By TOM GODFREY
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) are being criticized for profiling and targeting migrant workers.
Groups supporting 21 migrant workers who were allegedly racially profiled and arrested by Canadian border officers in traffic stops held a rally in the Jane-Finch area last week.
About 50 people took part in the event at the busy intersection to circulate brochures and posters to make area residents more aware of the law and their rights.
Organizers said five of the workers have already been deported to Mexico and other Latin American countries and about five others were released on bonds and strict reporting conditions.
About 10 others have been detained since August 14 when the vehicles in which they were riding were pulled over in a series of alleged traffic stops by the OPP. Passengers were asked for their identity documents which were then examined by CBSA officers, who detained those sought on alleged immigration infractions. (Police officers do not usually request or inspect the documents of passengers of vehicles they stop for traffic infractions.)
The incident has sparked outrage from immigrant support groups that claim the OPP are being used to racially profile workers for deportation.
A petition has been created that now has more than 700 signatures of supporters who want the detainees freed and the provincial government to be more transparent about arrangements between the OPP and CBSA.
Most of the detainees are Spanish-speaking men, with some Asians, who were working in the construction trades.
Migrant support groups No One is Illegal and Jane Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP) are calling for an end to the racial profiling and for Ontario to become a “sanctuary” province where undocumented workers can access public services.
JFAAP spokesperson Suzanne Narain, who is an area resident, alleged the workers were targeted by the CBSA and police.
“These workers were racially profiled because of their colour,” Narain told Share. “They have been treated in a very inhumane manner by police and border officials.”
She said the workers are performing jobs that few Ontarians want.
“These people were trying to work and feed their families,” said Narain. “They were looking for an opportunity to put food on the table for their families.”
Tings Chak, of No One Is Illegal Toronto, called for a public inquiry into the incident.
“These raids are unacceptable in Toronto which is a ‘sanctuary city’,” said Chak. “The Ontario government should not be working with the federal government to enforce immigration laws.”
She said the arrests occurred in areas where undocumented day-labourers get picked up for work.
“This was a targeted fishing expedition,” her group said on its website. “Racialized men who were found to not have full immigration status are being detained on the spot.”
The activists have also protested outside the offices of the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation demanding that “Ontario stop colluding with federal immigration enforcement and declare itself a sanctuary province”.
Chris Ramsaroop, National Organizer for Justice for Migrant Workers, agreed the workers were racially profiled by border officials due to the colour of their skin.
“Both levels of governments are using our immigration laws to criminalize precarious workers,” he said.
The groups vow to keep up their pressure until all the detainees are freed.
Organizers said Toronto is the first to adopt a “sanctuary” city policy, which means city services will be made available to undocumented residents without fear of harassment from immigration authorities.
Hamilton followed soon after and other cities across Canada are considering it. More than 20 U.S. states now have some form of sanctuary policy protecting undocumented immigrants.