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Protest Not Pride on World Refugee Day in Canada

No One Is Illegal’s Ninotchka Sequeira explains the impacts of Canada’s changing refugee policies

by Natascia L

Photo courtesy of No One Is Illegal - Halifax.
Photo courtesy of No One Is Illegal - Halifax.

On this World Refugee Day, Canada is no place for celebration. Two recent refugee policy changes have made Canada less inviting to those looking to make this country their new, safe home.

Effective June 30, the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides temporary healthcare coverage to people who are ineligible for provincial or territorial healthcare insurance plans, will be cut, stripping refugees of access to “supplementary” services such as pharmaceutical, dental, vision and mobility care.

An amendment to Bill C-31, known in short as Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, is also making its way through Parliament and passed its third reading in the House of Commons on June 11. It will now go to the Senate. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kennedy says the bill combats human smuggling. In reality, it allows the minister to determine which countries are deemed ‘safe’; to deport those refugees arriving from them; and to leave them void of any recourse for appeal. Refugees from so-called ‘safe countries’ will also have to wait one year before making a plea for permanent residency on compassionate or humanitarian grounds during which time they could be deported.

On Wednesday, June 20, No One Is Illegal – Halifax is hosting Rights for Refugees! A Panel Discussion Exploring Conservative Attacks on the Refugee System. You can find out more about the event here. No One Is Illegal member Ninotchka Sequeira gave the Halifax Media Co-op a primer on the organization’s concerns.

Natascia Lypny (NL): What do these policy changes say about what the Conservative government thinks of refugee claimants in Canada?

Ninotchka Sequeira (NS): Very lowly of them. There’s been a progressive trend to increasing migrant labour access and decreasing actual immigration access within our government. I think it says that we're willing to see people as disposable labour instead of look at people for who they are and their humanitarian needs.

NL: Isn’t this proposed system of ranking refugees and immigrants based on their country of origin quite archaic?

NS: I believe even prior to this bill being in place Canada still ranks its immigration system based on the points, and who actually meets that criteria is very racist. As well, if you look at different countries and how many [Canadian] embassies or offices people go to in order to access immigration processes, if you look at how many of those are available in each country, you will see that there are many more of those offices available in European countries than there are in third world countries or countries in the global south, and that in and of itself is an inaccessibility issue, which does enforce racist ideology.

NL: In your press release for the event, you describe these changes as "attacks on migrants." Do you think there is some malicious intent behind these policies?

NS: I think in the end it comes down to deterring people from emigrating to Canada and making it harder from the very first step: to them actually coming here and, when they do, just increasing the difficulty within that process each step of the way. It's incredibly hard for immigrants to meet the needs necessary for them to make a viable claim or for them to make a claim that actually results in them staying here. It’s next to impossible.

NL: What is the government so scared of? What are they trying to protect this country against? I guess I'm not seeing the rationale behind this. Do you have some understanding of why these changes are being proposed?

NS: I don't know, to be honest. Why does anyone treat people that badly or why do people draw thick lines between us and them? I think a lot of the reasoning that has been proposed is resources: do we have the resources for people, for other people — not Canadians? I think if we didn't bail out our banks and actually put money toward healthcare then we do have the resources; they just have to be allocated appropriately.

NL: What direct effects on Haligonian refugees can you foresee?

NS: There are some women here, for example, that currently have access to healthcare while having a refugee status and who are going to give birth soon and will no longer have that care provided for them or paid for… Something as foreseeable as pregnancy, something unforeseeable as a heart attack — things like that will definitely affect people immediately.

Refugees who have spouses or families that they would like to have with them here: [these] claims that are being processed will be seen differently. There's also the fear that current claims and current refugee status will be retroactively taken in the event that a country is deemed a safe country, then it's possible and probable that a refugee will then be deported. So, tons of people who once had what seemed [like a] secure life in Canada will now be living in constant fear that no matter how long they've lived here, the life that they live here is not secure and that they could be deported just like that.

NL: What is your assessment of the public reaction to these announcements? Any major supporters?

NS: There are a bunch of organizations that are criticizing these changes: everything from Amnesty International to the UN. There are very strong supporters [of refugees]. If you look at the protest — I think it was in Toronto — of the 90 medical professionals that went to their MPs, when is the last time we heard doctors protesting? I think that's a huge indication that the media can't just claim it's radicals that are opposing this bill…

But [the] general public? I get mixed feelings... You always have people who believe the rhetoric that the government is spewing about it… and people that are afraid of others and constantly deepening that idea of someone as “other” and, if they are, then they don't deserve the same rights as Canadians…

NL: How will these policies change Canada's global reputation as a safe haven of sorts? Should it have had that image to begin with?

NS: I think Canada has increasingly not held to that image for a very long time — to that image or to their other good willed image, for example, as a peacekeeping nation. I don't know to what extent it will change its global image. If you have people in the UN who are speaking out against it, [and] in Amnesty International, then obviously it has made some impact and it has registered in a pretty significant way. That being said, are people going to stop trying to immigrate to Canada? No. Or even pursuing unsafe means or desperate measures such as human trafficking in order to get to Canada? I don't think that will have an impact on it, to be honest, because when it comes down to it, there is poverty, there are desperate situations and Canada will continue to look like a much better place than their desperate war-torn situation.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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