For the fourth time in many months, just over forty people gathered outside of the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) building on May 22 during the commissioners’ monthly meeting. The demonstration was organized by the Education Across Borders Collective (EABC), an organization which seeks to change the school board’s position on non-status children in Montreal, who face serious barriers in accessibility to basic education.
Jaggi Singh, a member of the EABC, explained that all children need a permanent code (PC) to register for school in Quebec. According to Singh, most non-status children have not received PCs, which means that they are barred from primary and secondary school.
In cases where exceptions are made and non-status children can register for school, their parents typically must pay upwards of $5,000 a year, per child, for primary and secondary education.
With this concern in mind, demonstrators arrived to the CSM building as early as 6:30 p.m., but were forced to wait outside, and then in the lobby, until 8:15 p.m.. At this point, they were allowed to make their way to the fifth floor of the CSM building where the monthly meeting was taking place.
The group was set to be admitted into the CSM meeting shortly to present their case to the commissioners. However, when the group arrived at the fifth floor, a member rushed through the security guarding the meeting’s doors, and made his way inside, taking the group by surprise. A few other members of the group followed, and began to shout at the commissioners. After a couple of minutes, security escorted the group out.
Over the next seventy minutes, police officers began to join security in front of the meeting’s doors until finally, at 9:25 p.m., five minutes before the CSM meeting was set to end, approximately 15 of the demonstrators from EABC were allowed into the meeting to make their case.
Two children delivered the first of the group’s round of speeches, decrying the fact that children their age who lived near them could not attend school.
A variety of other members then spoke, citing such issues as basic human rights; the opportunity for all children, regardless of status, to receive an education; and serious concerns with the CSDM’s lack of progress on resolving the issue thus far.
A man personally affected by the law, who remained anonymous, claimed in French, “We’ve been meeting for the past two weeks with the Minister of Immigration, Diane De Courcy, and she doesn’t understand why you haven’t given a clear answer [to our concerns].”
Another woman, who also remained anonymous, asked in French why the commissioners continue to send letters to non-status families demanding payments they are unable to make.
As the speeches continued, tension boiled in the room until Daniel Duranleau, president of the CDSM, spoke in French to tell the group that despite the commissioners’ concern, there was not much they could do about the issue at the moment. Duranleau also stressed that the issue was not a major one affecting all Quebecers.
After Duranleau claimed in French that demonstrators had exceeded their allotted time in the meeting, demonstrators, frustrated that no progress was made since the last meeting, began yelling as the security attempted to escort them out. Well over twenty police officers lined the hallways of the CSDM to guide the demonstrators toward the building’s exit.
Singh pointed out that Montreal’s lack of progress was unique within a wider context.
“This is clearly an issue that’s settled in most places in North America. In Toronto, in Vancouver, there’s flexibility for kids to be able to go to school, and all over the U.S. non-status kids can go to school. They can do that in Texas, they can do that in Alabama, they can do that in Florida, but they can’t do that in Montreal,” Singh said. “Montreal is the only major city in North America with a significant immigrant population that prevents children from going to school. That’s scandalous.”
However, Singh noted that the EABC’s efforts would not stop, regardless of the lack of progress within the CSDM.
“We’re getting close to the end of June – the end of the school session – this is something that needs to be resolved now,” he added. “So we’ve been slowly escalating our tactics, and our anger, and our disruption, and that should be expected to continue.”
– With files from Henji Milius.