Immigration detainees on hunger strike demand meeting public safety minister

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Sixty-eight immigration detainees in two maximum security prisons in Ontario -- Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough and Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay -- began a hunger strike on Monday to demand an end to indefinite detentions in maximum security prisons.

The immigration detainees, all racialized and undocumented men, will not end their hunger strike until they are able to meet with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

Goodale's receptionist has refused to schedule a meeting between Goodale and the detainees, and maintains that Goodale cannot speak to members of the public. When detainees phoned their local MP, Conservative MP Jamie Schmale, he refused to facilitate a meeting with Goodale.

"We are in this together, we gotta make this happen 'cause we're really really tired of being in here. We can't take this no more," said Patrick, one of the hunger striking detainees in Lindsay, in an End Immigration Detention Network media release.

Canada is one of a small number of countries with indefinite detention -- no time limit on how long migrants can be detained before deportation. Immigration detainees face limited access to family, legal counsel and third-party monitoring agencies.

Between 2006 and 2014, Canada jailed 87,317 migrants without charges, including up to 807 minors each year. Migrants are the only population in Canada subject to imprisonment on administrative grounds without specific criminal offences.

"I've been in for over two years and six months. They've been trying to deport me back to my motherland in Ivory Coast but I don't know when this is actually going to take place," said Patrick.

Last year, the UN issued a report criticising Canada's indefinite detention of migrants. But Canada hasn't listened.

"The fact is, three people have died in immigration detention in just the past five months. All under Goodale's watch -- this is a crisis. A political crisis," Tings Chak, an organizer with End Immigration Detention Network and No One Is Illegal, told rabble in a text message.

Immigration detainees began a hunger strike in April, following the death of Francisco Javier Romero Astorga, a 39-year-old Chilean father of four. The hunger strikers demanded an end to indefinite detention in maximum security, an overhaul of the judicial review process, and improvement in prison conditions.

The hunger strike came to an end when CBSA officials agreed to meet with the detainees, but the CBSA did not follow through on the promises they made.

This time around, the hunger strike takes aim at elected officials. "They [have] no way to have their voices heard, so they are on a hunger strike with one clear demand -- to meet with Minister Ralph Goodale," Chak explained.

Beyond maximum security imprisonment, Chak emphasized that Canada needs to end indefinite detention altogether.

"The only real alternative [to indefinite detention] is being released in the community," Chak says, "People need to be given permanent immigration status. They need to be able to stay in Canada, to live full and dignified lives  with their children, with their families, and in their communities."

The End Immigration Detention Network has provided five ways to support the hunger strike:

1. Sign the petition

2. Call, tweet and email Minister Goodale and ask him to meet with the hunger strikers: 613-947-1153/ @RalphGoodale/[email protected]

3. Share this image on facebook and twitter 

4. Learn more about the issues here

5.Follow the End Immigration Detention Network on facebook and twitter and keep up to date with upcoming events and actions

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: flickr/DonkeyHotey


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