Pathways to Status

yellow background with blue hands reaching each other. the text reads "keep families together"

By: Mac Scott

Illustration provided by 2019 Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

Before I list out the different pathways, I want to give a brief overview. First of all, my name is Mac, I work as a licensed immigration consultant for the Multiethnic Law Firm Carranza LLP. I am also a member of the migrant justice group. No One Is Illegal and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

The immigration system is extremely political. It is based on a history of racism/colonialism, classism, ableism, ageism, sexism, and homophobia. It was, and continues, to be built on the idea of stolen land.

This is an important lens to use when looking at the pathways people can pursue status here. In essence, if you are white and middle class/rich, coming here is much much easier. Unfortunately, each status holds traps for people targetted by oppression; for example if you are a queer person claiming refugee status you will be forced to prove you are queer, if you are a woman being sponsored by a male partner, you will be forced to choose between getting status and staying in the relationship or leaving and losing your status. If you have any very visible disabilities or ailment you face a lot of barriers even in attaining status, so many don’t even try to apply

The system also has created a pyramid of status. Those with citizenship have full rights, those with permanent residency (the right to stay here permanently) have most rights, those with visitor, worker or student status have few rights, those without any status have very very few rights.

Finally, I must give the standard warning that this does not constitute legal advice. If you or a friend or family member is planning to make an application it is best to consult with a lawyer or licensed consultant.

For more information consult or the Immigration Refugee Problem Regulations.

Getting Status From Outside Canada

  • Economic Class
  • Refugee Class
  • Family Class
  • Humanitarian Class

There are several ‘streams” to apply to come to Canada with permanent residency. There are the economic class, family class, refugee, and humanitarian class. I will briefly cover each of these, along with the problems associated with each.

Economic Class

Express Entry

 This is the most used of the economic class applications. It replaces the so-called “points system” which replaced an earlier system in which race was an open category. It has many requirements:

  • You must have very good English and/or French
  • You must have a year’s experience doing paid skilled work (management position, positions requiring a university education, skilled trades, etc.); and
  • Without a job offer, you have to prove you have sufficient funds to settle in Canada.

To apply you first must take an English language or French Language test with a certified test agency. A list is available on the Immigration Refugees Citizenship Canada [IRCC] website You then create a free online profile at You will then be rated based on your work experience, education, language skills, Canadian experience, and age. Once every two to three months, IRCC picks the top-rated people and invites them to become permanent residents of Canada. If picked, you have 90 days to do the application which is then usually processed within six months.

One way to avoid this lottery is to have a job offer where the employer has made a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). This means they apply to Employment Skills Development Canada (ESDC) to have it verified that the hire will have a neutral or positive impact on the Canadian economy. If you have such an offer you are automatically invited to become a permanent resident.

Like all these classes, you need to not be inadmissible to Canada. No criminal record, no security threat to Canada, sufficient funds to survive, no major medical issues or disability, and your spouse and children also must meet these criteria.

In-Home Caregivers

You have to get a job offer to take care of children or people with high medical issues in their homes. This job offer needs an LMIA where the employer has to show ESDC that they could not find a Canadian to fill the position. They have to pay a fee of $1000. The worker has to have either a six-month course in the field or one year’s work experience. You then get a work permit.

After working at least 2 years out of a total occupancy of 4 years, you can apply for permanent residency, you can apply for permanent residency. You must have proficiency in English or French, and you must have a degree, diploma, or other educational certificate from a one year program in Canada or elsewhere.

Business Class

These are for people who can make a substantial investment in a government fund that funds Canadian Businesses ($800,000), people who have managed a large business and can prove they can create the same here in Canada (employing two or more people, creating large profits, etc.), or people who have one year’s experience at a world-class level in cultural or athletic activities. This class also includes farmers who can show they will come here and create a farm.

Refugee Class

The person has to be outside their country of origin and been issued a certificate as a refugee by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. They then need a sponsor:

Government Assisted Refugees

 This is where the Canadian government agrees to look after the refugee or refugee family for the first year in Canada. Canada sponsors very few refugees, only around 10,000 a year. In contrast, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon have taken in around 2-3 million.

Group of Five

 Five Canadians and/or Permanent Residents agree to look after the refugee or refugee family for the first year. They need to show they earn enough to do so or that they have the money in trust.

Sponsorship Agreement Holders

 Certain organizations have signed agreements to sponsor refugees (Sponsorship Agreement Holders) they agree (sometimes along with community organizations or individuals) to take care of the refugee or refugee family for the first year.

From experience, refugee sponsorship processing times can take up to 5 years. The processing time starts the day they receive your complete application and ends when they make a decision. You can find up-to-date official processing times using the following website: 

Family Class

This is where a Canadian citizen or permanent resident sponsors their family. The sponsor cannot be on welfare, cannot be on disability (unless they are sponsoring their children or spouse), must earn a certain amount of money (unless they are sponsoring their children or spouse), cannot have a serious criminal record and must be over 18. People can sponsor their:


 Including common-law partner (living together for a year or more) and conjugal partner (together in a very serious relationship for a year or more but unable to be together due to circumstances beyond their control i.e. Prison, border separation, etc.).

