NOII response to Immigration Policy Annoucements

Posted by admin on Apr 23rd, 2005


Joe Volpe stated in a press release dated April 18, 2005 “Canada’s immigration system is a model for the world.” We sincerely hope that Canada’s immigration system, which is a self-declared fortress against newcomers, does not become a model for the world.

Reducing application times, exemptions for the language requirements for the citizenship test, and issuance of visitor visas, as per Joe Volpe’s recent policy announcements, are band-aid solutions that do not begin to scratch the surface of systemic problems with the immigration and refugee system in Canada. Furthermore, all of the changes introduced by the Minister address the economic needs of the government and the country.  The $550 application-processing fee is considered to be a major source of profits for the federal government. The Minister needs to prioritize human rights ahead of his quest for profits. Even more disturbing is that the Minister appears to view the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as an obstacle for his immigration agenda.  As Minister Volpe stated in a recent Globe and Mail interview, “The Charter of Rights gives certain rights to everyone that sets foot in this country, and we have to deal with this.” 

In recent weeks and months, the government and media have portrayed the refugee system as one plagued by abusers. The prevalent discourse behind this is one that re-articulates the war on migrants and aims to lay blame for a deeply flawed system on its own victims. Borders and nation-states are historically specific social systems that shape distinctive cultures and identities. There are those who are Canadian and those who eternally remain as hyphenated citizens- Indo-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, just never quite Canadian enough. With the events of 9/11, the identities of Canadians versus those of the terrorists are being further re-defined and there is the increasing public perception that migrants are terrorists or criminals whose ability to remain in Canada must be curbed.

Such calls for “border control” create more vulnerability, abuse and terror in the lives of those who are already the world’s most vulnerable, most abused and most terrorized people. Today, an estimated 150 million people are in migration. Increased migratory pressure over the decades owes more to the dynamism of international capitalism rather than to the growing size of the population of Third World countries. Those colonial forces are the same forces that have caused and continue to perpetuate genocide and dispossession of indigenous peoples within the colonial territories of North America. The very conditions that spawn migration into the countries of the North—war, poverty, unemployment, destruction of the rural economy, dispossesion—are fueled by G-8 policies on free trade and western-style “development”; the same G-8 nations then refuse any semblance of life and dignity to those migrants who can get to the territories of the North.

What follows is not merely a laundry list of grievances; these are real and systemic issues that affect the lives of thousands of people. Every day, thousands of migrants and their families struggle against the uncertainties and fear created by the current processes and policies of Immigration Canada. Nonstatus and other migrants are forced underground and rendered highly vulnerable and exploitable; threatened with detention or with deportation; and subjected to discriminatory legal standards. The system creates a vulnerable community of non-citizens, which all industrialised states use as temporary, cheap, and hyper-exploitable labour. This apartheid system of assigning criminal status to “illegals” means that they are treated as a flexible pool of workers without rights of settlement or political enfranchisement.

The racist scapegoating and criminalization of migrants has also meant an attack on basic civil liberties. Canada’s Secret Trial Five are five Muslim men whose lives have been torn apart by accusations that they are not allowed to fight in a fair and independent trial. All five men were arrested under “Security Certificates,” that have been described by Amnesty International as “fundamentally flawed and unfair”. They are imprisoned indefinitely without charges on secret evidence and face deportation to their countries of origin, even if there is a substantial risk of torture or death. The shameful history of Japanese-Canadians being interned and deported from Canada during World War II and the “red scare” of the McCarthy era should stand as warnings to us.

The governments covert and overt endorsement of racial profiling in the 9/11 climate is further demonstrated through policies such as the creation of the Canada Border Services Agency that handles enforcement of removals and reports to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Having refugee claimants processed by an enforcement agency sends the racist message that refugee claimants are a threat to public safety. Operation Thread has been a clear example of gross human rights violations resulting from Canadian immigration policy.  In August 2003, newspapers reported the arrest and detention of 22 Pakistani and 1 Indian student as suspected terrorists.  The incriminating evidence at the time was as simple as young men living together in sparsely furnished apartments. The RCMP and Immigration eventually backed away from all the allegations but the detainees were already publicly labeled as terrorist and most have since been deported.

In a similar vein, Muslims in Canada this week expressed their disappointment and outrage upon hearing that Canada voted against an important United Nations resolution which seeks to protect the rights of Muslims and stem the tide of Islamaphobia in the world. The UN resolution expressed concerns regarding “the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions, and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities, in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001 and expressed deep concern that Islam was frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.” Canada was one of 16 countries that voted against this important resolution, giving the impression that it actually supports or condones racism and intolerance. Canada’s NO vote is a sad testimony on the Government of Canada and we call on the Canadian Government to reverse its decision.

The announcement by Mr. Volpe provides no assistance to the tens of thousands of migrant and temporary workers in Canada who are employed under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program or Live in Caregiver Program, whose contributions to our society go unrecognized. For example, migrant farm workers from the Caribbean, Mexico and Guatemala work in Canada’s agricultural industry for up to 25 to 30 years with no social and/ or economic mobility rights.
We call for Permanent residency status to be provided for temporary migrant workers and that a program of regularization that is comprehensive, inclusive and equitable be initiated for all non-status peoples in Canada.

The current refugee system is also plagued with a disregard for the rights of asylum seekers. No One is Illegal, along with the Iranian Federation of Refugees, has for example, supported Haleh Sahba, an Iranian women’s-rights activist, who was deported in December 2004. The Canadian government, in deporting Haleh, assured her of her safety in Iran. Yet it is now widely reported that she was detained and faced serious charges. There is no reason to believe that Haleh is an exception in our refugee process and that the Canadian government appropriately concerns itself with the risk that asylum seekers face in their countries of origin.

Contrary to public perception, there are not an infinite number of appeals that a refugee can access in Canada. For the overwhelming majority of claimants, refugee determination in Canada is a one-step process because there is in fact no full merit-based appeal in Canada. For example, one of the limited avenues in the refugee process, the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment, had an overall national acceptance rate of less than 3% in the year 2004. If Canadians have the right to appeal a parking ticket, then certainly refugees facing potential torture or death should have the right to appeal the decision of a single, politically-appointed decision maker in a process that has been called a “lottery system”. We call for an immediate implementation of the Refugee Appeal Division as promised and as provided for by the (ironically-titled) Immigration and Refugee Protection Act 2002.

Despite the popularly perpetuated myth of a “border rush ”, the number of refugee applications in Canada has actually declined 41% since 2001. Those numbers are expected to drop even more sharply this year due to the Safe Third Country Agreement. Canada and US signed an agreement that took effect Dec. 29, 2004 disallowing refugees from seeking asylum in Canada if they first arrived in the U.S. This major attack on asylum seekers mimics historic Canadian immigration policies such as the “None is Too Many” policy against Jewish refuges, the Continuous Journey policy implemented to exclude South Asian migrants, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. History is grossly repeating itself and we call for a repeal of this racist and exclusionary Agreement.

Simultaneously, removals from Canada have increased from 8946 removals in 2001 to over 10,000 removals in 2004.

These are the issues and policies that need to be addressed. The survival and dignity for people must be first and foremost. Token solutions will do little to quell the growing resistance that demand systemic transformation to Canada’s current immigration system. Contrary to reformist approaches to this reality of global apartheid that accept colonial and imperialist control, No One is Illegal sees strength in our unity as immigrants, refugees and non-status people build greater trust in visions of an alternate world and organize, educate, act and fight for their own self-determination.

– By Harsha Walia and Harjap Grewal

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