Skip to main content

Community demands access to education without fear

January 7, 2010
Toronto’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy remains unenforced in many schools
James Burrows, News Editor
Ryerson Free Press

No One Is Illegal believes that to label a person “illegal” is to deny them of their humanity and to create a community that is constantly in fear.

This is the message that Grade 10 students at Harbord Collegiate received when they packed into their auditorium for a presentation by No One is Illegal and a documentary entitled Education not Deportation.
No One Is Illegal describes themselves as “a group of immigrants, refugees and allies who fight for the rights of all migrants to live with dignity and respect. We believe that granting citizenship to a privileged few is part of racist immigration and border policies designed to exploit and marginalize migrants.”

Education not Deportation outlined the campaign by No One Is Illegal and allies to encourage the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to pass a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Under this policy, when a parent attempts to register a child in school, their legal status is not requested and if their legal status is discovered, the school is forbidden from passing this information on to any government agency. This policy was passed by the TDSB in 2006 but continues to be unimplemented in many schools.

Although the Education Act of Ontario is clear that a student’s status does not preclude them from an education, in practice the situation is much different. When parents attempt to register their children they are often met with administrators and forms requesting proof of their status.

The Education not Deportation campaign argues that “despite being at the backbone of Canada’s economy, non-status people are barred from access to essential services including shelter, health care, social housing, emergency and settlement supports and education. They live in daily fear of detention and deportation.”

“Creating safe spaces for students is about more than just admission. You walk out of the classroom and you are scared. You are not just thinking about your marks. You think if you speak up, someone may report you,” noted one Harbord Collegiate student.

It is this fear that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was meant to address. But, as the Education not Deportation documentary attempts to show, much fear remains in the community because many schools remain unaware of the policy.

“Without actual access to education [people are forced] into economically oppressed situations where they live in poverty,” said Javier Davila, a teacher and a member of Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, District 12. “This is a crisis and much of it is to be blamed on our fearful access to education that we have created by not following the Education Act.”

Section 49.1 of the Ontario Education Act states that a person “who is less than eighteen years of age shall not be refused admission because the person or the person’s parent or guardian is unlawfully in Canada.”
This section was amended following Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that all children should be able to access education.

In the documentary Davilla stated “Education not Deportation is a campaign initiated by grassroots actvist group No One Is Illegal with the huge help of community support, students, parents, a broad coalition of partners including the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.” CUPE also supports the campaign.

Pam Dogra, an elementary school teacher noted that “very few parents will come to schools, particularly if there are signs up that say the opposite of what the policy actually is. Sometimes you’ll walk into a school and the regular checklist is, ‘Can I see your immigration papers?’ ‘Do you have a passport?’ So parents, I think, are very fearful to come in, and word spreads very fast in the community”

TDSB Trustee Chris Bolton stated “this is the first time that you as students have come together to hear about the policy.” Bolton also added that if anyone hears of a student not being able to access education in Toronto they should “call my office and we will make sure they have a space.”

No One Is Illegal believes that the TDSB, “in the absence of public education in schools and migrant communities to ensure access not fear for undocumented people, the TDSB is missing out on becoming the model for schools across the country.”

The documentary was part of a series of films that are being shown through the school’s “movies that matter” series. No One is Illegal was brought in as part of the history and civics program that focuses on immigration policy in Canada.

There are as many as 500,000 undocumented people in Canada.