November 26, 2014 – An early morning welcoming committee was convened yesterday to greet Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who was in Montreal to take part in a closed door consultation with a carefully curated list of community groups. The event aimed to promote his proposed “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Pratices Act,” a racist, xenophobic piece of legislation targeting immigrant communities.
Members of Solidarity Across Borders, Mexicans United for Regularization, and the South Asian Women’s Community Centre converged outside the Canada Border Services Agency building where the meeting was scheduled to take place. An activist was able to get inside, directly addressing the minister and disrupting the meeting, while a group of protestors remained outside, raising banners and leading chants. When demonstrators who had gathered outside entered the building to demand that their voices be included, they were violently blocked by security guards and locked out of the entrance. The minister declined to meet with them and roundtable participants were forced to exit through a back door.
Protestors aimed to highlight the opportunistic timing and racist foundations of the proposed Act: “It is racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic. This is not just a single amendment to laws but part of a wider agenda of cracking down, a neoliberal agenda that disempowers women,” said Dolores Chew of the South Asian Women’s Community Centre. “We question the motivation of putting this legislation out now while they’re cracking down on immigration. It is very clear that systems of oppression always use patriarchy to target vulnerable communities and it always happens on the backs of women,” she continued.
Migrant justice groups point out that the Harper government has repeatedly demonstrated considerable disregard for the safety of women in Canada. Furthermore, it has actively generated gender-based violence, from outright contempt towards the thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women, to deporting women who have fled violence in their countries of origin, bonding live-in caregivers and temporary workers to their employers, and legislating a live-in requirement for sponsorship that push women into situations of precarity and abuse. “Many women experience violence, but can’t leave their partner because they are in a sponsorship process. In a sense, this is a kind of ‘forced marriage’. Many women who flee violence in Mexico don’t necessarily find refuge here” said Inti Barrios of Mexicans United for Regularization.
“[This bill] reflects paternalism and problematic colonial patterns of white and privileged racialized elites assuming they can speak for women, in particular those of us who experience discrimination and exclusion” added Chew.
Canada has spent a total of $7.5 million since 2012 paying would-be refugees to leave the country and abandon their refugee claims. Between 9,000 and 15,000 migrants are detained each year, including children, arbitrarily held without charge. At any given time, between 520 and 550 people are in immigration detention in Canada. In 2013, Canada deported more than 15,000 people – more than 40 people a day. We are experiencing a regime of mass deportation: nearly 90,000 people have been deported under the Harper government.
“Canada continues to violently target immigrant communities as ‘the problem,’ legislating the systemic racism and xenophobia that fuels violence against migrant women and women of colour” said Amy Darwish of Solidarity Across Borders. “This completely unnecessary Act is the federal government’s equivalent to Quebec’s Charter of Values, which the Tories opportunistically opposed. This is nothing more than a cynical electoral ploy to appeal to sensationalized stereotypes and false fears of other cultures and traditions, while distracting from issues that actually produce precarity in migrant communities, such as growing “safe” country lists, temporary worker programs that sanction exploitation, and a fast-tracked refugee system. The clearly racist foundations of the proposed by-law are appalling.”
If the Conservative government is truly concerned about the safety of women and girls, as it claims to be, “why has the government been so contemptuous with respect to the large numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women, instead placing the onus on the victims?” said Chew. “We should raise our voices loudly and mobilize to make our anger and outrage known.”
SAWCC workers, members, friends and allies also delivered a letter to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, on Tuesday November 25th, 2014. The letter is available here.