April 2021 / Toronto
The Trudeau government has just announced that all who are resident in Canada with irregular immigration status can now submit a one-page application online requesting permanent residence. Those who are refused refugee claimants, undocumented, visitors with visas about to expire- all regardless of disability or health status or engagement with carceral systems (police, jails, prisons) are welcome. The only exceptions are those who have been found guilty in this country or any other of crimes against humanity.
In addition, all who are held in immigration detention are to be released and the system of detention for immigration purposes abolished.
Police involved in the death of a civilian, particularly those with mental illness, will be dealt with transparency and with the justice they deserve. They will pay for their crimes.
A Working Group of experts will be exploring the development of alternatives to the prison-industrial complex. The group will be representative in terms of economic class, race, gender, (dis)ability, immigration status and Faith and will do this work through a feminist, anti-racist intersectional lens.
The federal government is pleased to announce that all Municipalities, Provinces and Territories are in support of the initiative and its mandate, and will be contributing financial and technical resources to the Working Group.
And then I woke up on this first day of April and sadly realized that this news story of a federal government announcement was just that- a story- not so much a falsehood or an untruth, but rather a wishful thought. A fantastical wish.
However, it is all possible.
The re-energized defund the police and prison abolition movements have created a space for the reimagining of how we want to treat each other as a society, especially those who are made vulnerable because of their life circumstances and the systems and structures we have built to confer and sustain power and privilege to groups based on social constructs like gender and race.
While I am hopeful that younger generations are engaged in this space, are debating and calling out and imagining and co-creating new ways of being, I’m also becoming increasingly aware that there are places and spaces where these conversations have not been given light. Have not arrived on the agenda of many.
This was brought home to me earlier this week as we came to the end of Women’s History month and I was invited to speak on a couple of panels. We (OCASI policy staff) decided to focus my remarks on policing - an issue that affects so many (im)migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, Indigenous, Black and racialized communities - yet is absent for the most part from the discourses of the immigrant and refugee serving sector.
After my presentation to a group in southern Ontario, one remark struck me in the comments. I paraphrase:’ Thank you for naming the people who have been killed by police and for your discussion of this topic. We don’t ever discuss these issues in our settlement services’. This caught my attention because the inner conversation - questions really, I’ve been asking myself over the last few months as I look back over the two plus decades of my career in this sector is what have we changed for migrants regardless of how they arrive to this city, this province, this country? How have we changed the place they’re entering so that their landing is made easier; their journey one of fulfillment of their migrant dreams? (borrowing language from my friend and comrade Min Sook Lee from her brilliant documentary film of the same name).
In addition to our advocacy about funding for services, fairness and transparency in the immigration process, tinkering around the edges of immigration and other public policies that exclude more than welcome, what else can we be doing as a sector to create the inclusive society we claim we want to build? As service agencies, trusted for the most part by those holding the funding purse and by the decision-makers making and interpreting public policy, how are we using that collective influence (relative power really) that we have to demand change? How are we transgressing the artificial and often indefensible limitations that are placed on us - everything from who we serve and how, to the campaigns we lead, join or amplify? Campaigns like the call by sex workers - a significant number are migrant workers - calling for the decriminalization of sex work and an end to police harassment. Or the migrant led calls for a full and broad immigration status regularization program as I imagined in my sleep that early April 1st morning?
We are at a time of reckoning and our sector must step up to the barricades and be counted. We must be willing to speak uncomfortable truths to the powerbrokers including within our own organizations. We must lend our voices and influence to causes seeking a new imagined future, one where borders are erased and margins only exist on a page.
I write this rant on a sunny but cool early Spring morning after attending the online pre-launch of a brave and challenging podcast (some context for that imagined news story I guess) which will be debuted on April 7th. Unascertained: The Story of Soleiman Faqiri is a call to action to people of good conscience who believe that mental illness should not be a sentence to die at the hand of the police. I encourage you to listen and take up the challenge and join the movements to end violence by the state and its actors.