The NeverHome multi-media website (http://www.neverhome.ca/) produced by No One is Illegal is an invaluable and timely resource. More than 50 people put in over 1000 hours to produce this creative and detailed account of the Harper government’s extremely harsh changes to immigration and refugee policy. These punitive changes have resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being made insecure and never at home.
At a time of desperately increasing need, the Harper government has callously made it far more difficult to be accepted as a refugee. Multiple hoops and hurdles have resulted in a 50% drop in the number of refugee claims while the number of accepted refugee claims has dropped 30%.
The tragic and unnecessary deaths of Aylan, Galip and Rihan Kurdi have cast a spotlight on the Harper government’s strong bias in favour of enforcement and strict regulations. Citizenship and Immigration Canada refused to consider their claims because they had not been officially designated as refugees by the UN. In the wake of the global media coverage of these deaths, thousands of people have mobilized to say refugees are welcome and create a long overdue broad public debate.
But many problems remain. The federal government has increasingly shifted the responsibility for refugee admission onto the backs of private sponsors, while lengthy delays can leave many families suffering in limbo for years. People who have no other option but to enter by “irregular means” are treated like criminals, subjected to immediate and indeterminate detention. Refugees who are admitted face cruel cuts to essential needs like health care and access to welfare.
Hatred of migrants is whipped up in various ways, such as being accused of stealing jobs from Canadians. But the reality is very different. The government is deliberately establishing a two-tier system in which temporary foreign workers are exploited for their labour but have no access to permanent status.
The number of temporary foreign workers has skyrocketed in the past ten years to 300,000 in 2014. Meanwhile the government simply erased 280,000 applications for skilled workers which would lead to permanent status. The intent is clear: the government is most interested in easily exploitable and disposable foreign workers with no rights and no chance to stay permanently in Canada. Winston Morison, a member of Justice for Migrant Workers, said, “The issue isn’t migrant workers taking jobs from citizen workers. It is migrant workers being exploited and abused.”
The possibilities of citizenship for people in the Live-in-Caregiver program are narrowing. To change jobs they need a work permit, and there are ever-longer waits to get this permit. The government has also placed a hard cap on the number of permanent residence claims it will accept yearly.
The government’s deliberate revolving door policy is reflected in the new “four years in four years out” policy. As a result, 70,000 temporary workers could be liable to mass deportation.
Citizenship has become much harder to get, although investor class immigrants with lots of money are readily welcomed. And changing immigration policies make it more difficult to reunite families, especially extended family members. Overall, the number of immigrants receiving citizenship has plunged from 79 to 26 percent. New deterrents include rapidly rising processing fees, language tests and citizenship tests that require higher scores to pass.
Meanwhile the government passed Bill C-24 which the NeverHome website calls the “Stealing Citizenship Act.” This law entrenches second-class citizenship for people who are dual citizens since the state has been granted increased powers to take away their Canadian citizenship. Permanent resident status is also increasingly at risk. Under the pretext of a faster removal of foreign criminals, permanent residents could face deportation for even quite minor offenses.
These changes are occurring in the context of the “War on Terror” and the beefed-up security state under Bill C-51. Migrants are the only group in Canada who can be detained without being charged with a criminal offense, because they are deemed a flight risk, a “danger to the public” or for not having proper documents to verify their identity.
Between 2006 and 2014, over 87,000 people have been detained in holding cells in Toronto and Vancouver and provincial prisons, including in maximum security cells. Children are either removed by welfare agencies or imprisoned with their parents. At least 12 deaths have occurred in CBSA custody since 2000. Canada allows migrants to be detained indefinitely, a practice that has been strongly condemned by human rights groups.
These changes have been accomplished by denying people’s humanity. The NeverHome website offers an alternative, “calling for permanent immigration status and equal rights for immigrants, refugees and migrant workers.”