No One Is Illegal Vancouver – Our Seven Demands for Migrant Justice

1. Dismantle Fortress North America!

Canadian borders are becoming increasingly open to capital, while at the same time restricting the movement of those who have been displaced by free trade policies. Government policies to open borders to profits while closing them to human beings are being negotiated and signed in complete secrecy – with great consequences for the environment and basic human rights. We call for the abolition of the following agreements:

>> Scrap the Security and Prosperity Partnership Agreement: In March 2005, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States- with intense lobbying from North America’s most powerful corporations- signed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP). The basic aim of SPP is to allow for free corporate access across borders through economic integration, while establishing a security perimeter that tightens borders to the movement of people.

>> Safe Third Country Agreement: The Safe Third Country Agreement is one of the most draconian violations of the rights of migrants in Canadian history. This agreement does not allow (with minor exceptions) asylum-seekers into Canada if they first arrive in the U.S. According to the Immigration and Refugee Board’s own statistics, the number of asylum seekers able to make a claim in Canada has been drastically reduced by approximately 40% since the Agreement’s implementation on December 29, 2004.

>> Canada-US Smart Border Accord: The 2001 Canada-US Smart Border Accord allows for incredibly invasive measures such as biometric identifiers, permanent resident cards, sharing advance passenger information, coordinated no-fly lists, integrated border and marine enforcement teams, and shared border surveillance.

2. Stop border militarization and the expanding security apparatus!

“National security” concerns have had a direct impact on Canadian immigration policies and have been used as a pretext for enhancing immigration controls. In the post-911 climate, the criminalization of immigrants – particularly of those of South Asian, Muslim, and Arab descent – has brought about an ever-expanding security apparatus that is less about protecting society than it is about creating a culture of fear. It also serves as a convenient distraction from the reality that people’s daily lives are increasingly unsafe and insecure due to global neoliberal economics and war-mongering. Some measures and projects that should be abolished include the:

>> Anti-Terrorism Act which grants police forces extraordinary investigative and surveillance powers, authorizes arrests without warrants and allows for preventive detention on the basis of mere suspicion, all on the basis of a vague and imprecise definition of ‘terrorist activity’.

>> Security Certificates that allow the government to detain and deport non-citizens without charge on secret evidence and has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007.

>> Section 86 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that allows for secret hearings and secret evidence to be used against non-residents, such as those in the refugee process.

>> Proposed Bill-C18 which would have given the government the power to use secret evidence to strip a Canadian of citizenship and deport them.

>> Canadian Border Services Agency which was created in 2003 as an enforcement division and is involved in processing refugee claims, thus sending the message that refugee claimants are a threat to public safety

>> Heightened surveillance network through programs such as the Smart Border Action Plan as well as the Echelon international network of communications surveillance.

>> Arming of Canada’s border guards over the next ten years at a cost of $101 million, and the federal Conservatives’ plans to spend an additional $1.4 billion on border security and policing.

>> Minutemen Project and other border vigilante groups, many of whom have clear ties to white supremacist groups and carry out armed border patrols. Government officials have either openly or tacitly supported such groups whose work actually harm and terrorize migrant communities.

3. Status for all!

Regularization is an issue of self-determination and justice. Without status, hundreds of thousands of so-called “illegal” migrants are forced to live underground where they face extreme poverty, inadequate access to health care and education, and under the constant threat of detention and deportation. At the same time, many sectors of the Canadian economy depend on the highly exploitable labour of non-status people.

Our national Status for All campaign has developed 12 principles of regularization, most fundamentally demanding a comprehensive, transparent, inclusive and ongoing regularization program that is equitable and accessible to all persons living without permanent residency in Canada. While any regularization program is in process, all levels of government in Canada must guarantee non-status people full and equal access to health care, social assistance, education, childcare, employment, labour protection, housing, legal aid and domestic violence services without fear of criminalization, detention or deportation.

4. End detentions and deportations!

Seeking asylum and making the decision to migrate is a right, not a crime. However, an increasing number of migrants are being placed behind bars where they are often shackled and verbally or physically abused. Approximately 10,000 asylum seekers per year have been detained by Canadian immigration for a time period ranging from 48 hours to over 18 months. The vast majority of detentions are strategies of forcible confinement in order to ensure deportation, and thus represent the unquestioned legitimacy of state sovereignty in criminalizing the mere act of migration. Read more here.

