Spartacist Canada No. 180
Ottawa Escalates War on Refugees
Labour Must Fight for Immigrant Rights!
Nothing so belies the capitalist rulers’ carefully nurtured myth of Canadian benevolence as their brutal treatment of refugees. This has always been so, but under Harper’s Conservatives it has gotten much, much worse. Instead of receiving asylum, ever larger numbers of refugees are condemned to automatic, mandatory and indefinite detention, often in maximum-security prisons, followed by deportation to the hell they fled. The Tories’ lying cant about “fraudsters” and “bogus” asylum seekers is meant to fuel racist xenophobia so as to deflect working-class anger away from the capitalist exploiters, who are destroying the livelihoods and lives of millions, and onto vulnerable migrants fleeing destitution and repression.
Since September 2013, some 200 migrants and asylum seekers subjected to indefinite detention have been protesting against their intolerable conditions and demanding their release from a maximum-security prison in Lindsay, Ontario. Some have been incarcerated for as long as seven years. One hunger striker, not a refugee, has lived in Canada for 43 years. Another has cancer and fears dying in jail. For carrying out hunger strikes and boycotts of their detention hearings, they have faced reprisals including deportations, lock-up in segregation and denial of access to legal counsel.
This war on refugees is killing people. For an unpaid bus fare, hotel worker Lucía Vega Jiménez was handed over to immigration cops in Vancouver on December 1. Slated for deportation to Mexico, she attempted suicide in the bathroom of the airport detention centre and died a few days later, still in custody. A Roma refugee, Jan Szamko, was refused proper medical care and died in a Toronto jail in 2009. As Ottawa has cut off vast numbers of refugee applicants from access to health care, such atrocities will only grow in number.
Since the Tories came into office in 2006, the web of laws aimed at refugees, immigrants and also citizens has grown massively. In the service of erecting a reactionary “fortress Canada,” the Tories have made it much harder to get in, and much easier to get deported. A proposed new law, Bill C-24, would allow the government to unilaterally strip citizenship from dual citizens. The harshest measures, however, are reserved for refugees.
The “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act” (Bill C-31), which became law in December 2012, was aptly dubbed the “Refugee Exclusion Act” by refugee advocates. For many years, the government has been imprisoning refugees and other migrants: since 2004, in excess of 100,000. But the law now allows for mandatory arrest and detention of so-called “irregular arrivals,” defined as anyone arriving in groups of two or more. Modelled on the brutally racist Australian system, where mandatory detention of refugees has been the norm since 1992, the new law has seen even more moved into the prison system. Meanwhile, deportations have soared to 15,000 per year.
If you are designated “irregular,” you have two weeks to prove your identity—while in prison! If you fail, you will be automatically detained for another six or even 12 months. Imprisonment can be extended indefinitely. Challenged last year by a reporter with the fact that among those being held behind razor wire in detention jails are 289 children, then-immigration minister Jason Kenney sneered, “They are not jails,” describing the Toronto detention centre as a “three-star hotel with a fence around it.” We Marxists of the Trotskyist League demand asylum for refugees and an immediate end to detentions. The trade unions must be mobilized to champion the rights of the foreign-born. Full citizenship rights for all those who have made it here!
Tamil and Roma Refugees in Tory Crosshairs
The Tories’ pretext for automatically detaining refugees en masse came in 2010, when 490 desperate Tamil men, women and children were intercepted on the Sun Sea, a rusting freighter off the coast of B.C. After the Sri Lankan army’s 2009 bloodbath destroyed the remnants of the Tamil mini-state in the north and east of the island, some 300,000 Tamils were interned in prison camps and interrogation centres. Disappearances, abductions, arrests, torture and rape by the police and military continue to be widely reported, as do deaths in custody and extrajudicial killings. Thousands fled the country, hoping to join the large Tamil diaspora here and elsewhere. We said then, and repeat today, “Asylum now for Tamil refugees!” We uphold the right to self-determination for the oppressed Tamil people, and we stood for the military defense of the Tamil Tiger insurgents, while giving these bourgeois nationalists no political support.
Amid the Tories’ furor against “human smugglers,” the Sun Sea refugees were thrown into prisons on B.C.’s Lower Mainland. Families were ripped apart as women and children were jailed apart from fathers and brothers. Having already proscribed the Tamil Tigers as “terrorists,” the Harper government went on an all-out witchhunt against these refugees. Tamils deported back to Lanka from Canada face arrest, imprisonment and torture.
