On September 17th 2013, 191 one hundred and ninety one immigration detainees held in the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario, began a non-cooperation protest.
They went on hunger strike and at first demanded better prison conditions. Soon the strikers demands expanded to the entire immigration detention system that detains hem, requesting a review of the detention process and demanding their freedom.
Today is the 1 year anniversary of the ongoing strike. This is a brief history of the struggle to date: the strike, the ongoing resistance on the inside and the campaign that continues on the outside. If you haven’t yet, please take action to support their resistance. We are an all-volunteer organizing project, please financially support our work.
On Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 an organizer with No One Is Illegal-Toronto gets a call informing them that detainees in immigration hold, recently transferred from across Ontario to a maximum security prison in Lindsay, Ontario have gone on hunger strike and refused to enter their cells.
Running Down The Walls, an annual run to raise money for the Anarchist Black Cross is in communication with prisoners at this time. Organisers from Fuerza Puwersa in Guelph set up a TrappCall phone line, which allows detainees to collect call cellphones on the outside. They begin to get calls from people who have decided to take a stand against what has become their indefinite detention. Connections are quickly made with organisers from No One Is Illegal-Toronto and form what is to become the End Immigration Detention Network. In conjunction with the detainees, activists on the outside craft a set of demands focusing on prison conditions and release a petition alongside a solidarity statement signed by migrant justice organisations across the country.
On September 23rd, activists in Guelph drop a banner from a bridge and on September 30th they visit CBSA offices in Kitchener Waterloo. During this time, the End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) is publishing recordings of interviews with detainees who are speaking out. By this point, some of the detainees demands on conditions, including better canteen options and better food on range are being met by prison officials.
However, as the hunger strike entered its third week, detainees who call the trapp line are less interested in improving their substandard conditions and want to focus on the reasons for their detainment. On October 4th, the campaign releases the four key demands which stand to this day. Sign the petition here.
1 – Freedom for the wrongly jailed: Release all migrant detainees who have been held for longer than 90 days.
2 – End arbitrary and indefinite detention: If removal cannot happen within 90 days, immigration detainees must be released. Limits on detention periods are recommended by the United Nations, and are the law in the United States and the European Union.
3 – No maximum security holds: Immigration detainees should not be held in maximum security provincial jails; must have access to basic services and be close to family members.
4 – Overhaul the adjudication process: Give migrants fair and full access to judicial review, legal aid, bail programs and pro bono representation.
The following day, supporters send in photographs of themselves holding signs saying, ‘I support the migrant detainee strike.’ The actions of those inside have quickly become known as #MigrantStrike.
On October 6th, an interview is published with detainee Ayad Alshmmaray, who at the time had been in immigration detention for almost five years. Ayad suffers from lung cancer and was not receiving the appropriate attention while in detention. He was worried that he would die from cancer while in detention. Ayad kept in touch via the trapp line right up until the day he was deported to Iraq, on May 22nd, 2014.
During this period, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) promises numerous times to meet with the detainees but to date they never have.
Three weeks after the strike began, friends, family members and supporters across Ontario take to the streets in a provincial day of action to bring attention to indefinite detention. Actions take place in Guelph, Kitchener, Kingston, Lindsay, London, Ottawa, Peterborough and Toronto, where supporters dressed in orange jumpsuits and tied in chains hold out empty food plates and deliver a petition signed by over twelve hundred people to the office of Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The Minister’s office publicly deny that over 100 one hundred detainees were on strike and have continued to refuse to comment.
In response to the resistance on the inside, immigration enforcement place hunger strikers in segregation, begin to deport or release key strike organizers and move others into prisons across Ontario. Despite this, the strike actions continue.
On October 19th, Amin Mjasiri speaks directly from segregation, where he is on day twenty six of his hunger strike. Amin would remain on hunger strike for sixty five days and is still detained to this day.
On October 21st, the End Immigration Detention Network released an interview with Martin Sisay and Lynval Daley speaking about the hunger strike, segregation and resistance. Their struggle brings some success when Martin is finally released on February 21st, 2014 and joins the campaign on the outside.
On day thirty six of the strike, Michael Mvogo, in maximum security detention for seven years files a complaint with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions at the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights demanding an end to his indefinite detention and the creation of a ‘presumptive period’. The same day, the Network release the ‘We will not be locked up and forgotten’ video. A decision is expected over the summer.
On October 31st, EIDN publishes, ‘Meet the hunger strikers’, profiling five of the men they have been in touch with who have been on hunger strike and locked up in segregation as punishment.
On November 5th, Tarek Loubani and John Greyson visit the jail in Lindsay with other organisers and demand their release. Loubani and Greyson, who had recently returned to Canada after a six-week detention in an Egyptian prison, including time in solitary confinement, call for people to speak out for the detainees as they had for them. Their visit brings significant media attention to the campaign.
On the forty seventh day of his hunger strike, the network releases an updated interview with Amin Mjasiri, recorded on the same day John and Tarek visited, when they were denied a request to visit him because of his commitment to the strike. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney remains silent.
In November, the Toronto Star runs two stories on the strike. The first profiles Mbuyisa Makhubu, a South African anti-apartheid icon who has been languishing in immigration detention in Canada for almost a decade. This is followed by an exposé on the hundreds held in Canada’s immigration cells.
