The Time to Act is Now


May 2022 / Toronto

“Happy Mother’s Day to the moms separated by violent borders and imperialism”* was a tweet that crossed my screen early on Mother’s Day as I prepared to visit my own mother, ever thankful that my own separation from the woman who birthed me was a short three years, though as a child it felt like a lifetime. The tweet was from a feminist, anti-racist Black mother of a Black son whose community has experienced war, displacement and migration.

My work inbox, on any given day is filled with pleas from parents overseas asking me, the Council, anyone, to do something to end their limbo of immigration separation. Some have been waiting for years to be reconnected to their loved ones, their applications lost in the abyss of a two-million-all-streams immigration processing backlog.

Other tweets followed, acknowledging the mothers who are held in immigration detention and other institutions of incarceration, often as a function of racialized poverty.

It was sobering but not much a surprise when it was reported last week that Indigenous women- First Nations women, Inuit women, Metis women- now composed fifty percent of all women in prison. Yet, the calls/demands/ recommendations from the Missing and Murdered Women and Girls Inquiry remain on pages shelved in the offices of those paid to respond or as platitudes on the sites of social media on Red Dress Day and Day of Reconciliation.

After the clearing out of immigration detainees at the beginning of the health pandemic, information recently released now show that there are over two hundred people back in immigration detention. Why? Often cited for these detentions of women and others is that they are a flight risk. Flight to where? Inside Canada, where they will work in exploitative environments, where their wages are stolen by employers and they have no recourse because of fear of deportation? Why are people detained for crossing borders in search of safety for themselves and their families?

Canada has untold numbers of people with precarious or no immigration status. Most have landed in this ‘undocumented space’ because of bias in our systems. Systems and policies steeped in racial and economic class hierarchies. Yet it is these same people who show up day after day to clean our health institutions, who grow and harvest our food, and pack our meats and clean the bottoms of our elderly living in eldercare facilities or in our homes. They were called heroes by many politicians and decision-makers but the pathways put forward to reward their contributions during an emergency cherry-picked who was deemed worthy of Canada’s largesse, leaving the vast majority out. A majority who is racialized, often female and poor.

We at the Council were pleased to see a directive to the Minister of Immigration in his mandate letter from the Prime Minister, to find a pathway to regularize the status of undocumented workers. This is the culmination of at least three decades of consistent advocacy, untold number of briefs and protests and organizing by groups like Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW), Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, KAIROS and OCASI, among others.

Since the release of the mandate letters last year, we have heard nothing about this priority from the Minister or his office (a temporary public policy introduced in January 2020 to give permanent resident access to undocumented construction workers was extended to January 2023). And while OCASI has welcomed the incremental changes- the windows of opportunity- including the pathways mentioned above over the years, now it’s time for real action.

The Ukrainian war and the displacement of her people is a priority for the government. We support Canada’s response. And encourage the government to continue its commitment to Afghans as well as respond to other humanitarian crises caused by war and disrupting acts such as natural disasters.

However, movement must also be made to advance the creation of a regularization process that will free tens of thousands of people to get on with their lives, continue their contributions to our communities and to finally be able to share in the benefits of our collective wealth.

We call on Minister Fraser to make public his and the Department’s plan for action on this priority so that the many parents caught in this metaphoric prison can move forward with their lives.

In Solidarity

Debbie Douglas

* Tweet by @raniawrites