The author is a pediatric emergency physician and associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill University. He is involved in the collective Let’s take care of social justice and wrote the award-winning book No more aboriginal children torn away. To end Canadian medical colonialism (Lux editor).
When I was a resident, a child had been admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) for treatment of a rare cancer. Several years earlier, both of his parents had claimed refugee status. In a decision that reveals the arbitrary — and contemptuous — nature of the Canadian system, the mother’s request was granted, but not the father’s. The family returned to their country of origin, despite the risks involved.
Once diagnosed, there were no effective treatment options available. So the mother decided to come back here to care for her son, a Canadian citizen. The treating teams did everything possible to save the child, including risky surgery. However, he died a few weeks later. If his father had not been deported, the child would probably have received the necessary care sooner and might still be alive today.
I was working night shifts at PICU and met the child the day after his operation. I still remember his gaze: sad, suffering, penetrating. I had tears in my eyes. His gaze still haunts me today. All these years later, the cruel fate of this toddler is a constant reminder of the direct and indirect violence caused by forced displacement and immigration policies.
According to the International Organization for Migration, one in 30 people in the world is a migrant. These people uproot themselves and are forced to leave their homes by different forms of political, social and economic violence. They undertake perilous journeys in the hope of a better future.
In the current toxic climate mentioned in these pages on Friday, migrants are dehumanized on all sides. Reputable media describe them as “illegal” and “clandestine”, even if these terms are criticized, in particular by the organization Human Rights Watch. Xenophobic rhetoric against immigration and so-called ‘irregular’ entry points, such as Roxham Road, portray migrants as foreign enemies threatening social peace.
Yet it is border regimes that render vulnerable, “illegalize” and sometimes kill asylum seekers, including by forcing them down dangerous paths in their quest for safety and dignity. The moving story of Fritznel Richard, who died of hypothermia, is the most recent example.
Even progressive voices calling for compassionate treatment of migrants continue to frame the debate narrowly, with ‘us’ asking to decide whether ‘they’ deserve to stay. In doing so, they expose Canada’s hypocrisy in deciding who can live here.
First, as Harsha Walia explains in her award-winning book Border&Rule (and soon translated into French by Lux publisher), the “migration crisis” is in reality a “crisis of displacement” in a system of global apartheid shaped by the capitalist-colonial forces that underpin imperialist conquest, neoliberal globalization and ecological collapse.
According to Carmen G. Gonzalez, a world-renowned environmental lawyer, the world’s most affluent countries have an obligation “to climate-displaced people because they contribute disproportionately to global climate disruption.” .
Indeed, Canada’s foreign policy and its support for private companies (for example, between half and two-thirds of publicly traded mining companies in the world are based in Canada) play a significant role in the destruction of social communities and ecosystems abroad.
At a more fundamental level, Canada itself is founded on the genocide of Indigenous nations and the violent theft of their lands by European colonizers, who were never invited to settle. In its final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada explains that the European empires (Spain, Portugal, Holland, Great Britain, France) justified their invasion and exploitation of the Americas by the concept of “terra nullius” and by the “doctrine of discovery”, which was institutionalized by the pope in the 15the century. To this day, this doctrine still has legal ramifications.
Moreover, as Emilie Nicolas has already pointed out in these pages, the “taking possession” of the territory by Jacques Cartier in the name of the King of France in 1534, by planting a cross in the Gaspé peninsula, allows us to ” draw a direct line between papal authority and the denial of Indigenous sovereignty” in Canada.
In Quebec, some argue that the provincial government should have full jurisdiction over its immigration. Remember that for Aboriginal peoples, the Government of Quebec did not hesitate to become a colonizer: the James Bay hydroelectric project is a striking example.
The legitimacy of the Quebec and Canadian governments to decide who can live on these lands only exists if we support the law of the strongest.
In his book, Walia notes that “the analysis of the border within the framework of historical and contemporary imperial relations… compels a shift from notions of charity and humanitarianism to those of restitution, reparations and responsibilities”. Gonzalez, for his part, also conceives of migration as a form of reparation.
For the sake of consistency and international solidarity, we should support the efforts of Quebec labor and community groups that are calling for a program of mass regularization of people without immigration status that is truly “inclusive and comprehensive” at the national level.
In the documentary Essentials, activist Sonia Djelidi reminds us that the comfort of many Quebecers is based on this same immigration that is exploited and demonized elsewhere. In reality, key sectors of our society (health, food, daycare, etc.) would collapse without the work of precarious migrants.
But beyond utilitarian and economic justifications, let us remember the words of Aboubacar Kane, co-spokesperson for Solidarity Across Borders, during the vigil in memory of Fritznel Richard: “We should accept everyone, and especially take care of those who are here to allow them to have a status and a dignified and acceptable life. »
Because no one is illegal.