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Peterborough activists call for end to indefinite immigration detention

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The Peterborough Council of Canadians chapter supported a public letter sent this weekend to local MP Maryam Monsef by End Immigration Detention Peterborough in solidarity with immigrant detainees on hunger strikes at jails in Lindsay [about 45 kilometres west of Peterborough] and Toronto. 

The letter to Minister Maryam Monsef (Minister of Democratic Institutions) asked her to declare a clear position on the controversial practice of indefinitely detaining migrants in Canada as well as that she meet with the hunger-striking detainees within the next 45 days.

This action follows on the tail of a rally the Peterborough chapter participated in on July 18th outside of the MP's constituency office in solidarity with immigrant detainees on the seventh day of their hunger strike. The End Immigration Detention Network shared the following updates today, as the detainees enter the third week of the hunger strike:

"Disturbingly, we are seeing the prison authorities, likely under CBSA instructions, doing everything in their power to break the strike. One of the key strike organizers is being deported today, Monday July 25 after 26 months in prison. Others are being threatened with transfers, and some long-term detainees are being promised release but no real steps have been taken.

Detainees are also not being allowed out of their cells most of the time, and this lockdown is making it difficult for detainees to organize and communicate with each other and those on the outside. As some detainees get sick, or are under enormous pressure, they are choosing to start eating. We honor their courage for continuing for so long. Others are continuing to refuse food. We will support them, no matter what they decide." 

Below is the full text of the letter sent to Minister Maryam Monsef:

The Honourable Maryam Monsef

Member of Parliament for Peterborough-Kawartha and Minister of Democratic Institutions
417 Bethune Street, Peterborough, ON, K9H 3Z1, Canada

Dear Maryam,

Firstly, thank you for your timely response to the concerns brought forward to you by End Immigration Detention Peterborough and many other constituents. At this point, the detainees are on the twelfth day of their hunger strike and are risking critical health consequences if they continue. The Canadian Government can end this strike and restore greater health and dignity to the detainees by simply securing a meeting between detainees and Minister Goodale. What is lacking, it seems, is political will. We were astounded to hear Minister Goodale's parliamentary secretary suggest on CBC's Ontario Today that the Minister would not meet with the detainees because they had chosen the tactic of hunger striking. We have learned from recent communication with Goodale's office that the Minister is not going to visit the detainees because he is "traveling." While the Minister travels and tweets photos of pancake breakfasts, men imprisoned with no charges starve and wait to be heard. They seek acknowledgement and conversation with those that keep them behind bars, with no charges, indefinitely: the Government of Canada. Your government.

How much longer will the Minister travel and speak vaguely to plans for the fall and changes to come, without ever respectfully consulting those who understand what needs to change the most: the detainees? These detainees are not criminals, but are jailed and treated as such by your government  --  a government willing to sit idly by and condemn men who are using a non-violent tactic of last resort and putting their bodies on the line to end a cruel practice. The detainees want to be heard, want to be seen and want to be respected for who they are: namely, the most crucial stakeholders who can help the Canadian Government understand and transform unjust Canadian border and detention policies.

We write today with two central purposes. First, to ask you to declare a clear, public and personal position on these matters. You are a member of the federal Liberal Party and the present Canadian Government. You are also an individual, a member of our community and our Member of Parliament. We want to know: do you support an immediate end to the practice of indefinite detention of migrants in Canada? This is a yes or no question and we invite you to answer it directly, personally, and publicly. We also invite any further elaboration of your thoughts on the matter. We are asking your constituents in Peterborough-Kawartha to call and write to ask you this clear question themselves. We hope to receive a response from you promptly. The situation is grave and we need more than just the standard party line: we need to know where you stand, Maryam, as our representative under this democracy.

Secondly, we write to ask you directly to meet with the detainees within the next 45 days. Minister Goodale may refuse to visit the detainees, but you, on the other hand, could choose to do so. This crisis is in our backyard. Voices, just beyond the edges of our town, cry out to be listened to  --  voices that we consider part of our community, and we hope you do too. We invite you to visit and meet with the strong men who have held this strike. The only M.P. who has visited immigration detainees in recent memory was Stockwell Day, who only visited after detainees starved themselves for nearly two months. Will you step up and see and hear for yourself what immigration detainees have to say? Let us be clear that you are welcome to visit as citizen, without your M.P. or Minister credentials, without media of any sort. If you do, we will respect this choice, and would happily and proudly announce after the fact that our M.P. had the decency and respect to take the time to meet with detainees. We hope to hear back from you promptly about your efforts to plan a visit sometime in the next 45 days.

We celebrate the resilience and strength of the striking detainees each day. Each day, we must also engage those who govern to insist that they take action. We will continue to write to you, call you, and ask your wider constituency to do so. We hope to know clearly, and soon, where you stand on these matters.

Yours,

End Immigration Detention Peterborough

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