For huge numbers of refugees, the need to escape means casting one’s fate to the high seas in rickety, overcrowded vessels like the Sun Sea. The route from Indonesia to Australia’s Christmas Island continues to claim the lives of asylum seekers in large numbers. Hundreds of Syrian, Somali and Ethiopian refugees have drowned off Italy’s coast. Contrary to the bourgeoisie’s ignorant, racist hysteria about “people smuggling” and “queue jumping,” people are driven to pay vast sums for passage to countries as inhospitable as Australia or Canada because these countries have made it almost impossible to get there any other way. The walls against refugees are so impenetrable that only the luckiest few ever get through.
Among the unluckiest of asylum seekers must be counted the Roma people, against whom Canada has conducted an especially vicious crusade. A provision in the 2012 anti-refugee law, designed in part to deter Roma, includes Hungary on a list of 27 supposedly “safe countries” to which asylum seekers may be rapidly deported after a hearing before a politically appointed refugee board. There is no right to appeal.
For the Roma, one of Europe’s oldest and most harshly oppressed minorities, Hungary is anything but safe. Intense nationalist reaction has spawned violent prejudice against Roma and Jews emanating from both the ruling Fidesz and the fascist Jobbik party. Life in Hungary means murderous fascist violence and systematic discrimination and poverty. Roma people throughout Europe are regularly subject to police repression and fascist pogroms, and have been expelled en masse from many European Union countries.
This has not stopped Tory politicians from smearing Roma refugees as “bogus.” Last year, Canada sponsored massive billboards in the Hungarian city of Miskolc (a former industrial centre afflicted by poverty and mass unemployment since Hungary’s capitalist counterrevolution in 1989), warning would-be migrants against seeking asylum in Canada.
For the last year, Hungarian Roma have been slated for “fast track” deportation. Classrooms in neighbourhoods like Toronto’s Parkdale, where hundreds of Roma children attended school (many for the first time), were emptied. As students and teachers mourned the sudden removal of friends and classmates, a government news release boasted of reducing the number of Roma asylum seekers by 98 percent.
“Free-Market” Misery, Locked-Down Borders
The torments inflicted on people who thought they’d made it to safety in Canada are the product of decades of policies enacted by both Liberal and Conservative governments. While the Canadian bourgeoisie likes to cultivate an image of “tolerance” and “inclusion,” it was only in 1967 that demand for new sources of labour mandated an end to the longstanding, deeply racist colour bar on immigration. Legal niceties like citizenship and other democratic rights have never been a barrier to the rulers. During World War II, they interned some 23,000 Japanese Canadians, robbing them of their property. After the war, thousands were deported to war-ravaged Japan, where many had never lived.
The capitalist class has always wielded immigration policy as a weapon to divide workers and drive down labour costs. The flow of people into the country is regulated to serve but one principle: the need to increase profits. Today’s ever tighter laws against immigrants and refugees are another link in the new chains being forged for working people by capitalist governments from North America to West Europe and beyond. Such countries lord it over the masses of the neocolonial world under the global system of imperialism.
Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin identified imperialism as “a world system of colonial oppression and financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries” (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916). The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, the world’s first workers state, in 1991-92 removed the chief obstacle to unbridled imperialist pillage across the planet and laid a basis for intensified interimperialist rivalries.
In Asia, Africa and Latin America, this imperialist system of subjugation drives untold millions into terrible poverty. As the screws are tightened, local ruling classes promote religious fundamentalism or spawn national and ethnic conflicts which typically culminate in state repression, pogromist violence or both. Whether by economic strangulation or violent social convulsion, whole communities find themselves forced to flee their homes as a matter of survival.
For a Class-Struggle Fight to Defend Refugees!
The same capitalist class that is destroying our unions and shredding our pensions and every other social benefit won through struggle is waging this racist war on refugees. It is in the direct interest of the multiracial working class to bring its enormous potential power to bear in defense of asylum seekers and other migrants.
