Vancouver – On Saturday, August 21st, close to 250 people gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Coast Salish Territories as part of a National Day of Action to demand the release of detained Tamil asylum seekers and an end to racist and restrictive refugee policies.
The march opened with a traditional opening as Indigenous Elders welcomed the Tamil asylum seekers to their territories and condemned the government and Jason Kenney. Speakers underscored the history of racist exclusion in Canadian immigration policy, the daily violence of detentions and deportations justified under the guise of ‘criminality’ and ‘security threats’, the commodification of migrants as exploitable labour in order to be deemed worthy, and how the hollow rhetoric of multiculturalism and inclusion unravels every time a boat of migrants challenges the Canadian state and its fortified border.
Premrajah Chelliah, a Tamil community activist, also described the military atrocities of the Sri Lankan government including mass killings, abductions, arbitrary detentions, destruction of homes and infrastructure. His own family was forced into camps during the incursions of last year. He highlighted the diplomatic and economic ties between the Sri Lankan and Canadian government, making Canada complicit in the horrors ‘over there’.
Several solidarity statements were shared during the rally, including by women who worked with the Fujiyan migrants in 1999; and powerful poetics were shared by Press Release Collective and these words by Wayde Compton: when jurisdiction cuts the earth to the bone, the proper diction is the unspoken issue, and the flesh
of the people’s colour in the boats in the hull in the belly of a dream without papers or definition, in quotations, “refugee,” a penstroke from relief. languishing in the languaged exile of illegalese.
While some chose to heckle the march with the predictable ‘send them back’, many on-lookers joined the march and chanted “Justice for Immigrants, Freedom for Refugees” and “No One Is Illegal, Stop Deporting People” alongside hundreds of others. A highly vocal and defiant march was led by Indigenous drummers and a banner with 490 painted hearts reading “We Say Welcome”. Hundreds of leaflets dispelling myths about the migrants, attached to hand-crafted flowers, were passed out to downtown shoppers. The march ended at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices, near the Vancouver Public Library, a complex which also houses
detention cells and where migrants and refugees are shackled and held every single day.
Those gathered vowed to continue being visible and agitating till all migrants were released from detention, till our communities were safe from deportations, till we put an end to racism and anti-migrant xenophobia, and till our daily lives were fully rooted in liberation, self-determination, and the land.