Dependent child

 Must be under 22 and financially dependent on the Sponsor, or over 22 but financially dependent due to a disability.


 It takes a long time – sometimes over 5 years.


 Very very rarely can you sponsor other family members, usually only if they are your only relative alive.

Humanitarian Class

Humanitarian Assisted Abroad

Similar to the refugee sponsorship program, except affected by a serious humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian Applications

Able to show there are serious compassionate reasons why the person should be allowed to come to Canada. However, IRCC is not required to process the application.

Getting Status From Inside Canada

  • Refugee Claims
  • Humanitarian Application
  • Spousal Sponsorship

Refugee Claims

If someone gets to Canada, somehow (very difficult if you are from the global south and not rich), you can present yourself to an immigration officer and say you can’t go back to your country of origin because it is unsafe. This is because Canada has ratified (made into Canadian Law) the United Nations Convention on Refugees. You will lose whatever status you had and become a refugee claimant (you have a right to health coverage, to a work or study permit, and do not have to leave until you have your hearing and lose). After a year or so, you will have a hearing in front of a tribunal (a pseudo-court- the Refugee Protection Division) where you will have to prove that if returned to your country of origin either:

(This one is easier to prove than the next) You will be persecuted (i.e the state or others will seriously hurt you or discriminate against you) on the basis of your race, nationality, politics, religion or social grouping (this includes things like your gender, your sexuality, your disability, etc.), that the police can’t protect you, and that there is nowhere in the country that you can be safe; or

That you face a risk of serious harm or mistreatment, a risk to your life or a risk of torture (pain applied to get information or certain behaviour, either by the state or with the state ignoring it). Again, you have to prove that the police can’t protect you and that there is nowhere in the country that you can be safe, but also that the risk isn’t due to the lack of medical treatment (unless it is due to discrimination, i.e. You can’t get HIV treatment due to homophobia).

Humanitarian Application

You have to prove there are significant compassionate reasons why you should be allowed to be a permanent resident in Canada. Until there is approval (takes one year), you can be removed. If you are approved, you can get a work permit or study permit (but you have to pay for it). You can also stay at this point. It then takes about a year to get your permanent residency.

The things they look at are: hardship (this is different than risk in the refugee class, i.e a person that identifies as lesbian might not have been attacked in their country of origin but may not be able to get housing, employment, social services – this can be considered a hardship); establishment (how long have you been here? Are you working? Have you completed educational courses? Do you have friends here? Are you volunteering? Etc.); defacto family members – people you are close to and who are not spouses or children, but you are extremely interdependent (this could be chosen family); best interests of children directly affected (how will removal affect your kids?); and public interests (i.e. is it really a good idea to deport a woman pursuing charges against her abusive partner?).

Spousal Sponsorship

A spouse (including a common-law spouse) can be sponsored by their Canadian Citizen or permanent resident spouse. The problem is it can take 1-2 years and gives the sponsor a lot of power over the person being sponsored. If the relationship ends, the sponsorship is over (note, however, that there are options and no one should remain in an abusive relationship).

So looking through this, what is clear? In my view, it’s hard for poor people and working people from the global south to come to Canada. My great grandparents were farmers and workers, they came easily, they were white. LGBTIQA+ gets exposed to oppression in this system, either overtly or subtly. Women get stuck in abusive relationships, people with seriously visible or expensive physical/mental health-related issues are not even considered.

We can build an inclusive system, where people are not deported or detained, where borders are open, not just to trade but to people. We can recognize Indigenous title to land and provide reparations. But we need to organize. There is work being done through OPIRG Guelph on these issues, and check out Freedom to Move, Freedom to Leave, Freedom to Stay!

OHIP For All

Pink and orange graphic that reads "health care for all!"

Access to Healthcare

By: Chelsia Watson

Gaining access to safe and reliable healthcare can be one of the biggest hurdles new migrants face in Ontario and across Canada. Depending on your immigration status, having access to Provincial healthcare can be straightforward or it can pose a challenge; either way it is important to know your rights and know where you stand. OHIP For All, a group that advocates for equal healthcare in Ontario, spoke to The Peak about how someone with precarious status can safely access healthcare. Please note that although this article is specific to Ontario, many of these services are available across Canada. If you need assistance finding healthcare resources, we recommend searching community health centre’s in your city or going to City Hall for a list of accessible services.

How does my immigration status affect my ability to access healthcare in Canada?

Many people across Canada do not have access to healthcare. In Ontario alone, there are over 500,000 migrants who do not have health coverage because of their immigration status. Access to healthcare varies based on immigration category and status, time spent living in Ontario (typically, Ontarians must be physically present in Ontario for at least 153 days in a 12-month period in order to qualify for healthcare), type of work contract (e.g., most temporary migrant workers have private health insurance). Other profiles include visitors, students, military, and other protected persons. Depending on the permit, most full-time workers may have access to coverage while part-time workers do not. Gaining access to healthcare can be complicated; here are some numbers to consider: there are 250,000 people living in Ontario without status and 80,000 new migrants in the 3 month waiting period. The rest of the 500,000 people without healthcare in Ontario are international students and those with temporary status.

