September 30, 2013

Ontario migrant workers fighting prison lockdown with mass hunger strike

 A banner dropped in Guelph, Ontario on Wednesday
in solidarity with the hunger striking detainees
Peter Miller
Rebel Youth Magazine

Around 200 immigration detainees have recently been moved from prisons in the Greater Toronto Area and sent to a maximum-security prison in Lindsay, Ontario, immigrant rights group No One Is Illegal has exposed.

The immigrant detainees are facing lockdowns due to understaffing of the prison, and some are unable to leave their cells for 18 hours a day. The move from prisons in the Greater-Toronto Area has resulted in greater isolation for the detainees, whose families often live in Toronto.

Almost 200 of the detainees in Lindsay have been on hunger strike for over 10 days, since Wednesday, September 18.  Strikers are calling for better access to medical care and social workers; cheaper phone calls and access to international calling cards; access to better food, like the food on the non-immigration ranges; an end to constant lockdowns; and better access to legal aid and legal services.

Million dollar business

According to No One is Illegal, between 2004 and 2011, 82,000 people were locked up in immigration detention in Canada, with at least another 25,000 people being detained since 2011. In 2012, 289 of these detainees were children, some under the age of ten. 

About one-third of immigration detainees are held in maximum-security provincial prisons. Immigration detention centres are a 50 million dollar business, run in partnership with private companies like G4S, Garda and Corbel Management. In Toronto alone, G4S and Corbel were paid 19 million dollars between 2004 and 2008.
$53,775,000 in public money is spent on immigration detention annually or $239 per day per detainee. One unit of social housing can be provided at less than $31 a day per person.

Bill C-31

Today, less than 25 percent of refugee claimants are accepted in Canada. It is becoming harder and harder for refugees to be accepted, especially since the implementation of recently passed Bill C-31. 

Bill C-31 has pushed those fleeing from persecution and violence, and those looking for opportunities for a better life, into precarious conditions as non status people. 

Non status people are targeted by violent raids and detentions. Any criminal charges result in them being treated more severely than the broader population, and incarcerated under severe conditions.
Call for support letters

Mina Ramos, Lalo, and Joshua Gilbert are all involved in Fuerza/Puwersa, a migrant justice group that is organizing in solidarity with the hunger strikers. On Saturday September 29, Guelph community members met at a local coffee shop and wrote letters of support to immigration detainees in Lindsay Ontario.
Activists from Guelph have been in contact with some of the hunger strikers. “Prisoners are reiterating that in the US and England immigration detainees can only be held for 90 days,” Gilbert said. But in Canada, immigration detainees can be held indefinitely, with some having been held for up to 7 years.
Non-status people can be detained for different reasons. They can be detained because of prior convictions even though they have already served their time, and can even be detained because they don’t have the right travel documents. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection act (IRPA), “if the country you are from is not willing to take you and Canada does not want you then you can be detained,” said Ramos.

“People have been put into segregation. The person who spurred the hunger strike is in segregation… For the UN, Solitary confinement is a form of torture,” Ramos explained. Also, the prison has intimidated hunger strikers to try to get them to eat.
“A lot of workers get PTSD just through the incarceration process,” according to Gilbert. This happens on top of stressful experiences refugees go through from fleeing countries. While the prisoners are detained, the Canadian Government is looking to try to deport the refugee claimants. 

“Some people are worried to be returning to violence,” said Lalo.
Hunger strike

One of the detainees has already lost 25 pounds while on hunger strike, and does not want any more refugee claimants to go through immigration detention.
Ramos, Gilbert, and Lalo are against immigration detention and believe that no one should be illegal. “These people are punished because they are not citizens. It’s a disgusting part of our society that we make people vulnerable based on their status,” Gilbert said.
Fuerza/Puwersa plans to keep up its solidarity work with the hunger strikers, by organizing a future rally in coordination with other migrant rights groups across Canada. People are encouraged to sign a petition in support of the hunger strikers, and call key officials to tell them to meet hunger strike demands. 

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