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Out of Our Shelters! Out of Our Lives!

OUT OF OUR SHELTERS! OUT OF OUR LIVES! was the message delivered to the Canada Border Services Agency on March 8th, International Women's Day, by the 120 plus women and trans-folks who poured into the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre for an Emergency Assembly.

The meeting began with a campaign organizer reading a statement from Jane, a single mother and survivor of violence from Ghana, "Last week, one of the residents from the shelter called me. She told me that immigration officers came into the shelter to look for me. I never thought that they would do something so low. I'm not a criminal. I'm a human being and shouldn't be treated like this. I have the right to be in a shelter without being afraid that they will come to get me," Jane told the crowd of supporters.

With little standing room left, the packed room bore witness to Jane's strength with the loudest and longest applause of the morning. Following Jane's lead, a powerhouse panel of women delivered an angry message to the Canada Border Services Agency to keep out of shelters.

"We had heard of the CBSA waiting outside of shelters, looking to apprehend women without status, but I have never heard of officers actually walking into a shelter to look for women,” said Eileen Morrow, Coordinator of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. "These spaces were fought for long and hard by our women's movement and should be accessible to all people regardless of their status!"

Deborah Singh, Counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, explained that, "Raids reinforce trauma for women already surviving violence. We would like to make it known that when the CBSA enters a shelter, they are putting women and children without status at increased risk of violence."

"These recent cases of border guards going into what should be sanctuary spaces for survivors of violence and tearing them out to detain and deport them speaks volumes to this government's commitment to the safety and security of migrant women," continued Karin Baqi, lawyer and Acting Executive Director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

"We are appalled at the recent raids in shelters and stand with all of you outraged that safe places for women are not safe for all women. Feminists have fought hard over the years for access to shelter and safety for women - this fundamental right is being eroded and women's lives are in danger" said Jane Kali, Director of Programs and Advocacy at Sistering.

As reporters packed away their cameras and microphones and began to leave, women and children survivors of violence, shelter workers, residents, labour union reps and women and trans-activists got to the business of strategy.

We decided to mount pressure on the CBSA by flooding their phones, faxes and emails on Friday, March 12 to demand that the CBSA get out of shelters (see call out here [link to event]).

Jane Kali from Sistering and Bernadette Dondo, from Nellies, bravely asserted that their organizations had signed onto an International Women's Day - 2010 Declaration to protect women without status from the CBSA. Knowing that women and trans-folks in our communities can't wait, they urged all shelters, anti-vaw organisations and community services to sign onto this declaration (see copy of the declaration here).

Shelters and other anti-VAW services are encouraged to reconvene on March 19th to discuss specific strategies and best-practices at the Services | Sanctuary | Status forum.

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