Hunger strike forces announcement on detentions – the struggle continues.

On August 15, the Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale pitched a new national immigration detention strategy. Before we share our analysis of this announcement, let us first discuss the context within which the announcement was made.

Melkioro Gahungu, Francisco Astorga, and an as-yet unidentified man, died in immigration detention in the last six months. Three deaths under Goodale’s watch, and not a single word of apology, accountability or responsibility from the Federal Liberals.

The silence was broken only when dozens of people put their health and lives at stake. On July 11th, around 50 immigration detainees began a hunger strike in two Ontario prisons. The strike grew to over 60 detainees by Day 2. The hunger strike lasted 19 days and during this time supporters of migrant justice took to the streets in Regina, Ottawa, Toronto and Peterborough. In Goodale’s hometown, indigenous land defenders at the Colonialism No More camp showed up again and again at Goodale’s offices and public appearances until he met with them. Solidarity messages and letters of support flooded in. Hundreds of us called, emailed and tweeted at Minister Goodale.

Goodale spoke, not because of the goodness of his Liberal heart, but because we – all of us, but most importantly immigration detainees – pressured him to do so. And it wasn’t easy. Goodale tried to ignore us, and tried to dismiss our pressure with a public blog full of lies and misrepresentations.

Now, let us examine the announcement. $138 million will be used to renovate or rebuild two (of the three) immigration prisons in Canada, in Laval, Quebec and Vancouver, British Columbia. $10 million of these funds will be allocated to mental health supports. Consultations will take place at some point, likely by invitation, to make further changes.

We do not expect radical transformation from any government body, but we asked ourselves: Would these changes have kept Melkioro, Francisco, Abdurrahman or anyone else alive? Would these changes mean that individuals would not be jailed in maximum security prisons? Would these changes mean that individuals and families and children would not be jailed indefinitely without charges or trial? The answer to all of the above is a resounding No. In fact, the Liberals’ only response to the hunger strike denouncing gross human rights violation in detention is to pour money into detention centres. This level of cynicism is disgusting.

To answer yes to those questions, the Federal Liberals would have to pass laws, or propose regulations, or at least make a policy changes that end indefinite detention, that end the detention of children, that end the maximum security imprisonment of detainees. The entire process by which detainees are detained would need to be revised (see explanation).

That hasn’t happened – and so our work is far from done. Just last week, we were in court with Alvin Brown, who was imprisoned without charges or trial for over five years. We used a creative, and never-tried-before legal strategy, to get the Ontario provincial courts to rule on a federal immigration matter. While we were expect the ruling to come in a few weeks, CBSA was up to its dirty tricks. Alvin Brown was deported in the middle of the litigation, suspiciously timed to ensure that case law favourable to immigration detainees wouldn’t be created. His lawyers are still seeking damages.

Over the next few months, we will be in the streets, the courts, in MP offices, and on social media raising hell, and seeking your support to end immigration detention. But know this, the fight is far from done. 

End Immigration Detention Network

(End Immigration Detention Peterborough, End Detentions Vancouver, Fuerza Puwersa and No One Is Illegal – Toronto)

As post-script, we must note three other things:

  1. Cloaked in sunshine, sparkles, and grand boasts of being different from the previous Conservative government, the Federal Liberals’ prison expansion project was developed under the previous government, which is why money had already been earmarked and this announcement could be made. The Toronto Immigration Holding Centre is already being expanded, expected to be completed by January 2017, at a cost of some $40 million.

  2. As organizations and individuals, we have come together in the broader work of ensuring freedom to move, return, and stay. We are campaigning against indefinite immigration detention because of who detainees are. Detainees are racialized people forced to flee the ravages of capitalism, war, environmental disaster and social oppression. They arrive here, and are denied basic services because of racisms, and ingrained anti-poor structures. A few turn to crime, and end up in prison faster and for longer because of anti-Black racism. Some cannot be deported because they come from underdeveloped countries which cannot provide the documentation Canada unjustly demands, or because those countries very rightly refuse to accept detainees if they’ve spent most of their lives in Canada. To call for an end to immigration detention is to call for an end to racisms, patriarchy, displacement, and unjust exploitation of the Global South. Since September 2013, we’ve built relationships with immigration detainees, some who have been released, some who have been deported, and some who remain imprisoned, and this campaign is guided as much by their vision as it is ours. 
  3. Our work is one of solidarity. Over the last few months, we have repeatedly heard governmental bodies, and even non-governmental groups suggesting that detainees shouldn’t be kept with ‘criminal populations’. We reject this suggestion. First, most people imprisoned in provincial prisons, where immigration detainees are locked up, are legally innocent, that is they have not had a trial. Second, prisons are not places for rehabilitation or corrections, they are spaces of punishment that provide no resources for individuals to live a life of dignity on the outside. Finally, most people in jail are poor, in jail for crimes against property – and in our society of racism, and capitalism, the burden of the crime cannot be borne by the individual, without profound restructuring of all of social life. As such as individuals, we join with everyone organizing for the abolition of the prison industrial complex.


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