As the federal Liberal cabinet meets to set its priorities ahead of the Sept. 23 throne speech, nearly 300 organizations are reaffirming a call for equal rights and permanent immigration status for everyone in Canada.
Following months of migrant-led protests, the labour, climate, faith and Indigenous organizations have signed a letter to send to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he meets with his ministers during a two-day Liberal cabinet retreat.
Signatories of the letter, which was circulated by the Migrant Rights Network, include the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, Halifax Workers Action Centre, No One is Illegal - Halifax/K'jipuktuk and Solidarity K’jipuktuk/Halifax. They’re calling for full and permanent immigration status for all migrants, refugees and undocumented people in Canada.
“We call for a single-tier immigration system, where everyone in the country has the same rights,” the letter states.
“All migrants, refugees and undocumented people in the country must be regularized and given full immigration status now without exception. All migrants arriving in the future must do so with full and permanent immigration status.”
On Monday, members of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, the Climate Action Network, KAIROS, Indigenous Climate Action and Ontario Federation of Labour — all signatories to the letter — made a case for “status for all” in Canada during a virtual news conference.
Syed Hussan, MWAC co-ordinator, said full and permanent immigration status for migrants, refugees and undocumented people is about “levelling the playing field,” to ensure that everyone has the same rights, services and benefits in Canada.
Hussan added that while the work of many migrants is “essential,” whether it be growing food, caring for families or working in construction, they have been “relegated to various classes of citizenship and access to rights,” putting them in harm’s way during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Migrants have been hard hit by COVID-19. Many have died, thousands have had difficulty accessing emergency care and even health-care during a public health pandemic. Income supports have been unavailable and those who kept working have fallen sick,” he said.
“In a public health pandemic, as we have learned that if you do not protect everyone, you do not protect anyone.”
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 1,300 migrant agricultural workers have contracted COVID-19 in Ontario alone and three have died from the virus.
Patty Coates, president of OFL, Canada’s largest provincial labour federation, said that migrant workers have been denied equal rights in Canada “for far too long.”
This, she said, has subjected them to recruiter corruption, employer exploitation, poverty wages, treacherous work, harassment, intimidation, discrimination and threats of deportation. In Nova Scotia, migrant workers have reported alleged threats of deportation and wage theft at a farm in Great Village amid the pandemic.
“A fair society requires that everyone has equal access to rights and protections and this is only possible if migrant workers, refugees, students and undocumented people have full and permanent immigration status,” said Coates.
Lindsey Bacigal, Indigenous Climate Action communications director, said migrants and Indigenous Peoples share “similar ordeals of injustice” in Canada as a result of “government decisions that negatively affect us” such as difficulty accessing and receiving adequate health care and struggles to meet basic needs.
Bacigal said full permanent status for all is an “important step in rectifying these abuses” and working towards a “just and equitable future where our communities can do more than just survive, but we can thrive.”
The Chronicle Herald reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for comment, but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Since the start of the pandemic, the federal government has made multi-million dollar investments in its temporary foreign worker program to safeguard the health and safety of temporary foreign workers from COVID-19 and announced a temporary measure to give some asylum seekers an early chance at permanent residency.
While members of the Migrant Rights Network have called these "positive" steps, they continue to push for full and permanent immigration status for all in Canada. Their next “day of action” is on Sept. 20, with activities taking place across the country.