Thousands of migrants and their supporters were planning rallies across Canadian cities Sunday to call on Ottawa to extend permanent status to undocumented people.
There will also be calls to swiftly implement an inclusive regularization program for undocumented migrants — a longstanding demand that advocates say appears closer than ever to becoming a reality.
Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said it’s an opportune moment for Ottawa to listen to his group’s calls for more access to basic rights for undocumented people in Canada.
“We have a historic opportunity right now to fix a wrong that has been going on for many, many years,” he said by phone before heading to a planned afternoon rally in Toronto.
“We want to make sure that parliament does not in any way delay.”
Ottawa launched a regularization program during the COVID-19 pandemic for asylum seekers who worked in the health sector. Since then, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated interest in expanding the initiative.
A mandate letter from December 2021 asked Trudeau’s immigration and citizenship minister to “build on existing pilot programs to further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities.”
Hussan said the program should include all undocumented people and argued it should be a focus for the government as parliament prepares to return next week.
“Prime Minister Trudeau has already indicated that he wants to do the right thing. The question now is, only, will everyone be included,” Hussan said.
“We believe that equality is equality, any exclusion is discrimination, so each and every migrant worker or refugee, student and undocumented person should be included.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the status of an expanded regularization program for undocumented workers.
Hussan said he expects thousands of people will be in attendance at the rallies and marches planned in 13 cities including Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver, Fredericton and St. John’s, N.L.
Similar days of national protest have been held on the issue of migrant status, but Hussan said Sunday’s event is expected to be larger as momentum for the cause has grown in recent years.
That’s partly due to a growing number of undocumented people who are organizing for more rights, he said, as well as a renewed spotlight placed on inequalities they faced in essential jobs during the pandemic.
He said calls for status and regularization would give undocumented working people in Canada rights to advocate for better work, study and living conditions, as well as to access universal health-care.
The measures would also give people more labour mobility and improve work conditions, he said.
Caroline Michael, an undocumented health-care worker in Toronto, joined calls for permanent status in a news conference hosted by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change earlier this week.
She shared challenges she’s faced as a refugee looking to remain in Canada, being denied various applications and asked to pay for health-care services. She said her struggles have affected her mental health but she is not able to take time off from the hospital where she works due to her status.
“I feel mentally trapped … I am held bound like someone in a prison,” she said. She called on parliament to extend status to all migrants, including herself and others who have been working on the frontlines during COVID-19.
“Myself and others were out during all the waves of the pandemic and were still working for the development of Canada. But we are not robots. We are humans, we are all human beings.”
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2022.