Joint statement by No One Is Illegal Halifax, No One Is Illegal Toronto, No One Is Illegal Vancouver Unceded Coast Salish Territories, No One Is Illegal – Montreal and No One Is Illegal – London

Last week Minister of Censorship and Deportation Jason Kenney tabled Bill C31, an omnibus Refugee Exclusion Act This Act is racist.  It creates a two-tier system of refugee protection, increases incarceration, denies and revokes legal status, and violently targets and expels refugees and migrants from Canada.

Under the proposed Refugee Exclusion Act, the following provisions will be established:

Conditional residency for accepted refugees: Asylum seekers who have already been accepted as refugees and have acquired permanent residency but not Canadian citizenship risk losing their status. If the Minister determines that certain refugees no longer need protection, their residency status can be revoked and they will face deportation even after having lived in Canada for years. This abolishes refugee protection and permanent status for refugees. Instead, it introduces the dangerous concept of conditional residence for refugees, whose lives are already marked by trauma, precarity, and instability. This bill also grants the state the right to retroactively strip refugees of their status.

–  A discriminatory two-tier asylum system: The new bill creates a racist and discriminatory two-tier system of asylum that forces shorter timelines for processing (15 days), denies the right to appeal, and restricts legal avenues for certain refugees based on nationality. This Act grants Immigration Minister Jason Kenney arbitrary authority to designate certain countries as ‘safe,’ thus denying large numbers of refugees the right to a fair hearing based on their individual circumstances, as is required by the Refugee Convention to which Canada is a signatory. This will particularly impact women, queers, and racial minorities fleeing persecution based on gender, sexuality, and race. The decision to determine which countries are ‘safe’ will be based entirely on political considerations. For example, economic alliances and capitalist free trade agreements between Canada and countries like Mexico and India would mean that Canada will reject refugees from these “safe” countries.

Mandatory incarceration for many refugees: The previous Human Smuggling Bill (Bill C-49, then Bill C-4) has been rolled into the Refugee Exclusion Act. Cloaked in the language of protecting victims of human smuggling, these provisions actually punish and criminalize refugees. They are modeled after Australia’s internationally condemned policies of mandatory detention and human rights abuses against asylum-seekers, and were previously rejected by all opposition parties and hundreds of community, legal, health, human rights, and migrant justice groups in Canada. The measures include: mandatory detention of “irregularly arriving” refugees as young as 16 without review by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) for 12 months; denial of the right to apply for permanent resident status until five years after favourable determination of the refugee claim; denial of access to humanitarian and compassionate applications, temporary resident permits or refugee travel documents for five years or longer; and denial of the right to appeal an unfavourable determination of a refugee  claim to the Refugee Appeal Division. In an era of austerity, mandatory detention for irregularly arriving migrants under this Omnibus anti-refugee Bill C-31 works in tandem with the Omnibus Crime Bill C-10. Together, they are part of the Conservative agenda to expand prisons and fill them with poor and racialized people.

The Refugee Exclusion Act is also being opposed by the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association .  This latest Act is part of a growing anti-immigrant agenda by Kenney, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the Conservative party:

1 The number of refugees granted permanent residence has dropped by 25%. Canada already accepts fewer than 20,000 refugees per year, less than 0.1% of the world’s displaced populations. According to recent research, $92 million is spent on detention and deportation every year, with some $22 million being spent under the vague rubric of “Public Safety Anti-Terrorism.” Between 2006 and 2011, Canadian Border Services Agency carried out 83,382 deportations of women, children, and men, while from 2004-2010, more than 72,000 refugees were arbitrarily detained.

2 The Conservatives recently re-introduced anti-terror measures, previously expired since 2007, under Bill S-7. The bill’s draconian measures include investigative hearings even if a person has not been charged and vague definitions of terrorism that particularly target Muslims. This bill is an extension of the widely-decried counter-terrorism strategy, which revealed that environmental activists, Indigenous land defenders, anti capitalists, and immigrants are seen as domestic threats.

3 The Conservative government has issued multiple lists of migrants charged with serious criminality or war crimes, often without evidence. As legal organizations have stated: “The principle of the presumption of innocence is undermined by the publication of this list. Most, if not all, of the suspected war criminals’ have not been convicted of a crime.” In addition, Jason Kenney and Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, have created vigilante snitch lines dedicated to reporting and deporting people.

