Toronto

'I really miss my family': Protesters demand universal rights for migrant workers

Hundreds of people rallied in Toronto on Sunday to demand full labour rights for migrants and changes to the immigration system.

Rally also aimed to unite people against racism and legal aid cuts

On Sunday, people gathered for a rally protesting both legal aid cuts and policies regarding immigrants and migrant workers. (Angelina King/CBC)

Countless people across the city celebrated their dads on Sunday in honour of Father's Day — but not Omar Walcot. 

Instead, the father of two spent the day protesting alongside hundreds of migrant farm workers, migrant care workers, immigrants and labour leaders in Toronto.

They took to downtown streets to rally against the Ontario government's legal aid cuts and a lack of universal rights for immigrants and migrant workers. 

Walcot is a migrant worker, who came to Canada from Jamaica. He works on a fruit farm in Ontario. 

"This is Father's Day, and my family is not around," Walcot said. 

"I really miss my family." 

Migrant worker Omar Walcot looks at a picture of his three-year-old daughter, who lives back home in Jamaica. (CBC News )
 

Walcot comes to Ontario for eight months of every year, which he says is the result of a lack of jobs back home. 

He says being away from his family for two-thirds of the year means he misses out on much that goes on with his kids — who are three and 14 years old — as well as his wife and siblings. 

"I just want us to unite...all the country," he said of Sunday's protest. 

Protesters in Toronto met at Grange Park, located near Dundas and McCaul streets. They then marched past Legal Aid Ontario and headed to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada headquarters downtown. (CBC News )
 

He marched with hundreds of others denouncing racism and demanding full labour rights for migrants and changes to immigration. Walcot says he wants to see changes around permanent residency. 

"I would love if all of us get permanent status on arrival because if I get that, one day, my family would be around me and I wouldn't have to be alone today."

'It's justice for all people' 

Under current immigration policies, over two-thirds of migrants who arrive in Canada each year — approximately 750,000 people — are denied access to basic services due to temporary permits, says Syed Hussan, coordinator of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

"This platform is what everyone needs, it's justice for all people," said Hussan.

His organization is calling for permanent resident status and family unity for all migrants and refugees in the country. 

"We've created a two-tiered immigrant system...everyone must have the same right," Hussan said. 

Syed Hussan, the coordinator of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said the province has a 'multi-tiered system' that allows some immigrants and migrant works permanent resident status, and not others. (CBC News)
 

Legal aid cuts have already been protested in the province since Ontario's government slashed 30 per cent of Legal Aid Ontario funding back in April — which equates to $133 million.

The province also said the organization could no longer use provincial funds for refugee and immigration cases.

A spokesperson for the province's attorney general responded to requests for comment by saying that the province has "called on the federal government to stand with newcomers to Canada and to properly fund legal aid matters before federal courts and federal tribunals." 

Ottawa currently gives Legal Aid Ontario around $15 million a year.

With files from Angelina King