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No One Is Illegal - Toronto - 2015 in Review

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As 2016 begins, we take stock of the past year to celebrate our victories (victories always won by a movement much greater than ourselves) and recognize our mistakes (mistakes we alone are accountable for). Taking stock gives a snapshot of where we as an organization stand within a struggle that began the day the first colonial flag was staked, the first treaty was broken, the first slave ship sailed. It’s a struggle to end colonialism and capitalism, to destroy its illegitimate borders, to support anti-racism, indigenous sovereignty and Black liberation, for gender justice and against homophobia and to build cities and communities of solidarity. The few-dozen members of No One Is Illegal - Toronto (NOII-TO) are a small part of that enormous struggle, but we’re accountable to thousands of allies and a movement of millions. Here’s what we did in 2015 to break down the walls.

2015 organizing highlights:

NOII-TO is proud to be part of a mosaic of dignified struggles which we’re also accountable to. We’re made up of organizers, migrants, racialized people and allies. We prioritize relationships and coalition building, and much of our work is done in coordination with other organizations. We have no fixed funding, no paid staff, no office, and no phone line. Decisions are made at our bi-weekly general membership meetings and are carried out by the committees corresponding to the three pillars of our work: End to Detentions & Deportations, Access Without Fear, and Indigenous Solidarity. The report below documents our major actions in support of each of these pillars.

Read more on our organizing pillars, vision and demands here:

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While these highlights are important steps forward, last year we also saw the global migration crisis grow to levels unparalleled since the last World War. Along with the intensification of racism, fear mongering, fascism, and the right worldwide, in so-called Canada we saw the electoral victory of a Liberal Party that seeks to maintain border imperialism through false promises and a kinder veneer. We also saw a year of unprecedented loss of faith in the police due to their racism and corruption. Going into 2016, the many-headed Hydra committing violence upon people’s bodies and our planet is alive and well, but so are our movements.

Detailed Report


Since September 2013, we have organized as part of the End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) in support primarily of immigration detainees locked up at a maximum security prison in Lindsay, ON.

In 2015 we won a major legal victory against indefinite detention when the Ontario courts ruled that detainees are subject to habeas corpus rights and cannot be imprisoned without a charge or trial. This victory in the courts would not have happened without more than two years of detainees resistance on the inside and public organizing outside. We continue to support a free volunteer staffed telephone line that allows immigration detainee to call outside, get news and self-organize.

On family day in February, nearly 150 people descended on to the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay with the weather dropping below -30 celsius for a We Want Them Back! We Want Them Free! rally. Led by the high-school organizers from our Youth Committee, we marched right around the prison to where the immigration detainees are imprisoned. Seeing us, hundreds of prisoners banged on their glass windows, raised fists, and waved prison-made flags at us.

But 2015 was also a difficult year, as many detainees were deported and Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan (Abdi) died in immigration detention custody on June 11. At the time of his death, he had been held at Lindsay for three years without charges. The authorities refused to offer any explanation whatsoever of the circumstances, apart from saying he was “restrained by officers.” Enraged, we mobilized. Lindsay detainees released a letter calling for a coroner’s inquest into his death and we organized a public commemoration fast and coordinated a Justice for Abdi event on prisoner justice day.

Alpha Ochigbo, who was born in the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre turned 2 years old on August 25th, 2015 having never seen a day of freedom. He and his mother Glory Anawa, who had been imprisoned in immigration jails in Ontario since February 2013 without charge or trial were deported later in the year.

In June, we revealed a secretive contract that showed that Ontario and Border Services were jointly responsible for detention injustice. The Ontario government had denied the existence of this agreement on multiple occasions but we revealed that it came into effect on April 1, 2013.

In September, we organized a spoken word event called Break Down these Walls to celebrate the two year anniversary since the strike of the 191 began. We also released some new messages from detainees, recorded over the trapp line to mark the anniversary of the struggle.

Over the course of 2015, we supported approximately 50 individuals or families in their fight against detentions and deportations. In particular, we supported efforts in Hamilton, Ontario for the Justice for Farai campaign which fought to stop Farai Chigagora’s deportation to Zimbabwe.

Access Without Fear

In 2015 NOII-Toronto continued our campaign to build a Sanctuary City to ensure that city residents without full legal status do not face barriers accessing essential city services, such as emergency services, social housing, food banks, health care, and education. At the same time, we fought to expand our work across the province and across the country.

Last year, we used as yet unrevealed government data to show that Toronto Police Services was racially profiling migrants, and using municipal funds to carry out federal immigration enforcement’s dirty work. In ground-breaking report “Always Asking, Often Telling” we showed that the Toronto Police was calling immigration enforcement 100 times a week. We followed up on the report by coordinating rallies (including one on December 17th) and petitions to get the police out of immigration enforcement.

We continued organizing film screenings and workshops using our Know Your Rights video.

Indigenous Sovereignty

Central to our organizing is the belief that Canada exists on Indigenous territory, and its laws and borders are illegitimate. For this reason, as part of our work, we support Indigenous women, and land defenders in their struggle for self-determination.

In 2014, we continued to support the annual Strawberry Ceremony to honour missing and murdered indigenous women and girls urging our allies to join rallies organized by indigenous women in Toronto on February 14th.

