Solidarity Across Borders occupies Montreal CBSA, demands status for all

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Photo by Ion Etxebarria, Concordia University Television (CUTV)

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Over 30 activists and allies of the migrant advocacy group Solidarity Across Borders staged an occupation of the Montreal office of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) on Tuesday, May 3.

"Our aim was to disturb, for a day, [the CBSA's] work and to pass along our message," Romina Hernandez, an active member of Solidarity Across Borders, told rabble in a phone interview.

"We were sending messages of solidarity, listening to messages from non-status women, people who have been deported, [and] people who are currently living in very difficult conditions in Montreal," says Hernandez of the occupation.

Peaceful occupation leads to arrests

At 9 a.m, the group of activists entered the CBSA office, cleared the building's security checkpoint, and began their occupation of the first floor offices. Occupiers papered the walls of the offices with stickers and posters with the slogans "status for all!" and "stop the violence." Protesters also gathered outside of the CBSA office to support the occupation.

At approximately 11:27 a.m., police read the occupiers an eviction notice. While most of the occupiers agreed to vacate the building, a group of around 20 remained. At noon, the occupiers who remained inside the CBSA offices organized a teach-in, which was livecast by a CUTV cameraperson. 

At 12:20 p.m., Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM) riot police entered the CBSA and forcibly removed the CUTV cameraperson, throwing the cameraperson to the ground and stopping the livestream.

The police proceeded to arrest around 18 of the remaining occupiers, including two people who formed part of the support demonstration outside of the CBSA offices.

Later that afternoon, almost all of the arrested activists were released after promising to appear in court. The SPVM did not respond for a comment on the arrests. 

Flawed regularization programs increase deportations and detentions

"The past 10 years have been filled with horror and nightmares regarding immigration issues," says Hernandez. 

"With the change in federal government last year, we've heard declarations by federal Immigration Minister John McCallum that they are going to study regularization programs. We want to say that if they are thinking of studying regularization programs, that regularization definitely has to happen right now, and that regularization does not have to exclude any people."

Regularization programs provide channels for non-status immigrants to obtain legal-status. Although Canada has introduced regularization programs in the past, Hernandez says past programs tend to exclude more people than they include. 

Past regularization programs "left people out, for example, who had a 'criminal record,' people who could not prove they worked in Canada -- it's very difficult to prove that you're working when you don't have status," explains Hernandez. People who have been on welfare are also excluded.

Other exclusion criteria include: length of residency, family ties, country of origin, integration, and medical evaluation. Because regularization programs pour significant resources into monitoring and tracking the non-status applicants who fail to meet such criteria, regularization programs have, in the past, increased the number of non-status immigrants facing deportation orders and in detention.

Hernandez cited the Special Regularization Procedure for Algerians Living in Quebec (2002) as one such regularization program. Since the first regularization programs in 1960, Canada has implemented eight major regularization programs. The majority of programs require applicants to meet at least eight of the various conditions listed above.

Moreover, regularization programs are often implemented at the same time as Canada tightens its immigration policies, forcing more immigrants to enter Canada illegally. As such, Solidarity Across Borders calls for a regularization program that "leaves no one behind", says Hernandez.

Solidarity Acros Borders strives for solidarity city

Solidarity Across Borders regularly organizes demonstrations, rallies, public assemblies, teach-ins, and support groups, all with the ultimate aim of building a "solidarity city." 

According to Solidarity Across Borders, a solidarity city involves "the creation of a community that rejects a system that engenders poverty and anguish, not solely for immigrants and refugees, but also for other[s] confronting these same realities."

Hernandez describes a solidarity city as running opposite to government policies like regularization programs, which are top-down or hierarchical.

Instead, a "solidarity city" embraces grassroots, horizontal approaches to migrants rights, whereby members and allies work to increase non-status peoples access to social services within various communities and bridge a variety of issues, including health, education, employment, and women's issues. Hernandez cites public education as an effective strategy towards developing a solidarity city.

As far as Solidarity Across Borders is concerned, the "CBSA does not have the authority to determine who has the right to stay and who has to leave" Canada. The group organizes weekly Friday demonstrations to demand status for all, will continue to pressure the government to end violent deportations and detentions, and struggle towards building a solidarity city.

Indeed, Solidarity Across Borders is mobilizing for a long-haul. "It's a long process," Hernandez concedes, "but we can do it."

 

Join Solidarity Across Borders on Tuesday May 10 in Montreal to show support for and protest the pending deportation of Roma family Gilda and Robertne (Katalin) Lakatos.

If you are not in Montreal, the group urges you to write the federal ministers responsible and send letters of support.

 

The CBSA declined to give comment on the actions of a third party or the occupation.

Sophia Reuss is a Montreal-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She's interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal. She is rabble's current news intern.

Photo by Ion Etxebarria, Concordia University Television (CUTV)

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