Calls for police accountability and community control over policing, and connected demands to stop prison expansion and prison abolition often tie together municipal, provincial and federal security apparatuses, but one branch of federal policing often gets off scot-free: Immigration Enforcement.
Immigration Enforcement (officially known as the Canada Border Services Agency or CBSA) is a daily brutal reality for the 500,000 people living without status in Canada. Cruising through the streets in unmarked cars, or raiding entire apartment buildings at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings, Immigration Enforcement is an armed policing unit that terrorizes people as they work, as they access healthcare, as they try to sleep. With the ability to issue warrants, enter places where people live or gather, and to carry out arrests, Immigration Enforcement is a police force that must be made accountable to communities.
On Dec. 18, 1995, Nigerian Mike Akhinen died from medical neglect at Celebrity Inn in Mississauga, Ont., Canada's infamous Immigration detention centre. On Dec. 8, 2009, Jan Szamko, 31, died in Immigration detention, two days after he was supposed to have been deported to the Czech Republic. A coroner's inquest is scheduled for March 30, 2011.
Reports of abuse, maltreatment and violence are rife in Immigration detention centres where newborns, children and the elderly languish for months, sometimes years, without any avenue for release. In 2008-09,14,362 migrants were held in Immigration detention centres in Canada. In recent years, Immigration Enforcement has taken to moving undocumented arrestees into provincial maximum security holding centres. Many of those held are refugee claimants that have just arrived, whose detention is actually illegal under the Geneva Convention on Refugee Rights.
Like regular policing, CBSA supervises court-ordered bail conditions. Adil Charkaoui, Hassan Almrei, Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohamed Harkat and Mohammad Zeki Mahjoub lived under house arrest, with GPS monitoring devices strapped to their ankles, cameras in their homes and CBSA following them on limited time outings.
While Immigration Enforcement policing is only accountable to itself, it is also unquestionably supported by Municipal Police. Though legislation linking local policing and immigration enforcement in Arizona has made worldwide headlines in the last year, similar collusion is de-facto happening in Canada. In September 2006, while speaking against an Access Without Fear policy at the Toronto Police Services Board which would ban Toronto Police from accessing immigration status or sharing it with federal authorities, CBSA officials insisted that Toronto Police actually carry out the most number of immigration-related arrests in the country.
In recent months, three cases of Police-Immigration Enforcement collusion have made the mainstream news and impacted activists in Toronto. On December 24, 2011, Daniel Garcia was racially profiled, detained and then arrested on the corner of King and Jameson Street while on his way to check email in Parkdale, Toronto. When the arresting police officers checked his name, they learned that he did not have Immigration status. Though there is no law directing them to do so, they drove Daniel over to Immigration Enforcement and handed him in. On Jan. 1, 2011, Daniel Garcia was deported to Mexico.
In late 2010, Liliana Fontes, originally from Portugal, approached Toronto Police after being violently attacked by an ex-partner. Police handed her details to Immigration Enforcement who initiated deportation proceedings. A Toronto Star expose and public pressure forced CBSA to place the deportation on hold.
On June 26, 2010, Syed Hussan, a No One Is Illegal-Toronto organizer was arrested on trumped up charges related to the G20. Soon after his arrest, his work permit application was rejected and deportation proceedings initiated. An access to information request showed National Post articles connected with his G20 participation in his Immigration Enforcement file; proof that Immigration Enforcement was tipped off by police or prosecution. Immense public pressure forced CBSA to delay the deportation proceedings and CIC to issue him a year-long study permit. If convicted on these charges, Syed Hussan faces deportation.
These cases are just a few examples of a widespread problem that is a daily reality for people with precarious status across the country, and highlight the need to separate Policing and Immigration Enforcement. In 2006, after tremendous community-labour pressure, Toronto Police passed a "don't ask" policy for immigration status from "victims and witnesses" of crime, unless there is a "bonafide reason" to do so. This partial policy has been whittled down so it protects no one -- people stopped while being racially profiled are not considered victims or witnesses -- and as can be seen in the case of Liliana, it is not being enforced.
Local policing is funded by city taxes, and is part of a provincial justice system. Immigration laws that restrict people from accessing status because of lack of financial resources are federally instituted and are in direct opposition to the interests of local residents. While we work towards building community structures that allow us to protect ourselves without relying on police, we must also face the daily reality that many people still must turn to the police for protection. Police enforcement of immigration laws means that many undocumented people, particularly women survivors of violence and sex workers, will continue to live in situations of abuse and violence rather than approach the police and face deportation.
Since June 2010, when police forces from across Quebec and Ontario, as well as RCMP and OPP descended upon Toronto for the G20 Summit, arresting over 1,100 people, sexually assaulting women, mistreating disabled people, and particularly targeting and beating up racialized people, there has been renewed interest in police accountability. The focus on policing at the onset of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions have added further fuel to this fire.
As Ajamu Nangwaya has recently shown in a Factsheet on Police Containment of and Violence in the African Community, the Police have always functioned as an occupying force against racialized communities, beating and sometimes killing with impunity.
Kabir Joshi-Vijayan writes, "With regards to marginalized, racialized and criminalized areas and people, the police have always been permitted to act with complete impunity and unfettered aggression". In 2010: A Year of Police Terror, he highlights the death of six people, shot or beaten by Toronto Police.
Renewed interest in police accountability must be accompanied with renewed organizing against the detention and deportation regime of the Canadian government that serves to keep hundreds of thousands of people living in fear and forcing them into further exploitation. The collusion of immigration enforcement and policing must end, and communities that face the double harassment of local policing and immigration enforcement must be involved in the organizing. No One Is Illegal-Toronto's campaign to stop police enforcement of immigration laws is calling for an immediate end to police-immigration collusion and an end to racial profiling while joining dozens of community organizations to build community accountability and alternatives to the armed state brutality that is the police.
For details of March 15 actions across the country, see Krystalline Krauss's round up by clicking here.
Mohan Mishra is media liaison and Marika Heinrichs is an organizer with No One Is Illegal-Toronto.