Immigration detainees end 18-day hunger strike

Photo: Sasha Patterson, End Immigration Detention Peterborough

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Immigration detainees at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario began eating over the weekend, ending an 18-day hunger strike. End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) could not confirm if detainees at the Toronto East Detention Centre have continued the hunger strike.

Yesterday, approximately 30 people rallied outside the Lindsay facility to show their support for the detainees, who began refusing food on July 11 to demand an end to indefinite immigration detention and request a meeting with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. The minister refused to meet with the detainees.

Over the past two weeks, solidarity protests were held in Regina, Peterborough, Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

The detainees "have decided to gather their strength and to continue the struggle in other ways," states EIDN in a post on facebook. EIDN is also calling for a redoubling of efforts to end Canada's indefinite detention of migrants.

"[Indefinite detention] is an incredibly cruel and unjust practice. The bottom line is that [detainees] are imprisoned without trial or charge for an administrative offence that's equivalent to a parking ticket in maximum security prisons," Maddy Macnab, an organizer with EIDN Peterborough, told rabble in a telephone interview.

Canada jailed 87,317 migrants without charges between 2006 and 2014, and at least 15 detainees have died while imprisoned since 2000. Immigration detainees have limited access to family, legal counsel and third-party monitoring agencies.

"It is illogical, cruel, and needs to end," Macnab said.

"Immigration detention is evil" says one detainee

Yesterday afternoon, EIDN Peterborough organized a caravan to drive community members to the Lindsay maximum security prison and "show their support, gratitude and thanks for the detainees," Macnab told rabble.

Upon arrival, senior administrative officials informed the demonstrators they would be required to concentrate their protest in the parking lot, and would not be able to walk around the perimeter of the jail without facing trespassing charges.

"[Walking around the jail] is something we've done at previous protests because we can actually be in view, in earshot of the range where immigration detainees are held and they can sort of see and hear our action," Macnab explained.

After the formal speaking portion of the demonstration, several people chose to walk around the jail. "That was powerful, a tiny, tiny act of resistance towards arbitrary borders," said Macnab. No trespassing charges were made.

Members also read a quote from one of the detainees, Toby Clarke. Clarke is a Jamaican citizen who has lived in Canada for 11 years and faces deportation, which would separate him permanently from his two children.

"They need to end immigration detention. They should really reconsider sending people who've grown up in Canada and if their country won't accept them, they should release them. Immigration detention is evil. If Canada is really for the people, they shouldn't do things like this. What the Canadian government is doing is evil and they need to change it. The laws have to change, this is a crime. I know guys who've been in detention six year, 11 years, that's cruel and unusual punishment. It makes me mad when I think about it. We started the strike to raise awareness and we will keep going until these laws are changed."

Goodale sees "no point" in meeting detainees

Goodale visited the Colonialism No More - Solidarity Camp Regina, who are protesting in solidarity with the detainees, twice during the hunger strike. The group has been camping outside the Regina INAC office for more than 100 days to draw attention to the legacy of colonialism and the demand the federal government provide "more than band-aid fixes" for First Nations.

"We have a unique position being in Goodale's riding and believe he feels an obligation to respond to his constituents," Robyn Pitawanakwat, a Colonialism No More Solidarity camp member, told rabble in a telephone interview.

The campers pressured Goodale to meet with the detainees during both meetings. "He kept saying that he didn't need to do that because he's already forward all the information to them, that there was no point," Pitawanakwat said.

Pitawanakwat believes Goodale did not meet with the detainees because "he doesn't want to legitimize their concerns."

"We believe that borders are colonial. That this colonial power came into the area we call Canada and changed all the rules about who gets to come in after them, and that is inappropriate," Pitawanakwat explained.

Colonialism No More echoes EIDN's demands of reducing the indefinite detention period to 90 days, following UN recommendations.

Next steps don't mean Goodale is "off the hook"

Macnab could not confirm whether the immigration detainees at the Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough have continued their hunger strike.

"Communication in prisons is difficult, it's designed that way," Macnab told rabble.

But the end of the Lindsay hunger strike "does not mean that Minister Ralph Goodale- - who has shown utter disregard for detainees' lives -- is off the hook," said the EIDN facebook post.

Macnab said that the EIDN Peterborough members will start to pressure their MP Maryam Monsef "to give us more than just the party line on this issue, and as a person and as our representative on government to take a stance on indefinite detention."

EIDN encourages members of other constituencies to engage their MPs and push for a stance on immigration detention.

"The other big save the date is there will be a National Day of Action Against Indefinite Immigration Detention in Canada on October 21," Macnab told rabble.

The details are yet to be announced, but Macnab said that the National Day of Action "will be the next step in escalating and continuing this campaign and all the momentum the detainees have started with their incredible resistance."  

 

End Immigration Detention Network is asking people to take a minute to contact Ralph Goodale 613-947-1153 / @RalphGoodale / ralph.goodale@parl.gc.ca and sign a petition: https://www.change.org/p/no-more-deaths-no-more-detentions

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.

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