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Migrant Justice Now

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Photo by Sakura Saunders
Photo by Sakura Saunders
Photo by Sakura Saunders
Photo by Sakura Saunders

BY: STACEY GOMEZ

On March 21st, 200 people came out to the Rally for Migrant Justice in Halifax. Similar actions were held across the country, as part of a cross-Canada week of action in support of migrant rights.

We gathered in front of the Halifax Convention Centre, site of the 21st National Metropolis Conference. Knowing that policy-makers, as well as service providers in the field of immigration and settlement, would be there, we used this as an opportunity to have our voices heard on the changes urgently needed for migrant justice. We invited conference participants to join us and many did.

Each year, March 21st is observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in commemoration of the 69 people killed by police in Sharpeville, South Africa during a peaceful protest against apartheid-era “pass laws” in 1960. We hosted the action on this day recognizing the inextricable link between racism and xenophobia, which are growing problems in Canadian society.

Today, 300 known white supremacist and far-right extremist groups are active across our country. Reported hate crimes have increased by a staggering 47% in 2017. Meanwhile, right-wing populists have been elected in Quebec and Ontario by sowing anti-immigrant sentiment based on misinformation.
In Halifax, mobilizations are taking place against far-right, xenophobic and racist groups like the National Citizens Alliance and Yellow Vests, to prevent them from gaining a foothold in our community.

The rally was an opportunity to do education on issues of systemic racism against migrants in Canada and to come together as a community to demand justice.

Poet, professor, and activist El Jones spoke out against inhumane conditions in immigrant detention at the Burnside jail, only 20 minutes from Halifax, and criminalization faced by migrants. She said: “I could tell you about women that have come across these borders with their children, who are held and incarcerated because of that.” She added: “People who are being held in detention are dying in this country because they are what we are calling 'illegal.' But no one is illegal. A person cannot be illegal. A body cannot be illegal.”

Student leader Masuma Khan spoke from her experiences as the daughter of immigrants and as a Muslim woman.“Islamophobia affects me every day,” she shared. Through spoken word poetry, she conveyed her fierce commitment to seeking change: “We will not give up until we persevere, as a Pheonix from our ashes, to create a society that is not run by fear.”

Former migrant worker Noe Arteaga shared: “Everyday there are workers who come here from other countries who do work that no Canadian would do for minimum wage and they do so under deplorable conditions.” Temporary foreign workers have closed work permits, which makes them particularly vulnerable to abuse by their employers. Numerous reports of abuse against migrant workers in Nova Scotia have recently come to light.

Following these speeches, we took to the streets with chants like: “No one is illegal! Stop deporting people!” and “No racism in Halifax! Out here we have each other’s backs!”

Our final stop was Canada's Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Near the museum's entrance is the Wheel of Conscience monument, established in memory of the approximately 900 Jewish passengers on the MS St Louis turned away by Canada during the Holocaust due to anti-Semitic policies of the day. Close to one-third of them later died in concentration camps.
It isn't enough for our government to commemorate this dark chapter in our history. We need courageous action from our government to counter xenophobia and racism.

Through the Migrant Rights Network, which includes grassroots migrant and refugee groups, civil society organizations and labour unions from across the country, our aim is to hold the government accountable around these issues. This will include putting forward a platform for Racial and Migrant Justice in lead up to the federal elections.

For us, migrant justice means permanent residence status for everyone, universal access to social services, and an end to the conditions that force people to leave their homes, including climate change and corporate impunity, which Canada contributes to.

Our vision of justice includes justice for all marginalized communities. This means Indigenous, gender and racial justice, including an end to Islamophobia and anti-black racism. This also means good jobs and labour protections for all.

There's a lot of work to be done to halt the spread of hate and bigotry in our society, and to bring forward this vision of justice. But, I'm confident, because I know we have each other's backs.

Stacey Gomez was one of the organizers of the Rally for Migrant Justice in Halifax. For updates follow @staceyjgomez and @MigrantRightsCA

 


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