June 2023 / Toronto
I have, for 2023 committed to finding and sharing joy. To highlighting the points of light that come from a shift or movement forward in our collective march towards progressive economically just, antiracist, feminist futures. That may be an introduction of new public policy that advances a long held cause, a change in practice from government bureaucrats, a judicial decision that mentally and emotionally frees an abuse survivor or the announcement of free tuition for all young people of a First Nations territory where a university is located, as recently happened here in Ontario.
In a presentation I did recently in the Prairies and here in Ontario, before that, I saw the question of ‘why’ on the faces of the listeners as I began my remarks with the sharing of this commitment and then proceeded to share what I saw as some positives in our sector and in Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (policy and judicial decisions).
Why? Because as I’ve aged, it is becoming ever more important to celebrate our work with communities. To pause and take stock of where and how we’ve moved forward a shared progressive agenda. We need balance to protect our mental and emotional health. We have much work to do and we know how slow the dance to revolution can sometimes be.
I’ve especially needed to find the points of light in the last few weeks, as we’ve watched the promise of a new path forward in Alberta fade away and the status quo triumphed – in spite of ethical questions, racist and homophobic allegations and a lack of a comprehensive inclusive agenda for the province.
Needed to remind my/ourselves that we are on the right path even as we find out that the federal government caved to right wing, xenophobic and racist rhetoric against irregular arrivals and shut down one of the relatively safer passage to asylum that they have.
I’m reminding myself that there are those who are celebrating a good outcome to their migration journey even as my attention remains on the following.
We are watching the differential response to the mounting violence in Sudan by the Canadian government as opposed to the all-out support we’ve seen for non-Black populations in Europe and even the Middle-East (Syria) and Asia (Hong Kong). We’ve seen this similar underwhelming support when it comes to climate disasters and increasing violence in Haiti- a place where Canada has historically and contemporarily been complicit in its dissolution to where it sits today on the brink of becoming a failed state.
Safety for Queer Refugees
I’m paying attention to how Canada is responding or not to the anticipated fall-out to the regressive, homo/transphobic deadly law that Uganda has recently enacted and Ghana is contemplating. A full circle moment whereby an ‘independent’ country that fought to wrest the soul of its peoples from the oppressive weight of colonialism has now enacted laws that furthers the cultural imperialism of the religious handmaidens of these same colonial powers. The irony is biting.
Will we open our doors to members of the Ugandan LGBTIQ+ communities and to others fleeing similar regimes which criminalize same gender/sex love? What about those already here? Since we know that this law means that Uganda is not a safe place for Queer folk, will the government create a pathway for all those with claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity, expression or sexual characteristics (SOGIESC) that will fast track their claims so that they can begin their journey in this safe place/space?
I know that organizations like the Stephen Lewis Foundation (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Board of the Foundation) and Dignity (OCASI is an active member) along with others in our national rainbow coalitions are doing all they can to keep the issues on the agenda of Global Affairs Canada and other decision-makers in our federal government. As a movement, concerned with and loudly calling for a broad, fair and free regularization program for all who are undocumented or with precarious status, we must ensure that we are paying attention and being inclusive of these subgroups within our asylum seeking communities. We must ensure that the migration narratives that we share in our bid to win minds and hearts includes the stories and the need for protection for Queer folk fleeing criminalization of their identities and persecution by states, and women fleeing intimate partner or community/state violence.
The secretive extension of the STCA (Safe Third Country Agreement) across the whole of the Canada-USA border means it will be harder for those fleeing persecution to make their way to safety on the shores of Canada. I often remind in my speaking on immigration matters, especially to colleagues and neighbours seized with the false narrative that Canada receives and accepts the most people fleeing their countries of origin for whatever reason, that we are one of the most difficult geographical spaces to access. Surrounded by three oceans to our north, east and west; and with a land border with the world’s largest, most armed country to our south. But desperation pushes individuals to do desperate things- often leading to loss of lives as we recently heard about in Quebec, ironically during the same period that the STCA took effect. Eight lives lost to us including four children. Unnecessarily.
There is an urgent need for a regularization program. It should be introduced before the government rises for its summer break. I know we’re days away from the end of this session. The Minister has had more than a year to bring something forward. We as civil society have sounded the alarm. It is time for Action on the part of Minister Sean Fraser and his Cabinet colleagues. #StatusForAll Indeed!
As we wait for this much anticipated announcement of a comprehensive regularization program we must pay attention to the material condition of those who have made it to our shores, have gained entrance and have met little to no support.
Shelter - Refugee Claimants In Toronto
My phone and laptop were filled with messages this last week from frontline practitioners and leaders in our refugee serving member agencies in Toronto. At the same time, my colleagues at the Council were hearing from our African community agencies (Ethiopia, Nigeria, others) that there were an indeterminate number of people, primarily men but also women with children who could not find shelter anywhere in Toronto; who were being forced to sleep outside of shelter doors with no options of finding a warm safe place to lay their heads.
As we scrambled to get more information, to find information about what if anything the City of Toronto planned to do, recognizing that the City is struggling with a one billion dollar shortfall in its budget largely due to deepening poverty resulting in a growing homeless population, and decreasing revenues from years of too low tax increases, we were taken aback when the Deputy Mayor (Acting Mayor during this mayoral election period in the City) issued a media release and held a press conference to announce that all homeless refugees/claimants will be referred to federal government supported hotels.
As I said, I understand the frustration of the City government. It (along with other GTHA municipalities) have picked up the costs of housing thousands of Ukrainian arrivals to the region with no funding support from the federal government. Along with the Conservative provincial government (there’s a good news bright light here) which have been picking up the costs of settling Ukrainians here in the province through the provision of financial support, access to healthcare, primary and secondary education, and access to community and social services including settlement and employment supports.
Toronto led the way many years ago in establishing itself as a Sanctuary City. It has an Access Without Fear Policy. Its frontline staff in its public facing Divisions and Departments have been trained (sometimes inadequately) on the policy. Politicians, bureaucrats and civil society have boasted about the policy. How do we end up here then, where the City is basically saying, we will not provide the shelter you so desperately require- we are passing you on to the federal government – that amorphous huge, slow moving bureaucracy which in spite of making policy that opened the gates to tens of thousands of Ukrainians were the last to the table in terms of emergency funds, hotel rooms supports, etc.
As I write this, we are working with our colleagues in the City bureaucracy to determine what options can be provided to these new residents who have found themselves houseless on the streets of Toronto: An option that isn’t about passing the problem along to other levels of government. OCASI strongly supports the call from GTHA and other Ontario municipalities to make them whole for funds and other resources expended to support Ukrainians and asylum-seekers relocated from Quebec to Ontario in the past six months or so. But we must not follow the examples of the regressive political forces in our southern neighbour who use asylum seekers as pawns in a political game of gotcha!
I am thankful for established relationships with City colleagues and the deep understanding and commitment they bring to their work of ensuring that the most marginalized among us must always be our priority.
The situation is urgent. The response must be just as urgent while being sustainable.
Happy Pride and Happy Indigenous History Month.