Montreal Activists Welcome Refugees, Denounce Ongoing Deportations
Cries of “Immigrants in, Harper out” resonated around downtown Montreal to a backdrop of festive Middle Eastern music and dancing families on Saturday.
Four groups of activists for migrant justice joined forces for a unity march to call for an end to the deportation of migrants and to welcome refugees.
Participants gathered at Norman Bethune Square to follow the lead of organizers, including Solidarity Across Borders, Let’s Unite, Le Comité d’action des personnes sans statut, and Le Comité d’action contre la décision 168-13 de la République dominicaine, which advocates for Haitian rights in Canada and in the Dominican Republic, where the country’s constitutional court denationalized Dominicans of Haitian descent a few years ago.
Most of the protesters marching against the pipeline projects earlier in the day joined in solidarity, as environmental issues often force migrants to relocate.
Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activist, expressed her support for people struggling with racism and Canada’s colonial history. Justice for migrants cannot be asked without acknowledging indigenous struggles for self-determination, said the organizers.
“Canada has led you to believe that the theft of our land is normal. You need to change it, otherwise you are part of the problem,” she told the crowd. “Learn your history.”
Rosaline Wong from Solidarity Across Borders explained the group supports families and individuals targeted by the immigration system. The committee addressed a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who did not respond.
“The government propaganda is operated on the politics of fear: fear of the niqab, fear of terrorists, fear of migrants,” she said.
Wong also talked about the thousands of vulnerable people living without status in Montreal and without access to health or education for their children.
“We cannot talk about welcoming refugees without addressing the systemic barriers that exist in our own local institutions,” said Wong. “Change will only come when people stand up and demand it.”
One of the issues addressed Saturday was the situation for people from Zimbabwe and Haiti. A moratorium on deportations to those countries was lifted, now that the federal government considers that conditions there have significantly improved.
Members of those communities had a six-month period to apply for permanent residency. Those who did not apply on time may be forced to leave. For those who did, resident status is granted on a case-by-case basis. Some members of the community, who have received provincial recognition and have been working here for years, are nonetheless asked to leave the country, according to organizers.
Aristil and Judith along with their three children are a family who must leave Canada on Oct. 17. The children have a dual citizenship, English and Haitian. Their expulsion letter, received three weeks ago, was handed to the crowd.
Frantz André, founding member of the committee for Haitian rights, saluted the crowd following his community tradition of shouting, “Honour! Respect!” Montreal is home to about 3,000 Haitian migrants, he said.
The refugee crisis has been put at the forefront after the photo of a deceased Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, emerged online. Those in attendance held a minute of silence for refugees who have died trying to reach safer countries.
While chanting, “No one is illegal,” the participants walked until Phillips Square, where the police first blocked entrance before clearing out when students and families started dancing in response.
Anais Gagnon marched with her three children to make them aware of their fortune to have a home where they feel safe and free. She explained their father is Mexican, and the immigration system makes it really difficult for him to visit them.