Protesters denounce police targeting of Latin American migrants as racial profiling.
On Tuesday, August 19, immigration consultant Alberto Mestanza stood on the southwest corner of Jane Street and Finch Avenue and delivered a strong message to Canada’s federal government: “We are here to say that enough is enough!” Mestanza, who has worked with the Spanish-speaking community for 20 years, was one of about 40 protesters who gathered to condemn the recent arrests of 21 undocumented people who live in the area.
Last week, Canada Border Services Agency collaborated with the provincial Ministry of Transportation and the Ontario Provincial Police to stop individuals in northwest Toronto under the guise of a “commercial vehicle safety blitz.” Police reportedly stopped people in their cars and on the street, and demanded identification and immigration papers—most of the detained were Spanish-speaking workers from Latin America.
“We’re calling today on everybody to join our community … to say not only that no one is illegal, but all of us should be respected with equal rights and equal opportunities,” Mestanza said. In an interview with Torontoist, he said he could not understand why the government was using such brazen tactics against his community. “We are so angry, so outraged with this situation because this particular raid targeted the Spanish community.” Several speakers at the rally decried the police tactics as an example of racial profiling.
“What we saw was a specific targeting of people of colour, of people who look like immigrants,” said Tings Chak, an organizer with the migrant advocacy group No One Is Illegal. MacDonald Scott, a lawyer who is representing two of the detained workers, said the apparent targeting of workers based on their appearance was completely unacceptable. “We need to ask the federal government, we need to ask [Premier] Kathleen Wynne, is this the kind of city we want to live in?”
The CBSA has acknowledged its role in the raids, but has provided little information about its collaboration with the OPP and the province. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation told the Toronto Star its officials “we were not involved in any activities related to undocumented workers,” and were only present to conduct traffic safety checks. The OPP has also denied having any “leading role” in the immigration arrests.
Suzanne Narain of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty said her group is demanding that Ontario become a “sanctuary province” where the undocumented can work without fear of arrest and detention. “We will not let undocumented people be deported,” Narain said. Toronto city council reaffirmed its “access without fear” policy in 2013 and pledged that undocumented people would receive equal access to City services. In 2008, Toronto Police contemplated but ultimately rejected a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy intended to prohibit officers from sharing immigration information with federal authorities.
Jaqueline Dwight, who works at a local community farm, said she was caught in stalled traffic on the day the raids were taking place.”The buses were moving very slowly—I wondered what was going on,” Dwight said. She added that she is “disgusted” by the federal government’s immigration policy. “There’s enough money in citizenship and immigration to allow people to work and develop themselves while they go through a legitimate immigration process. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Mestanza told us he is dismayed that people without immigration status are being placed in maximum security prisons like Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton. “We are not criminals, we are working in this country very hard to raise our families.” Mestanza added that the federal government has knowingly benefited from the labour of undocumented migrant workers. “For many years, Canada immigration knew that in this country, there are so many undocumented people. Now, all of a sudden, they’ve decided time’s up, they have to go back.”
Photos courtesy of Nick Kozak.