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Open letter to David Suzuki: Canada's immigration policy is 'disgusting' but not because Canada is 'full'

Photo: flickr/mrfink

Dear Grandfather Suzuki, 

I was raised to treat my elders with respect, and to call them with their appropriate titles, so I hope you will let me call you Grandfather.

I’ve followed your work over the years. I celebrated your decision to step down from the David Suzuki Foundation so that you could speak freely and I was not disappointed. As you took up the mantle of an elder, you sharply named capitalism as the root cause of destruction of lands and communities. You brilliantly exposed hundreds of thousands of people to Indigenous wisdoms and ways of knowing, insisting over and over that there is no distinct border between us and the ‘environment’. Like many others, you have told us: we are the ‘environment’ and the ‘environment’ is us. Though we may have disagreements -- who doesn't after all -- I have tremendous respect for you.

So when I read that you think our immigration policy is disgusting -- I was overjoyed. For too long, environmental and social justice issues have remained separated and there are few better places to build those bridges from within the environmental movement than you. 

Canada’s immigration policy is indeed disgusting: it is premised on the exploitation of humans, it suggests that people are nothing but inputs into corporations for profit and it tears families apart. The immigration system turns away refugees while declaring itself as humanitarian and locks up thousands of people in immigration detention including children. There isn't even a stream for so-called climate migrants. Most immigrants that arrive in Canada, do so as temporary workers, without full rights. We pay taxes but cannot access basic services, and we live in fear, knowing that a single 'wrong' move could mean deportation or worse.

As Canadian mining corporations scavenge the globe’s resources, as our foreign investments push people out of their homes in the Global South, more and more people are pushed into capitalist work, where we sell our labour to ensure profit to the 1%. So, when you say Canada is stealing future leaders from the Global South, I agree with you, in part.

Canada is not just “stealing future leaders from the South” -- Canada is stealing lives, and bodies, bringing them in to work in farms, in the back of factories, taking care of the sick and elderly, and then more often than not, tossing them away when it’s done with them. The immigration system is one of permanent precarity for most of us.

As an Elder, you tell us that our planet is one large complex system and humanity is intrinsically part of it. When one part of our ecology changes, everyone is affected. Many of the places we migrants have called home now live in the shadows of corporate globalization and imperialism. Now that we have been pushed out of our lands, too many of us have no choice but to move North. Too many of us desire too strongly the promise of a better life that Western media has promised us. So when you say to us that Canada is ‘full’, what we see is the border fence being built higher, and the revolving door through which we come in and are soon kicked out, getting stronger.

As long as there are wars in our homes and no places for us to work; as long as our water and our lands are polluted or sucked dry, we will move. We will do so to safer, seemingly happier places. Places whose happiness has been borne of our tears.

Grandfather Suzuki, pay no heed to Jason Kenney’s rebuke. He is actually enacting the policies that he is criticizing you for supporting -- one of ‘managed’ migration, one that makes us migrants just economic inputs, and he too wants to keep many of us out. The question I want to ask you is: is that really the kind of man you want on your side?

Grandfather Suzuki, none of us want to be scavengers or colonizers. Too many of our hearts cry to return to homes that we cannot. It is within this contradiction that solutions must arise. A solution that is not just about keeping migrants out because this place is now ‘full’.

You already know this. Your life work shows it. We need to simultaneously fight against the forces of displacement and dispossession (here and elsewhere). That means an immigration policy that allows people to move freely, and a foreign and international trade policy that ensures that those who do so, do because they are willing, not because they see no other choice. We need to create the change needed that those of us who wish to return to our homes (homes that are either off-reserve or thousands of miles away) are able to do so. And we need to create ways of knowing and speaking to each other so that the many of us sharing the same territory do so with respect for our Mother Earth, and in trust for future generations.

Dear Grandfather Suzuki, you are speaking from a lifetime of experience to many eager ears. With great honour comes great responsibility. The cost of you being misunderstood is much higher. At least for us. Speak your mind freely, particularly on immigration, but please do so in a way that does not support those that would have us be almost indentured while they continue to plunder our homes elsewhere. Let's build strong relations between environmentalists, Indigenous nations and migrant justice movements. I would be happy to continue this conversation with you in person if you so wish, and can bring many other migrant justice activists with me too. I am at hussansk [sk] gmail [dot] com.

Photo: flickr/mrfink

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