Hundreds rally, march in Toronto to demand status for all migrants in Canada

Hundreds of people braved the rain on Sunday to call on the federal government to grant permanent status to all undocumented people in Canada.

Demonstrators want more access to basic rights for undocumented people in Canada

Speakers address the crowd at the Status for All rally in Toronto. (Patrick Swadden/CBC)

Hundreds of people rallied in the rain in Toronto on Sunday to call on the federal government to grant permanent status to all undocumented people in Canada.

The demonstrators, holding umbrellas and placards, gathered in Christie Pits Park, at Bloor Street West and Christie Street, where they listened to music and speeches demanding "status for all." Several migrants, including farm workers, told their stories.

Then the group marched to Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue, where they rallied in front of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland's Toronto office. Freeland represents University-Rosedale.

There, the demonstrators called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the next Parliament to implement a regularization program for all 500,000 undocumented people in Canada and to ensure permanent resident status for all 1.2 million migrants with temporary status.

There was chanting and drumming during the march. The rally and march were held one day before Parliament resumes in Ottawa.

Merari Borgez, 19, who moved to Toronto from Mexico City as a child, told the crowd about how her family struggled to access health care and education and were unable to travel and say goodbye to relatives due to their lack of status in Canada.

"Living without status is dehumanizing," she said, calling on politicians to work quickly on extending status to families like hers. "We don't want pity. We want action."

Borgez was four years old when she came to Canada with her family. Fifteen years later, she is still undocumented.

"It's really frustrating because I can't access the same education, I can't access the same opportunities."

Similar rallies were planned in cities across Canada. These cities included Vancouver, Edmonton, Guelph, Ottawa, Sudbury, Montreal, Charlottetown, Fredericton and St. John's.

Chemi Lhamo, a candidate for city councillor in Parkdale-High Park, holds up a sign at the rally. (CBC)

According to Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, there are at least 1.2 million people in Canada on temporary work, study or refugee claimant permits issued in Canada each year.

Most migrants in low-waged work do not have access to permanent residency, which means eventually they are forced to either leave Canada or stay in the country undocumented, the alliance says.

Migrant farm workers recently testified that these temporary migration schemes are "systematic slavery."

The alliance says many migrants are unable to return to their countries because of war, discrimination and lack of economic opportunities. As a result, the alliance says there are at least 1.7 million migrants, or one in 23 residents in Canada, who do not have equal rights. 

The alliance says migrants are excluded from health-care and social services and cannot unite with their families.

Demonstrators marched from Christie Pits Park to the Toronto office of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland at Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue. (Patrick Swadden/CBC)

Lack of permanent resident status makes it difficult and often impossible for migrants to speak up for their rights at work or access services, including those for which they may be eligible, out of a fear of reprisals, termination, eviction and deportation. 

According to the alliance, migrants, who are mostly low-waged, racialized and working class people, are deemed essential but are excluded from rights. Thousands of migrants lost their lives and livelihoods in COVID-19 while working in farms, long-term care homes, construction, cleaning and delivery work, the alliance says. 

The alliance says a comprehensive regularization program would address historic wrongs: improve working conditions by giving migrants the power to protect themselves; guarantee public health services; and add at least $1.1 billion to federal revenues annually through contributions by employers who currently don't pay taxes. 

With files from The Canadian Press, Andreane Williams and Patrick Swadden