On day 57 Ten days later, family members and organisers announce they have lost touch with Amin Mjasiri and have grave concerns for his well being. A petition is sent calling for his release.
On November 26th, organisers announce a rally to be held at the prison in Lindsay on December 14th. In response to the call for a demonstration on the outside, immigration detainees decide to initiate a twenty four hour fast inside on the same day and supporters respond by calling for a twenty four hour global solidarity fast to accompany the protest at Lindsay Jail.
As opposition begins to grow against indefinite immigration detention in Canada, a supporters statement is released on December 11th, signed by 50 fifty leading labour, civil society, grassroots groups and individuals, including Naomi Klein, John Greyson, Council of Canadians, Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Law Union of Ontario. Organizations can endorse the demands here: http://www.endimmigrationdetention.com/endorsers
December 14th brings snow storms and freezing temperatures to Ontario but the rally goes ahead as planned. Three busloads of families and supporters drive hours through snow squalls and are joined by many more residents of the Lindsay and Peterborough area. The almost two hundred strong crowd’s chants are heard by the detainees inside and the banging on their cell walls can be heard across the fences. A full hour after the buses departed, organisers receive a call from a detainee with deafening noise in the background. When asked what was happening inside, he responds, “They’ve been yelling freedom in unison for hours!”
Solidarity actions are held elsewhere, including a banner drop in Vancouver.
On December 20th, the National Post runs a story on CBSA’s botched attempt to deport a man to a country he wasn’t from with a forged passport purchased from a middleman. More reports have since emerged of CBSA using fake documents to deport migrants to countries that they have no association with.
In January, 2014, as African asylum seekers in Israel start their own hunger strike in protest of their detention, organisers in Toronto and Vancouver stage solidarity actions.
On family day weekend, family members of detainees release a striking and heartfelt statement, ‘When will they return?’ The same day, supporters project a massive image on to the border control offices at 74 Victoria Street in Toronto where decisions to detain and deport migrants are made every day. Guelph organisers drop a banner with the same message.
February 28th 2014 marks the two-month anniversary of Lucia Vega Jimenez’s attempted suicide while in immigration enforcement custody awaiting deportation. She died eight days later. To mark this and the five month anniversary of #MigrantStrike, organisers stage a ‘Migrant Dignity not Migrant Death’ action at the Greater Toronto Enforcement Center, responsible for immigration detention and over forty deportations a day. Posters are plastered inside GTEC holding the enforcement officers personally responsible. The event is documented in the ‘Enough is Enough’ video. Rallies and actions are also held in Vancouver, Montreal and London.
On March 26th, a public forum on the struggle against immigration detention is held in Toronto. Speakers include recently released Lindsay detainee and strike organiser Martin Sisay, Maru Mora Villalpando from Latino Advocacy in Seattle and supporter of 1,200 immigrant detainees on hunger strike in Tacoma, Washington and Tarek Loubani. Supporters in attendance write and record messages to detainees and Stephen Harper.
On May Day 2014, International Workers Day (May 1st), supporters march in Toronto to ‘Honour Our Communities’ and demand an end to Immigration Detention.
On June 2nd, over 100 immigrants start a historical month-long boycott of their detention reviews, insisting the process is biased, unfair and stacked against them. The boycott is coordinated between detainees caged in three separate maximum security prisons across Ontario – the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene and Toronto’s Metro West Detention Centre.
On June 9th, the End Immigration Detention Network launches a groundbreaking report which raises red flags about troubling patterns in the detention review process which keeps immigrants detained. EIDN insists that political inference may be taking place in the detention review process. ‘Arbitrary, Indefinite and Unfair: Truth about immigration detention’ is a startling exposé on immigration detention in Canada and comes as a video is released asking why the Harper government has detained over 80,000 people without charge and featuring the voices of detainees boycotting their detention reviews. The report causes a stir and is featured on CBC Metro Morning. Toronto Star publishes an official editorial.
Network organisers head to Ottawa for the 15th International Conference on Penal Abolition, where they present two workshops linking immigration detention to traditional abolitionist struggles. On Friday June 13th, organizers use ten foot tall Scales of Injustice to lock down Border Control Headquarters in Ottawa to proclaim that there is no justice in immigration detention.
June 15th sees a Fathers Day March to End Immigration Detention from the University of Ottawa to Canada Border Services Agency headquarters in downtown Ottawa. Supporters hear a live recording from a detainee in Lindsay and chalk the names of those detained on the street in front of the CBSA offices.
On July 22nd, the United Nations issues its opinion in the case of Mr Mvogo ruling that he be released and be repatriated for the eight years he has been in detention. This is the first opinion issued by the Working Group in a case involving Canada since 1994 which is when records are available for. The UN opinion insists that Canadian immigration detention is indefinite, the judicial review process is broken, and is contrary to multiple international conventions to which Canada is a signatory.
On August 26th, immigration detainees in Lindsay, ON joined fellow prisoners and refused to go on lock-up after being forced into lockdowns repeatedly because of short-staffing.
On September 17th, 2014 actions are taking places across the country to celebrate the 1 year of resistance and call for an end to immigration detention.
We affirm our commitment to fight detentions and deportations, and all systems of immigration controls. We insist on the freedom to move, return, and stay. We declare: These walls will fall…