Yesterday I attended a fantastic event organized by the Toronto branch of the No One Is Illegal campaign with the title “What’s Wrong with Canada’s Immigration System?“. It was by far the biggest leftist event I’ve been to since I ever came to Canada a year ago, with attendance so massive that the amphitheatre at the lower level of the George Vari Centre (god, I love posting links to Toronto’s new StreetView!) was overflowing with people.
All speakers made very substantial and informative talks, including a powerful one by our very own David McNally. It was highlighted that Canada is indeed built on top of the labours of marginalized and harshly exploited migrant workers of precarious legal status, from the Chinese workers that built the iconic Canadian railways in the latter part of the 19th century to today’s non-status migrants working in atrocious conditions in sectors of the economy ranging from the extraction industries to domestic caretaking. And despite the widespread notion of Canada as being a nation that welcomes and nurtures immigrants, the truth is different, both in the past and today.
The speakers also talked about how the current situation is bad and worsening. For one thing, the Conservative Immigration minister Mr Kenney is in the forefront of pushing for regressive changes to the immigration system, and treats opposition to it with bigoted comments that go as far as declaring himself outright as a racist(!), while at the same time adopting exploiting xenophobia to bolster a populist agenda against refugees.
For another thing, the legal situation in Canada regarding asylum seekers is bad and becoming worse. The speakers talked about how the law is used to deny asylum seekers the right to even apply for asylum, while at the same time, the percentage of people actually granted asylum is declining. This was contrasted to the fact that people come to Canada as refugees exactly because of the community-destructive operations of Canadian multinational companies abroad, with cases of such abuse in Honduras, El Salvador and others brought as examples.
This international dimension of the issue was also highlighted by a reference to the upcoming Gobal Forum on Migration and Development, that is going to take place in Athens, Greece in early November. The GFMD is a platform for governments of both the rich and the poorer countries to meet to discuss agreements for what is essentially trafficking of labor from the latter to the former in the form of temporary (and thus disenfranchized, marginalized and exploited) workers. (On a side-note, the Greek left movement is not letting this happen without a fight. A call has been put out for an parallel international meeting against the GFMD and an international demonstration is organized for November 4th.)
Finally, one of the speakers noted a very interesting legal detail with regard to the process by which people brought to Canada as temporary workers can apply for permanent resident status. It was noted that an increasing number of people are brought to Canada to work with the obligation to be deported at the end of a 4 year period, a situation that is abhorrent as it puts the lives of these people on hold, and destroys any attempts on their part to build any meaningful connection with the community surrounding them. At the same time, a relatively recent development is the option that, while temporary workers cannot meaningfully apply for PR due to the huge backlog (created by the systematic financial strangling of the relevant services by successive governments), the right has been given to employers to achieve prioritization requests for PR status for some of their workers. The catch here, the speaker noted, is the delegation of the granting of PR status from the public sector, ie the government, to the private, as it is left entirely on the discretion and judgement of the employers to chose who can meaningfully apply and who cannot.
Apparently, much more than what I scribbled here was told, but my memory only goes that far. There were people recording the event, so look out for the videos, they’re sure to pop up somewhere in the internets soon enough.