On April 29th, we joined a picket at the Toronto Stock Exchange in support of Secwepemc Women Warriors Society's call to demand the eviction of Imperial Metals and to stop the reopening of the Mount Polley Mine.

On September 5th, we urged allies and supporters to join a toxic tour of Chemical Valley in the territories of Aamjiwnaag First Nations. Chemical Valley processes nearly 1 million barrels of tar sands each day, and fracking and spills cause health and environmental devastation.

We also supported a fundraising campaign for Grassy Narrows activists and grandmother Judy Da Silva. For over a decade now, we in NOII-TO have supported the struggle in Grassy Narrows against logging and destruction on their territory. Mark your calendars, Grassy Narrows community leaders will in Toronto in 2016 for a massive action.

In September of 2014, we supported the a speaking tour by Annie Clair. Annie Clair was be tried in Moncton, New Brunswick, for six charges related to her participation in anti-shale gas actions in 2013 (charges that were ultimately dropped). Clair, a Mi'kmaq mother and grandmother from Elsipogtog First Nation, was among 100 people arrested in 2013, after the province of New Brunswick granted a licence to explore for shale gas on over 1 million hectares of land.

Refugees Welcome

In April, we held a rally outside the Italian Consulate demanding no more deaths. By the end of April 1,750 primarily African migrants had already died in 2015 trying to cross the Mediterranean to find dignity and safety in Europe.

Months later, toddler Alan Kurdi’s death spurred people across the world to seek justice for refugees and migrants people, many of whom are displaced because of military intervention, capitalist exploitation and climate catastrophe. NOII-TO came together with an ad-hoc network of organizations to launch the Refugees Welcome movement, which included rallies in more than 40 cities across Canada and which helped make the refugee crisis into a Canada wide issue foregrounding dignity and justice.

NOII at the 2015 Munk Debate on Foreign Policy

We showed up at outside Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau's elections debate with 20,077 names of migrants that have died crossing borders. See what happened. Pictures and media coverage of the day: #munkdebate #nooneisillegal #toronto #migrants #freedomtomove

Posted by No One Is Illegal | Personne n'est illégal | Nadie es ilegal on Tuesday, 29 September 2015

In Toronto, we coordinated a number of rallies, teach-ins, including a rally at the Munk debate on Foreign policy. While much of the conversation in Canada has since focussed on real change at the Federal level, and the compassion of residents - we know that the real struggle here was waged by hundreds of thousands of Syrians that chose to defy borders and enter Europe in a massive act of civil disobedience. It remains to be seen if Canada will meet its paltry goal of 25,000 government sponsored refugees, if they will receive adequate support and how it will impact overall immigration. Join us to ensure that we continue to fight for a world where everyone has the freedom to move, return and stay.

Solidarity and Accountability

We also participated in a number of events within the larger family of movements of which migrant justice is a part. In April, we coordinated a public forum entitled “C-51 can’t stop us! Fighting Colonialism, Islamophobia and Surveillance” (see videos here)

As we have for the past ten years, we also coordinated the city’s Annual May Day of Action together with other organizations. This year, we specifically highlighted struggles around eight themes: Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, migrant workers’ resistance to border imperialism, global solidarity with working class struggles, anti-poverty and anti-austerity organizing, student strikes and academic labor battles against neoliberalization, environmental justice, militant rank and file labor movements, and gender justice. However, we spent the second half of 2015 engaged in deep critical reflection about the omission of anti-black racism in our call out and theme and the lack of effort on our part to actively and consciously reach out to Black-led organizations in the city. Details are included in this statement.

In June, addressed thousands of fellow marchers and dropped a banner at the Climate, Justice, and Jobs march and coordinated #RiseUpTO to disrupt the Pan American Economic and Climate Summits, which featured the dishonourable participation of the some of the planet’s most notorious warmongers, polluters, human rights abusers, and profiteers. Turnout was amazing, allowing us to shut down traffic across downtown Toronto and around the Royal York Hotel all morning! See photos here.

In September we collaborated with our long time allies in the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty to fight a newly introduced Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS) directive that arbitrarily and without warning forced immigrants on Ontario Works to produce expensive and difficult to obtain forms of identification as opposed to the readily available Verification of Status (VOS) document (as had been the established practice since the document was introduced by CIC). In response we took delegations to the TESS office and followed up with a public action at the Mayor’s office that involved those directly impacted. The result was an important win where TESS not only backed away from the new directive but established a new directive that’s better than the previous one. Read additional details here.

In November, came together with Torontonians against Islamophobia in the wake of the attack of a Muslim woman in Flemingdon Park.

Looking Forward

In our commitment to both direct action and collective reflection, we question as we walk. We try new things, see what works and what doesn’t, celebrate our successes and answer for our mistakes. Looking ahead to 2016, the crisis that is daily life under racist, sexist, trans and homophobic, imperialist capitalism will continue to worsen. We’ll be there, resisting together with a beautiful ecology of movements and building community. We look forward to collaborating in the organization of the River Run at Grassy Narrows, fighting for a true Sanctuary City, continuing Know Your Rights education, confronting anti-Black racism, stopping detentions and deportations, and growing the movement for migrant justice. We have the deepest gratitude to all our comrades, allies, and supporters, to all the people who have turned out for a rally or have given us a constructive critique. Let’s keep building in 2016 and every year after, until all walls fall.

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