Filipino health care workers, Portuguese and Latino construction workers, Sikh truckers: immigrant workers, including the undocumented, form a strategic core of the proletariat. This underscores that any effective fight against the capitalists’ attacks must go hand in hand with a struggle against the anti-immigrant racism which the bosses use to divide the working class along racial and ethnic lines. Fighting for the rights of immigrants and refugees is an elementary act of self-defense for the working class.
Stoking antagonisms among working people so as to divide and poison their struggles is a cornerstone of the profit system. The bosses’ agents in this are the pro-capitalist union misleaders and the social democrats of the New Democratic Party, who push the lie that Canadian workers have a common national interest with Canadian capitalists.
This is what explains the aid and comfort the NDP has given to the Tory war on refugees. The party’s platitudes about refugee rights ring pretty hollow against the fact that the NDP backed the Tories’ 2010 “Balanced Refugee Reform Act.” This law greatly sped up deportations of failed asylum seekers from supposedly safe “designated countries” and limited their appeals. Prominent NDP MP Olivia Chow bragged about helping the Tories to “fast-track” the law. Other New Democrats have joined the outcry against “human smuggling,” and Chow herself demanded more money for immigration cops. When the even harsher Bill C-31 was introduced, the NDP’s immigration critic Don Davies praised Tory minister Kenney for seeking a “fast and fair determination process.” As to refugees who don’t make the cut, his message was, “deport them out of Canada swiftly.”
This is the NDP in opposition, proving its bona fides to the ruling class. When in power provincially, the NDP has more than once shown its suitability to rule on behalf of capitalism, carrying out attacks on the foreign-born while going after the workers. In Ontario in the early 1990s, an NDP government presided over a regime of harsh capitalist austerity, including moving to cancel medical coverage for refugees and foreign students. In B.C. in 1999, the ruling New Democrats whipped up a racist backlash against several boatloads of Chinese migrants.
Many unions have spoken out against the government’s anti-refugee campaign. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) made the record with a letter protesting Harper’s anti-immigrant Bill C-31 in March 2012. However, the nationalist protectionism pushed by the union misleaders serves to fuel nativist reaction that scapegoats not only workers abroad, but foreign-born workers here at home.
Two years ago, Steelworkers union leaders in B.C. unleashed an ugly, China-bashing campaign against temporary Chinese workers hired to work at a northern B.C. coal mine. In support of this drive, a CLC news release began, “CLC wants work permits rescinded for offshore miners,” a call for the Chinese workers to be barred or expelled from Canada.
The Tories have vastly expanded the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, whereby immigrant workers are brought into the country as a pool of superexploited cheap labour. Their temporary status makes them especially vulnerable to abuse, as any assertion of their rights can mean not only the loss of employment but also deportation. A class-struggle labour leadership would counter these repressive measures with a fight to unionize these workers, demanding equal pay for equal work. It would combat all forms of anti-immigrant racism, demanding an end to the abusive Temporary Foreign Worker Program and full citizenship rights for all (see “Union Tops’ Ugly Campaign Against Foreign Workers in B.C.,” SC No. 175, Winter 2012/2013).
From the early history of the workers movement in Canada, militant immigrant workers led the way in combatting the racial, religious and ethnic divisions fostered by the rulers to poison and defeat class struggle. For the Communist Party of the 1920s—whose base was among Ukrainian, Finnish and Jewish immigrant workers—this meant direct political struggles with reactionary bureaucrats leading the established unions. Then as now, relatively privileged and conservative layers within the workers movement acted as the crucial transmission belt for anti-immigrant chauvinism among the workers.
The NDP social democrats and their reformist camp followers seek to con working people with the lie that with the help of petitions, lobbying and the occasional demonstration, the capitalist state can be pressured to adopt a fair or “non-racist” immigration policy. But the barbarities of capitalist imperialism cannot be remedied without a proletarian socialist revolution that takes power out of the hands of this ruling class. We communists seek to win politically advanced workers and youth to the understanding that the workers have a common interest not with their employers, but with their class brothers and sisters in Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe.
It will be through a series of victorious socialist revolutions around the globe that the working class in power will be able to put an end to the needless suffering which the daily workings of the profit system generate across the planet. Decaying capitalism spells only poverty, racism and war—let it perish! For our part, we emphatically echo the call of the Communist Manifesto, penned over 150 years ago by the young revolutionaries Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. “Working men of all countries unite!” affirmed the Manifesto: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”