This year OCASI, Its members and allied organizations and groups decided to declare April Refugee Rights Month. The Anniversary of the Singh decision which falls on April 4th is a time to celebrate the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the fundamental rights of refugees – that in Canada refugees too have a right to life, liberty and security of persons. This was an historic ruling. The ruling means that refugee claimants are entitled to an oral hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and international Law.
There is a packed agenda for the month. Starting with the month of April being proclaimed as Refugee Rights month by the Mayor of Toronto, John Tory to learn and lunch seminars at York University, Art Shows to a Saturday night of music and dance by the Salvadorean Association there’s something for everyone wanting to remember and celebrate Canada and Canadians leadership on providing refuge to those seeking asylum.
Later this month on April 20, there will be a panel discussion titled The Singh Decision Matters in 2017 in Toronto. We encourage all to come out to listen to the panelists and to engage in discussions on the meaning of this political moment. Now more than ever we must live up to our reputation and values as a place of safety and refuge, but also a place where hard conversations must occur if we are to live up to our vision of creating a society of racial and religious equity.
On the other end of the migration continuum, a discussion on citizenship is taking place in our national capitol. The Bill C-6 is making its way through the Senate where much debate on its content is taking place. A Bill primarily intended to reverse some of the draconian changes made by our previous federal government risks being watered down with some of the desired changes included therein being amended to revert to current status quo. In particular we are concerned that an amendment has put forward by one of the Senators to increase the age for language proficiency from 55 to 60 years of age. This change will have an egregious and disproportionate impact on new Canadians who came as refugees, family class members and those with low literacy, many of whom are women.
As far as we understand there are other pending amendments to which we must pay attention. For example, the clause dealing with dual citizens and the government right to deport based on criminality or ‘treason’ we know will be cause for great debate. Organizations like OCASI and the National Council of Canadian Muslims among other progressive organizations spoke out strongly against giving the government the power to revoke citizenship and deport dual citizens arguing that this set up a two tier citizenship regime which is fundamentally unfair. We argued that citizenship is a fundamental right that cannot be taken away. Our current federal government agrees and is seeking to reverse this part of the Citizenship Act through Bill C6.
A positive amendment is being put forward by another Senator which is an urgent matter for racialized, particularly Black communities in Canada. The proposed amendment will allow children to apply for citizenship on their own accord. This is especially important for children who are wards of the State and find themselves engaged in the criminal justice system. In Toronto almost forty percent of children inn Care are of African descent. While many are Canadian born, many others are immigrants to Canada. Too often we have seen young men in particular deported to countries where they have no attachment. Allowing children to apply for citizenship on their own and putting policies in place to mandate Children and Youth Services pay attention to the immigration and citizenship status of those in their care will go a long way to interrupting the pipeline of State wards-criminal detention-deportation.
There’s much happening on the migration file. We continue to pay attention to the irregular crossing of refugee claimants entering Canada from the USA and continue to call along with many others including groups like Amnesty International, for a suspension of the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the USA. We believe this is the political moment here in Canada that we can see some progressive movement on a regularization regime for those without or with precarious immigration status. We applaud the municipalities and the politicians who are continuing to talk about sanctuary cities and provinces and for activists on the ground who are working to ensure that in jurisdictions where “Access without Fear” or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies exist, individuals are really able to access the services they require.
We know we have much work to do on the policing front, as we hear far too many stories of women refusing to report violence against themselves because of fear of deportation of themselves or their intimate partners. We need police to adhere to policies of access without fear as set out by their political bosses.
We have done much as a country but there is still much to be done. In this month of celebration of our accomplishments on the refugee file, let us recommit to working towards a society where all who seek refuge will be welcomed. And where equity regardless of race, gender, ability, sexual orientation or identity, faith or religion, and immigration status is our rallying call.
In Solidarity …