The popular conception is those whom Canada ultimately deports are ‘undesirables’ who ‘failed’ the legal processes to become a refugee or an immigrant. However, the reality is that an increasing number of asylum seekers are being deported because of structural flaws in the refugee determination process. For example, Immigration and Refugee Board members are political appointees who are not required to have any experience in the law; there is no Refugee Appeal Division despite its guarantee provided in the June 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; certain avenues such as the Pre Removal Risk Assessment have acceptance rates of 3-5% while others such as the Humanitarian and Compassionate claim do not have to be processed prior to deportation. The refugee system has been termed a ‘lottery system’ because acceptance rates can vary from 0-80% depending on the judge. At a most basic level, we challenge the notion that some migrants are more worthy than others; we believe that freedom of movement is a fundamental human right.

5. Dignity for immigrant workers!

Even immigrants with permanent residency face conditions of underemployment and inequities in income. A Statistics Canada study indicates that even after 10 years in Canada, one-fifth of university-educated immigrants are still working in low-income jobs. Immigrant women of colour are particularly over-represented in work characterized by low wages, dangerous working conditions, irregular hours, lack of unionization and instability, such as garment work, domestic work, home support work, cooking, and dishwashing. Policies of privatization and outsourcing have furthered precarious working conditions for migrants:

>> Changes to BC’s Employment Standards Act in 2002 have meant less worker protections and more labour market ‘flexibility’ for employers. The $6/hour “training wage” – instead of the regular $8 per hour minimum wage – has been established for the first 500 hours of work for those who are new to the labour force. Farmworkers in B.C, predominantly immigrant workers, are excluded from key labour standards regulating hours of work, safety regulations, and overtime pay.

>> Lack of accreditation at a national level means that immigrants who are trained within non-western educational or scientific traditions experience great difficulties in gaining recognition for their training and skills.

>> Sponsorship regulations stipulate that immigrants are unable to sponsor their families to come to Canada if they are on social assistance. In addition, a sponsored family member who, over a period of 2-10 years, accesses social assistance, including disability assistance, must repay this ‘loan’ to the government. As a result, immigrants are forced into low-wage, dangerous work that few Canadians would do.

6. Abolish temporary foreign worker programs!

The Canadian economy has become increasingly dependent on highly exploitative foreign worker programs, with the number of foreign workers in B.C. doubling over the past three years. Fundamental features of foreign worker programs include low wages, long hours without overtime pay, dangerous working conditions, crowded and unhealthy accommodations and denial of access to basic social services. Workers are virtually held captive by employers who seize their identification and documentation, and threaten them with repatriation if they assert their rights.

The temporary legal status of migrant workers makes them extremely vulnerable to abuse, and allows Canadian industries to reap high profits while driving down the wages of all workers. They also maintain the sanctity of a white Canadian identity by withholding permanent residency to workers legally designated as “foreign temporary” workers. The number of people admitted each year on temporary worker visas is greater than the number admitted as permanent residents. We reject such programs of indentured servitude and call for the unconditional right of migrant workers to permanent residency and labour rights equal to those of citizens.

7. Fundamental transformation of migration controls!

The assertion of Canada’s sovereign right to select who it allows to remain within its borders has always been the primary function of immigration policies such as through racist historical measures including the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese-Canadian internment, and Komagatamaru incident. For every ‘good’ migrant, there is always a ‘bad’ migrant who is forcibly expelled from Canada. Given this reality, we don’t believe the immigration system can simply be reformed. Rather we need to rethink what function and whose interests the state border actually serves.

Furthermore, the current trends of global migration reveal the ways in which colonialism and corporate globalization have enriched some countries by impoverishing others and creating economic and political insecurity that forces people indigenous to their lands to migrate. In response to the realities of this global apartheid, we struggle for a world in which no one is forced to migrate against their will, and also for a world where people can move freely in order to live and flourish in justice and dignity.

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