4 Family class immigration has dropped by 10,000 people or 15%. Kenney has also placed a moratorium on sponsorships of parents and grandparents. Instead, parents and grandparents have to apply for the temporary “Parent and Grandparent (of the Rich 1%) Super Visa” which requires a minimum income and private Canadian health-care insurance. Quotas for spouses and children have also been reduced by 4,000 per year.

5 Kenney has proposed conditional residence status for sponsored spouses. This would impose a two-year “conditional residency” on sponsored spouses, common-law partners and conjugal partners. If sponsored spouses don’t stay in the relationship they will be deported, thus placing women at increased risk for spousal and partner abuse.

6 Skilled worker visas have been decreased by 20% and $53 million has been cut from programs for new immigrants, including the cutting of public funding from Palestine House. Kenney has recently announced that he prefers an immigration system where employers can “hand-pick” immigrants. This gross commodification of migrants as labour to be auctioned off is racist, classist, and gendered, and maintains the ideology of White Canada (reminiscent of the Chinese Head Tax era) that can use and expel labour at its whim.

7 In 2011, Kenny unilaterally instituted a ban on the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. He also supports Quebec’s Bill C-94 that discriminates against women who wear the niqab by denying them essential public services.

8 In 2009, Kenney deliberately edited queers out of the new citizenship guide. Faced with mounting opposition, the new guide now includes one sentence referencing queers: “Canada’s diversity includes gay and lesbian Canadians.” The guide also makes racist references to “barbaric cultural practices,” a characterization that is deliberately devoid of a complex analysis of gendered violence, especially those that the Canadian settler state is complicit in.

9 The quota allotted for live-in caregivers to become permanent residents has been slashed by almost 50%. The government will grant permanent residency to 8,000 to 9,300 live-in caregivers in 2012. That’s down from 12,000 to 16,000 in 2011.

10 The number of temporary foreign workers, who have no rights to permanent residency and are exploited constantly for their labour, is up 30%.  By 2009, more people (over 280,000 people) were coming into Canada under temporary foreign worker programs than as permanent residents. The government proposed major changes to foreign worker programs including limiting most workers to a term of four years, after which a six-year ban will be imposed before workers can return to Canada. With precarious legal status, migrant workers are indentured in domestic work, agriculture, tourism, resource extractive industries, and the service sector.

Kenney’s immigration model is one of temporariness. The Conservatives are perfecting a system of containment and commodification of migrants through racist fear-mongering parroted by the corporate media, and repressive policies of exclusion through enhanced border militarization. Lack of full status, conditional residency, deportations, detentions, anti-terror laws, and security certificates make migrants vulnerable to exploitation, poverty, and daily indignities.

By shutting the door to permanent residency for refugees, family sponsorships, and skilled workers, Canada is ensuring that migrants are recruited primarily as indentured labour for big business. Hundreds of asylum-seekers languish behind bars, while hundreds of thousands of temporary workers and non-status people toil in fields and factories. The reality is that Canada depends on the low-wage labour of migrants. The Canadian economy is built on the theft of Indigenous lands, the exploitation of labour, especially slave, migrant, and reproductive labour and the global appropriation of natural resources.

The whole immigration system is corrupt and inhumane; predicated on power, violence, and control. Most migrants are displaced and migrate because of corporate greed and the policies of imperialist powers. Although they are told they are undesirable, capitalist industries and settler colonial states require migrant and non-status people in order to reap high profits. This dehumanization of migrants is reinforced by racism, where Indigenous people and racialized people are deemed less worthy. The anti-immigrant rhetoric of “illegals” and “terrorists” cultivates a climate of fear and xenophobia that justifies the treatment of migrants as sub-human. As grassroots anti-colonial migrant justice organizers, we struggle for the right to remain, the freedom to move, and the right to return.

We demand an end to detentions and deportations. We demand the abolition of exploitative temporary worker programs, and instead demand status for all those who have been deemed temporary and illegal in order to justify theft of their labour and lives. We cannot allow the government to perpetuate divisive, racist, and false ideas that designate migrants as ‘bogus refugees’ who are ‘stealing our jobs.’ We cannot let the Harper government off the hook for prioritizing the slashing of critical public services, bailing out banks and subsidizing corporations, destroying Indigenous lands and the environment, and sinking billions into prisons and the military. Join with people across the country rejecting Kenney and Harper’s agenda!

The People v. Kenney

Freedom to move

Right to stay, and to Return

We are many.


No One Is Illegal, Status for All People!

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