Advocates demand permanent resident status for all amid deaths of families on St. Lawrence River
Members of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change rallied outside office of public safety minister Tuesday
Activists in Toronto called on the federal government on Tuesday to take steps to prevent further deaths of migrants along the Canada-U.S. border.
Members of the advocacy group, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, rallied outside the constituency office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Lawrence Avenue West near Bathurst Street. The rally was held after eight people died in the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne last week. Their bodies were pulled from the St. Lawrence River.
Activists say Canada should try to prevent further tragedies by ending the Safe Third Country Agreement and granting permanent resident status to all migrants in Canada to ensure they have equal rights.
Group members delivered a petition with more than 7,000 signatures of people demanding change. On the windows of the office, they put up posters displaying the faces of migrants who have died.
"The real issue here is the federal government promised a regularization program and promised to give status to undocumented people," Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, told reporters.
Hussan said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not yet delivered on his promise.
"As a result, people are forced to make the difficult and deadly journey to the U.S. and they're dying. We're here to tell Prime Minister Trudeau to remember and look at the faces of the people who have died because of the decisions he is making and to call for regularization so that everyone in the country has permanent resident status."
'We are grieving and we are angry'
Hussan called the deaths tragic.
"We are grieving and we are angry," he said.
"We're calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to look at the faces of his own children and ask himself what goes through a parent's mind to take their children and put them in a boat across a river in search of a better life and that they are forced to leave Canada. What are the immigration rules in this country that make that a better choice than staying here?"
Police have said the eight victims consisted of two families, one of Romanian and another of Indian descent. They have been identified as Florin Iordache, 28; his wife, Cristina (Monalisa) Zenaida Iordache, 28; their two-year-old daughter, Evelin; and one-year-old son, Elyen. Both children were Canadian citizens.
The other four victims were from a family hailing from the western Indian state of Gujarat — Praveenbhai Chaudhari, 50; his wife, Dakshaben Chaudhari, 45; their 20-year-old son, Meet; and 23-year-old daughter, Vidhi.
The bodies of five adults and one child were found in a marshy area on Thursday, and the bodies of a second child and an adult woman were recovered on Friday.
Authorities have said the eight people were allegedly attempting to illegally cross into the United States from Canada through Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, which straddles provincial and international boundaries and includes regions of Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Last month, Canada negotiated a deal with the United States to turn away asylum seekers at unofficial border crossings like Roxham Road, closing a long-standing loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement.
The deal means people will be turned away from the border no matter where they try to cross. The aim is for people to make their asylum claim in the first country they land in, whether it be Canada or the United States.
Trudeau says orderly immigration important
On Monday, Trudeau said an orderly immigration system is important.
The prime minister called the deaths a tragedy, but said Canada needs to maintain public confidence in the immigration system.
"When people take risks to cross our borders in an irregular fashion or if they pay criminals to get them across the border, this isn't a system we can have confidence in," Trudeau said in Val-d'Or, Que.
Canada is prepared to welcome more immigrants than ever, he said, "but we're going to make sure that it's done in the right ways, appropriately."
Migrant advocates warned the new rules would push people to take even greater risks in their efforts to cross the border, like using smugglers and moving to even more remote crossings.
With files from Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press