They walked from the St. Michel métro station to Jarry Park. It’s a protest march held every year to demand an end to the deportations of tens of thousands of people who are refused refugee and immigration status in Canada.
But Sunday’s march was especially important, says organizer Romina Hernandez of Solidarity Across Borders, because as of Monday, some 3,500 people from Haiti and Zimbabwe who have been rejected as refugees lose all status in Canada.
Until now they have been protected by a moratorium that prevented their return to their home countries, on humanitarian grounds. That moratorium was lifted by the federal government in December, and is just now set to take effect.
Some have applied to continue to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds, but most could not afford the fees required to apply, say critics of the government’s actions.
Hernandez says an estimated 500,000 people are believed to be living in Canada without official documentation. Among them are whole families who have been ordered to return to their countries of origin, but who have decided to ignore their deportation orders and stay in Canada.
Some have been here, living and working clandestinely, for up to 20 years. Their lives, Hernandez says, are fraught with stress and uncertainty.
“They live without access to health services. They can’t attend schools. They must work under the table, for less than minimum wage. Because they have no official identification papers, they don’t even have access to food banks,” she said.
“Just imagine living under such conditions. To live like this, you would have to have some pretty strong reasons for not wanting to return to the place you came from.”
Hernandez says the undocumented live under almost-constant fear of being apprehended.
“If you make noise and the neighbour calls the police, you will be found out. If you jaywalk, the police may stop you and ask for ID. Any minute you might be discovered. You are living under extreme stress all the time.”
Her organization is asking for the federal government to stop spending money on the detention and forced deportation of these non-status people and instead find ways to allow them to become full-fledged members of Canadian society. It cites figures from the federal department of public safety that show more than 18,000 migrants were deported by the Canada Border Services Agency in 2012-2013 — an average of 49 deportations each day.
“In factories, agricultural fields, restaurants, hospitals and homes around Montreal, migrants work in precarity to produce cheap goods and food, to clean, serve and look after the children of the middle class and wealthy,” Solidarity Across Borders wrote in a communique issued in advance of Sunday’s march.
“Social benefits enjoyed by Canadian citizens are subsidized by the labour of people reviled in racist discourses as ‘illegals,’ ‘bogus refugees,’ ‘criminals.’ ”