university without regard to their migration status,” Romina Hernandez, spokesperson of EABC – which is part of migrant justice group Solidarity Across Borders (SAB) – said in French. “It is still a problem in Quebec that thousands of children can’t register for schools, even if they are born here, because their parents are afraid of deportation. Children that are able to attend a $6,000 a year private school, might never get their diploma because of missing documents.”
This was the second time the EABC had visited one of CSM’s monthly meetings. In February, the CSM responded to the demonstrators that they also thought it was important that every school-aged child in Montreal attended school.
“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.
The demonstrators were told to come back this month with a detailed plan of how the CSM could implement their demands. At the March 27 meeting, the EABC prepared and presented a detailed plan of action to the board.
This plan of action asked the school board to open the schools for every child in Montreal without looking at the legal status, in the same way as Toronto does. Students there only need to provide proof – such as bills or a lease – that they live in Toronto in order to attend school.
Many other countries already recognize the right for all children in all situations to go to school. In the United States, for instance, there is a law that prohibits schools from rejecting a child based on their migration status. In addition, 12 states provide financial aid for non-status children.
The plan of action also asks the CSM to take action with the Ministry of Education in order to ensure that children can keep their permanent code – which uniquely identifies all students that go through Quebec schools – after graduating without any information exchange between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Immigration.
The CSM did not accept the plan of action, however, and were unclear about their actual legal rights in the situation. They said they were unsure what the financial situation would be if the approximately 2,700 non-status children in Montreal suddenly started attending school.
“We in the board completely agree that the best place for a child in Montreal is the school,” said Duranleau in French. “We make the choice to continue our work to meet your claims considering the temporary permanent code. However, the notion of law in Quebec could present a problem in our proceeding.”
After the meeting with the CSM, which once again failed to produce any clear solutions, many demonstrators were upset. They argued that both the board’s mission statement and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which Canada has signed – gives the board every legal right to make an immediate change.
The EABC announced that they would take a more aggressive approach at the CSM’s next meeting on April 24. “They have to realize how urgent the situation is, with hundreds and thousands of children staying at home, isolated, without contact to other children. They are unable to develop their skills, talents, and realize their dreams,” Hernandez said in French. “People don’t need to be afraid of us, we [the immigrants] are here to help build and develop this society.”