From November 5 to 9, the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), and the Social Equity and Diversity Education office (SEDE) held events in and around the McGill campus exploring issues related to race, immigration, Indigenous resistance, and more through workshops, panels, movie screenings, and other events. The workshops held throughout the week were, for the most part, widely attended, and generally received positive feedback from attendees. Three highlighted workshops are presented below.
Immigrants with disabilities in Canada: discrimination, segregation, suicidal deportation
On November 6, Solidarity Across Borders (SAB) held a workshop titled “Immigrants With Disabilities In Canada: Discrimination, Segregation, Suicidal Deportation.”
The workshop was facilitated by Farhana Haque of the soon-to-be SAB Committee for Immigrants with Disabilities, a project currently in development that will attempt to address the specific issues faced by immigrants with disabilities. The purpose of the workshop was to “debunk what it really means to be an ‘excessive burden’ in Canada, [and] debunk the supposed global initiatives for people with disability,” according to the event description.
Haque opened the workshop by challenging common themes often associated with Canada. “What do we think of when we think of Canada? We think of democracy, we think of freedom, we think of multiculturalism, we think of equality, peace, humanitarianism. What we don’t think of are discrimination, segregation, and suicidal deportation that immigrants with disabilities face.”
The workshop included an overview of Canadian immigration policy, from the Chinese “head tax” of the 1880s (a fee charged to each Chinese immigrant entering Canada) to today’s restrictive provincial immigration quotas. Haque noted that, as current Canadian immigration law effectively does not allow for disabled immigrants, people with disabilities must enter the country as refugee claimants.
While Haque noted that many disabled people support themselves, an emphasis was placed on the crucial role that families play for many immigrants with disabilities in terms of access to education, employment, and support; according to Haque, being deported and separated from this family network can lead to poverty or other dire circumstances. “[It] is like being sentenced to a suicide for the crime of having a disability,” said Haque.
After the event, attendee comments were made available on the SAB committee’s website. People gave suggestions for future workshops and actions by the committees, such as putting more emphasis on debunking what it means for one to be considered a social burden. “This will affirm, though to different degrees, how everyone is a burden and not just people with disabilities,” said the commenter.
Migrant workers in Canada: why everyone should care
On November 6, a workshop titled “Migrant Workers in Canada: Why Everyone Should Care” gave McGill students the opportunity to meet three people who wanted to share their experiences with temporary work in Canada, while exploring the history of temporary foreign workers and migration in Canada.
The speakers were Noé Ricardo Arteaga Santos, a temporary worker from Guatemala; Kike Llanes, who was a temporary worker with International Experience Canada and is now active at the Association des travailleurs/euses temporaires d’agences de placement (ATTAP); and Viviane Medina from ATTAP and the Temporary Agency Workers Association. They emphasized that the Canadian government focuses on creating an underpaid labour force that is easily exploitable. Llanes also stated that the program through which he got to Canada from Spain is “deeply colonial and deeply racist.”
The speakers highlighted that while temporary workers take on innumerable jobs and positions within Canadian society, from working on farms, to childcare, to retail jobs, the Canadian immigration system denies them access to healthcare, education, basic labour protections, and residency.
“The employer has a myriad of rights over the unprotected worker, and the worker becomes a commodity. […] The worker becomes objectified,” said Llanes.
According to the panel, temporary workers live in extreme isolation within Canada. Due to language barriers and a lack of knowledge of Canadian laws, many migrant workers are not aware of their rights, said Llanes. Oftentimes already indebted before coming to Canada, the workers are left to labour in much harsher conditions. They are at the mercy of their employers without the ability to lodge complaints, as they fear losing their jobs and being sent home with no money.
Medina said that women face different issues than men: about 70 per cent of the complaints that women bring to her organization concern sexual harassment.
Llanes explained that the conditions of temporary workers are not improving, with the federal and provincial governments passing bills that impede the rights of migrant workers and make it more difficult for them to unionize.
Llanes added that, as they stand, the temporary worker programs prove to be “a prolongation of colonialism, but with legal paper.”
Creating a culture of resistance
Last Friday, Kanahus Manuel, a mother and a warrior from the Secwepemc Nation in British Columbia (B.C.) who has been involved in actions to resist colonialism and corporate developments projects, facilitated a workshop on building a culture of resistance to colonialism. The workshop was attended by roughly twenty people, most of whom were students.
Manuel began by highlighting some of the direct action that is currently taking place in Indigenous communities, such as actions to resist the Mount Polley mining disaster in B.C., anti-colonial hip hop and street art, the use of traditional midwives, and the choice to eat traditional foods.
Manuel also screened a short, yet-to-be-released film that depicted the resistance of Manuel, her family, and her community against colonialism. In her community, many people, including Manuel herself, have chosen not to register their children with the Canadian government. These children, called “freedom babies,” will not have social insurance numbers, access to Canadian healthcare, or be in any way recognized by the Canadian state.
“By not registering our children and having these freedom babies, it’s really pushing our people to say what independence and what autonomy look like in our nations,” explained Manuel.
The unregistered children will grow up completely independent of Canada, and learning traditional methods of survival, and will go through traditional ceremonies. Manuel said that they are in the process of training and making alliances with doctors and dentists so that their children will have the care they need without requiring help from the Canadian government.
The film also highlighted the intense police reaction to the resistance that took place at Mount Polley.
After the video, participants were asked to move their chairs into a circle, and Manuel invited everyone present to share their name, home, ancestral lineage, intentions in attending the event, as well as any skills they might have to offer, following the protocol used by the Unist’ot’en Camp (another resistance community in B.C.) whenever new people come to their territory.
“This is enough people, with all those skills combined, to take down the country of Canada if we needed to right now, here in this room,” Manuel said.
“We’re smart enough to do that as human beings with these skills, we are smart enough to do that, it’s just about getting together strategically – that’s the best way to utilize these people’s skills in order to accomplish some of our goals.”
Robin Reid-Fraser, a recent Environment graduate from McGill, told The Daily that the event was refreshing. “I do always come out of these kind of events feeling hopeful and excited because there are so many people who are interested in these kinds of things, and having more of those connections with each other is really great.”