Remembering, Commemoration and Celebration


As the car turned the corner of Davenport Road, turning into Church Street (non-Torontonians, indulge me for a moment), I sensed a change in the air at this intersection of the northern entry to Toronto’s Gay Village. A place that represents freedom, liberation and possibilities for many young queer persons across Canada, but probably more so around the globe.

The first sign that I wasn’t imagining the different vibe from the usual village feel, was seeing Black people, walking in both directions in couples and small groups. Sometimes alone. But more African descended people than you would usually see on Church street, outside of Pride Weekend.

I had carried a quiet worry that morning, that few would show up in support of the rights of undocumented people, refugee claimants, international students, migrant workers, especially those who are queer. I didn’t think that as activists and policy advocates we had built strong enough bonds among communities and across issues. I was worried that the migrant rights/labour movements would not show up for queer people. And that queer communities would not show up for migrant and refugee communities.

I shouldn’t have worried one bit. As we arrived across the street from The 519 (pronounced five nineteen – there’s a long and somewhat funny story here with a funder but another time), Toronto’s premier community centre and services for the city’s diverse queer communities, in search of parking, we witnessed a beautiful sight. Hundreds of people crossing Church street walking west on Wellesley street. We parked and ran to catch up.

I was in awe of the numbers who came out. 2500 according to the organizers.

They – those who are undocumented, those who arrived the day or week or month before claiming protection, those with precarious status, they showed up for themselves. And we showed up- allies from NGOs concerned with refugee and im/migrants rights, unions and their workers, Queer, Straight and otherwise, we showed up to walk in solidarity and to join the call for a regularization program, for fair immigration and refugee processes and for compassion for those in whose names we gathered that late morning.

Predominately Black – from west and east Africa - thousands of people who had arrived in search of refuge and protection from the criminalization of their selves and their loves; from the fear of persecution and prosecution; and in some places, probable death - marched and cried and danced and sang out their pains and their hopes. They shouted their desire for freedom from fear, by calling on the federal government to grant them status.

There was great hope in the crowd as they shouted well-used slogans of progressive movements, sang and dance and drummed their way around downtown Toronto, building awareness about their plight to the downtown Toronto lunch time crowd.

I watched the faces of those around me. Deep joy as they found friends and comrades in the crowd, relief that one more person had made it out unharmed – at least physically. Some had a look of awe on their faces, a realization maybe, that they were on the streets of Toronto shouting out their queerness with no fear of arrest or government sanctioned harassment. Still others were overcome by the moment and needed to be held as they sobbed into the bosoms of others who offered deep empathy as they too have walked that road.

This march of protest and prayer for positive outcomes was organized by The 519, OCASI and CUPE Ontario. Another step in the tightening of political and social bonds among NGOs (service orgs), labour, and queer refugee and migrant communities.

The following morning a press conference was held by the Migrant Rights Network. Again, it was a gathering of refugee claimants, courageously telling their stories, NGO representatives including OCASI, and Labour. As we listened to the sometimes heartbreaking but always hopeful telling of the stories of what brought our co-panelists to Canada in search of refuge, I thought about the calls that the Council has been making to the Minister of Immigration and the federal Liberal Government to bring in a broad and fair immigration regularization program. They are:

  • A program that ensures broad and inclusive coverage
  • A guarantee of access to permanent resident status
  • Avoid a narrow (and costly) sector-specific approach
  • Ensure a simple, accessible and safe process for applicants
  • An immediate moratorium on deportations
  • Public education to counter any backlash against refugee claimants and migrants

The Minister has promised to deliver some sort of program by Spring. We are in the last weeks of Spring and while we expect the federal government to uphold its commitment, a little nudging never hurts. Send Minister Miller an email amplifying OCASI’s messages. Copy your MP regardless of party affiliation. Join the hundreds of thousands who have joined to say #StatusNow!

Before I sign off, I want to acknowledge the recent announcement by the Minister of Immigration to grant permanent status on landing to migrant Caregivers. It is a significant win for Caregivers who never stopped organizing and speaking out, and their allies and the activists and advocates who continue to call for permanent residency for all migrant workers on arrival.

While we continue to walk in solidarity with the various protests happening across our country, this month is one of remembering, commemorating and celebrating.

After all, we have agreed to dance in the revolution, non?

Happy Indigenous History Month!

Happy 2SLGBTQI+ Pride!

In Solidarity….