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No One Is Illegal-Toronto Statement on Bill C-50

On March 14th 2008, the conservative government introduced a series of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), buried in Bill C-50, a 136-page "budget implementation bill".

This fundamentally undemocratic move sneaks in critical changes to Canada's immigration policy without proposing any of those changes before Parliament. By making it a matter of confidence, the government forces opposition parties to either accept them, or call an election.

This series of amendments, by putting more arbitrary power in the hands of the Immigration Minister, threatens to reproduce a history of explicitly racist and anti-poor immigration policy in Canada.

Under the existing s. 11 of the IRPA, anyone who meets the already stringent criteria to enter Canada as a worker, student or visitor, or to become a permanent resident, shall be granted that status. However, under the proposed changes, despite meeting the already established criteria, the Minister will have the discretion to arbitrarily reject an application.

In addition, the proposed s. 87.3 of the Act will allow the Minister to issue "instructions" setting quotas on the "category" of person (for example, student, worker, visitor) that can enter Canada - including quotas based on country of origin. This unprecedented modification of IRPA would risk putting in place implicit equivalents to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, the Order in Council of 1911 prohibiting the landing of "any immigrant belonging to the Negro race", that of 1923 excluding "any immigrant of any Asiatic race", or the "None is too many" rule applied to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe during Second World War. The proposed amendments to Canadian immigration policy demonstrate the government's continued attack on immigrants and refugees.

An additional power given to the Minister under the proposed modifications is that of deciding of the order in which new applications are processed, regardless of when they were made. This means prioritizing immigration applicants based on their ability to fulfill the needs of the Canadian job market, "whether it's people to wash dishes and make sandwiches, or whether it's the highly skilled engineers", as stated Minister Diane Finley. This dehumanizing conception of immigrants as mere commodities, in addition to being rooted in racist and classist premises, aims at increasing the already intense precarity imposed on immigrants, who would then become entirely disposable and expendable entities.

Furthermore, the new sections 87.3 (4) and (5) of the IRPA would allow the Minister so simply hold on to, return or throw out a visa application and deny any opportunity to review that decision in Court. This precedent is truly alarming, especially in the context of a failed appeals process within the Canadian immigration system ? as the Refugee Appeal Division, though provided for under IRPA, was never implemented by successive governments.

The Conservatives argue that these changes are necessary to "modernize" the immigration system and reduce the existing backlog. However, the true objective is clear from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty?s comments that the government seeks a ?competitive immigration system which will quickly process skilled immigrants who can make an immediate contribution to the economy." It is clear that the priorities will be middle class people applying under the skilled worker program, wealthy investor class applicants, as well as increasingly vulnerable temporary migrant workers. Rather than providing means for fair and transparent processing, the Conservatives' attack on immigrants makes clear that poor people, working people, people of colour and families of people from these groups, need not apply to come to Canada as permanent residents unless they are willing to come temporarily as workers in exploitative and marginal jobs where complaining about work conditions can result in job loss, loss of status and thus deportation.

We must oppose these anti-democratic and anti-immigrant changes. We must fight for a society that does not exclude and marginalize poor and working people, people of colour from the Global South and that does not deport, detain and further exploit immigrants and refugees.

We demand:
- The immediate withdrawal of the proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act under Bill C-50.
- The implementation of a fair and effective appeals process for refugee claimants and the immediate suspension of the safe third country agreement, in concordance with the November 29 2007 Federal Court ruling on this agreement.
- The implementation of a fair and inclusive regularization program for non-status people and the immediate suspension of deportations.