Approximately 100 people gathered outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Montreal office on December 13 as part of a demonstration organized by the migrant justice organization Solidarity Across Borders (SAB).
According to the callout published on SAB’s website, the demonstration aimed to “denounce the continued hypocrisy of the Canadian government, that on the one hand engages in self-serving publicity to celebrate the arrival of certain refugees, while continuing to systematically ignore the reality of hundreds of thousands of undocumented and temporary migrants living precariously in Canada.”
After speeches in front of Trudeau’s office in Villeray, the crowd marched toward Jean-Talon Metro, with no interference from the Service de police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM).
Many of the protestors were undocumented migrants who have been left in precarious situations by current federal, provincial, and municipal immigration policies in Canada.
“The government has closed its eyes to us. For the sake of our humanity, as undocumented immigrants continue to live here, work here, and have families here, the government needs to re-evaluate its immigration policies.”
One woman who has been affected by these policies and was present at the march is is Lupita*, the mother of Daniel*, a disabled student who was arrested at his Montreal school, detained, and deported alone to Mexico in October 2014, when he was seventeen.
In an interview with The Daily, Lupita explained in Spanish that while “the Canadian government’s decision to welcome some Syrian refugee families is an earnest gesture, they should also look inward and see how they can do more to help refugees already in Canada.”
“The government has closed its eyes to us. For the sake of our humanity, as undocumented immigrants continue to live here, work here, and have families here, the government needs to re-evaluate its immigration policies,” Lupita continued.
One of the speakers at the demonstration, Carmelo Monge of Mexicans United for Regularization (MUR) expressed hope that the federal Liberal government would be “more open” to changes than the previous Conservative government. However, because Bill C-31, the 2012 amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, is still in effect, Monge expressed worries that the Liberal government might simply be “a continuation of Harper’s government.”
“[Bill C-31] would violate human rights law by allowing for a year of detention without review for certain groups of people, including 16- and 17-year-old children.”
The amendment has made it possible for the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism to determine, without the guidance of a committee of human rights professionals, which countries are “safe” or “unsafe” and has expanded the ability to detain asylum seekers thought to be working with human traffickers.
The bill has come under heavy criticism from human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to an article on the HRW website, the bill “would violate human rights law by allowing for a year of detention without review for certain groups of people, including 16- and 17-year-old children.”
“Since Mexico is still […] a country which is considered unsafe by the Canadian government, Mexican immigrants are often denied the right to appeal their immigration status, even though [denying appeals from refugees based on their “designation by country of origin”] was determined to be unconstitutional by a Canadian judge,” Monge told The Daily in an interview. The judge in question, Keith M. Boswell, wrote in the Federal Court’s decision that Ottawa’s designation by country of origin was “discriminatory on its face.”
“[The] government hasn’t done anything for us, the people gathered here, who work and contribute to the Canadian economy and society, but without the right to social services,” Monge continued.
“[Syrian refugees] are going to be coming here in need of social services for the first time, and the cuts are going to affect them too.”
Romina, an immigrant from Mexico who has been in Canada for 15 years, told The Daily that while they applauded the federal government’s decision to welcome refugees, there is a disconnect between provincial and federal policy in the context of Quebec’s austerity measures.
Romina explained that that newly arrived Syrian refugees “are going to be coming here in need of social services for the first time, and the cuts are going to affect them too.” They expressed doubt that the government has fully thought through the long-term implications of accepting refugees.
“We [in Montreal would] love to welcome refugees, but are we really thinking about how they are going to [for example] afford to pay for housing? This is a big challenge and we’re not really thinking about long- and medium-term strategies, and we need to be doing it right now, for everyone,” Romina said.
*Name has been changed.