Updated on January 22.
On January 18, the Non-Status Women’s Collective of Montreal organized a press conference at Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute. The speakers, who wore masks to protect their identities, talked about their experiences going through undocumented lives and reiterated their demand that they be “regularized.”
Speaking in French at the conference, one of the members of the collective said that the masks were not just practical. “We are all wearing these masks symbolically, to remind that non-status people are forced into anonymity and clandestinity, which we would like to denounce,” she said.
According to a 2004 report by community healthcare group Access Alliance, non-status individuals are “people who do not have the legal status that would allow them to live permanently in Canada. People can become ‘non-status’ when their refugee claim has been rejected, if they don’t have official identity documents, or because their student visa, visitor’s visa, or work permit has expired.”
“We are all wearing these masks symbolically, to remind that non-status people are forced into anonymity and clandestinity, which we would like to denounce.”
While Canada does not collect official statistics on non-status individuals, it is estimated by various organizations, including Access Alliance, that between 50,000 and 200,000 people live in Canada with “less than full legal status.” Some estimates put the number as high as 500,000.
On November 27, the collective delivered a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office in Montreal, outlining the struggles of non-status women and asking the Prime Minister to “take a position on the regularization of non-status people in Canada.” According to a collective member present at the press conference, the letter was also emailed to Trudeau and the Ministry of Immigration on December 7.
Receiving no response, the collective sent the letter again on January 3, which has also gone unanswered.
“We who sign this letter are among tens or even hundreds of thousands of non-status people in Canada. Mr. Trudeau was elected in a Montreal riding where thousands of non-status people live. But, officially, we don’t exist,” the letter reads.
Addressing the audience, another member of the collective said in French, “We have called you here after having sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, who has declared himself to be in favour of the rights of women, children, immigrants, and refugees – which is very positive and encouraging. However, he has never said anything about us, the non-status.”
“We […] however, exist. We already live in Canada. We raise our kids here. We work, we contribute to the wealth of this country. Sadly, our lives still remain unbearable and very, very arduous,” she continued.
“We raise our kids here. We work, we contribute to the wealth of this country. Sadly, our lives still remain unbearable and very, very arduous.”
While non-status individuals pay taxes, work, and contribute to society in other ways, they do not have access to most social rights, including public education, healthcare, and unemployment insurance. In addition, their lack of status makes them vulnerable to things like unfair and dangerous working conditions, or abuse from employers and landlords.
For instance, Quebec law requires that all children have a permanent code (PC) to register for school, but a PC can only be obtained if the child has official documentation. If an exception is made for the child of a non-status parent to go to primary school, parents will often be billed upwards of $5,000 to $6,000 per year, per child. Even so, without a PC the child may still be denied their credentials upon finishing their primary education.
One of the members at the press conference explained in French, “Imagine a child who goes to school for five or six years. The moment he starts secondary school, his studies will not be recognized, because he did not have a permanent code.”
Another problem for non-status individuals and their children is that they are not eligible for public health insurance.
“We are well-integrated into society, and you see us every day. We take the bus, we serve you at restaurants […] we do volunteering. […] Maybe we’re even your friends. But you do not know that, on the inside, we’re afraid of falling sick. Not because we do not like illnesses, but because we cannot go to the hospital,” the member continued.
Another collective member talked about an accident that occurred at her son’s school, which resulted in her son being hospitalized. The member was forced to pay $7,000 in cash for his life-saving operation.
“Blood was flowing everywhere, and there were fractures, really terrible,” she explained in French. “First, at school, they told me, ‘All right, we’re washing our hands of this, because you do not have a health insurance card.’ I took my son to [the] hospital, with the small amount of money I had with me.”
“First, at school, they told me, ‘All right, we’re washing our hands of this, because you do not have a health insurance card.’”
“They are all children. […] Yet, still, it’s as if a child with a health insurance card is a human being, and the other is not.”
The speakers also appealed to the fact that the Trudeau government has pledged to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada, arguing that the government should not ignore those non-status people already in the country.
“With the Syrian refugees, to us that’s a really, really important door that’s opened,” the member said. “It is possible to receive more people [… but in our case] you have citizens who are already integrated, who know the country, who are here, who work, who want to live, and who want to stay.”