With the federal election just a few days away, Justin Trudeau was recently on the campaign trail in Atlantic Canada. I had hoped to be able to ask a question to the prime minister by attending his Oct. 15 rally in Halifax. To my disappointment, I found out that I had been blacklisted from the event and wouldn’t be able to attend.
Since I was given very little information regarding this decision by the Liberal party, I can only assume that it relates to my work trying to hold the Trudeau government accountable on migrant and refugee rights.
In May, for instance, I worked with 13 local groups on an open letter urging Liberal MP Andy Fillmore to say no to anti-refugee measures put forward in the Liberal omnibus budget bill, C-97. Unfortunately, he refused to do so. On Oct. 3, other members and supporters of No One Is Illegal-Halifax/K’jipuktuk (NOII-Hfx) and I delivered a mailbox filled with letters from community members calling for an end to immigrant detention to Fillmore. We’ve also been attending all-candidates debates to pose questions on migrant justice. My hope was to be able to do just that at Trudeau’s rally.
You see, an issue that has been weighing heavily on my heart lately, and which I had hoped to get Trudeau’s comments on, is the well-being of children from some of the most vulnerable communities in our society.
On Oct. 5, the Trudeau government quietly deported a seven-year-old Canadian child and his undocumented parents to Guatemala. This decision has put their health and lives in jeopardy. Both son Julian and father Jorge have severe health issues, and will not get access to the care they need in Guatemala. As a Colombian national, Jorge’s migration status remains precarious in Guatemala and they fear that he could be deported, which would separate their family. Worst of all, they continue to fear for their lives due to persecution in Guatemala and Colombia. To date, they’ve been waiting 22 months for a decision on their application for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds in Canada. While the Trudeau government could have stepped in to stop their deportation, preventing significant harm to this child and his family, it refused to do so.
Since coming to office, the Trudeau government has sought to increase deportations of people like Julian’s parents by up to 35 per cent annually. Under Trudeau’s watch, Canada has continued to detain migrant children and their families. In fact, Canada remains one of the only countries that employs indefinite immigrant detention, and children are not exempt from that. Since last year, 134 migrant children have been detained for an average of 21 days. The research shows that immigrant detention has significant psychological impacts on children, even if it’s for a short period of time.
Early this month, the Trudeau government came under fire for challenging a ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which ordered compensation for discriminatory underfunding of child welfare programs in First Nations communities. This has led to a disproportionate number of First Nations children being taken from their families and placed in state care, putting them at increased risk of abuse and even death. At a recent talk at Dalhousie University, Dr. Cindy Blackstock rightly stated: “If Trump, was doing this, we’d be up in arms.”
We have seen a beautiful outpouring of solidarity across Canada, calling for an end to the modern-day concentration camps for migrant children and families, which have flourished under the Trump administration. Unfortunately, many Canadians don’t know about the injustices faced by First Nations kids or children from migrant families on this side of the border.
Canada’s unjust treatment of children from racialized communities, be they Indigenous or from migrant families, is rooted in systemic racism. While it didn’t start with the Liberal government, they are guilty of perpetuating these injustices and it’s incumbent upon us to demand better.
Elections present an opportune moment to make our voices heard to would-be politicians on the issues affecting our communities. That includes asking candidates of all political stripes where they stand, for instance, on how they’ll end such injustices faced by children who are Indigenous or from migrant families.
That’s something that NOII-Hfx will continue to do. While the Liberal party may have excluded me from their event, they certainly won’t silence us.
Stacey Gomez is a migrant-justice organizer and also engaged in Latin American solidarity work. She is based in Halifax.