There are various ways that someone can live in Ontario but not have health insurance. The first group includes those who do not have coverage now but will eventually become insured. This is typically made up of Ontarians who have been approved for permanent residency but must wait 3 months after arrival to qualify for health coverage. It encompasses various groups including new immigrants, temporary foreign workers,  migrants newly approved for permanent residency and Canadian citizens who were living abroad. Following the three month period, these individuals are able to access the same OHIP coverage as other Ontarians.

The next group of uninsured people will never be eligible for OHIP throughout the entirety of their time in Ontario. This includes visitors and those without status. Individuals without status include people who may have overstayed their visitor’s visa, who are waiting for a decision regarding their immigration case, or who evaded a deportation order. These individuals are among the most vulnerable residents in Ontario and are often forced to choose between their health, safety, and basic necessities.

The last category includes those who were eligible but have lost eligibility. This includes individuals who may have violated a work permit, overstayed their work permit, are in between contracts, or have had a sponsorship breakdown.

My city is considered a Sanctuary City. Does This mean I am able to access health services anywhere in the city?

The Sanctuary City movement is a commitment to ensuring that city services are accessible to all residents of a city, regardless of immigration status. For example, Toronto became a sanctuary city in 2013. This means that all residents of Toronto have access to healthcare services provided by Toronto Public Health. This includes sexual health clinics, vaccinations for students from kindergarten to grade 12 and breastfeeding clinics. Dental services are also available but are intended for low-income patients and consequently eligibility is determined by income. The sanctuary city model does not assist patients in accessing provincially-funded healthcare, including visits to a family doctor, the emergency department, or a specialist. If your city is designated as a Sanctuary City, you may also have access to municipal healthcare services.

Are there specific doctors and/or clinics in that are considered safe for a person with precarious status?

There are a number of resources individuals can consider when determining which clinic is a safe space for them. In Toronto, Access Alliance has put together a list of clinics available for episodic care – that is, medical concerns that do not require significant follow-up. It’s important to note, the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care has specialized clinics for children. For patients requiring longer-term access to health services, community health centres are a good option. In order to be eligible to receive services from a community health centre, you must live within the centre’s catchment area.  Below is a list of clinics in Toronto that accept uninsured patients. If you reside outside of Toronto, we encourage you to find the nearest Community Health Centre and call to find out what health services are offered.  

East End

  • East End Community Health Centre
  • South Riverdale Community Health Centre
  • Sherbourne Health Centre
  • Flemingdon Health Centre

West End

  • Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services
  • Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre
  • Unison Health and Community Services
  • LAMP Community Health Centre, Black Creek Community Health Centre
  • Stonegate Community Health Centre
  • Rexdale Community Health Centre
  • Regent Park Community Health Centre

For Patients who Identify as Indigenous

  • Anishnawbe Health Centre (no catchment area)

Are doctors required (by law) to report a person they suspect is without status?

Doctors are not required by law to report individuals solely due to their immigration status. However, doctors are required to report all patients (name, contact information, and relevant medical conditions), regardless of immigration status, to public health if: 

  1. The patient has certain infections such as HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, tuberculosis
  2. The patient has a license and is considered to be unsafe to drive
  3. Child abuse or neglect is suspected

Am I able to get a health card? How do I get one?

You can get a health card if you meet the place of residence and immigration status requirements.  In Ontario, you can get a health card by going to a Service Ontario Centre. If you are outside of Ontario, the process to obtain a health card will be similar. It is suggested that you can call ahead of time to ensure you bring the correct documents. If you require other documents or would like assistance getting your health card, you can visit an ID clinic. In Toronto, ID clinics are offered through various organizations.

Place of residence requirements include: 

  • being physically in Ontario for 153 days in any 12‑month period
  • being physically in Ontario for at least 153 days of the first 183 days immediately after you began living in the province
  • make Ontario your primary home

Immigration status requirements (you must meet at least one) include:

  • are a Canadian citizen
  • are an Indigenous person (registered under the federal Indian Act)
  • are a permanent resident (formerly called a “landed immigrant”)
  • have applied for permanent residence, 
  • are in Ontario on a valid work permit and are working full-time in Ontario, for an Ontario employer, for at least six months
  • are in Ontario on a valid work permit under the federal Live-in Caregiver Program
  • are a convention refugee or other protected person (as defined by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada)
  • have a Temporary Resident Permit (only certain case types, e.g. 86 through 95)
  • are a clergy member who can legally stay in Canada and is ministering full time in Ontario for at least six months
  • your spouse and any dependents also qualify if you do

Toronto ID Clinics:

  • Street Health
  • Unison Health and Community Services
  • Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre
  • Regent Park Community Health Centre

If I do not have a health card, do I need to pay upfront for doctor visits?

This may vary depending on the hospital or clinic that you visit. Research same-day clinics in your city, many cities have community clinics that you can access for free. Some of these health centres are able to provide primary care depending on where you live. If you access health care outside of these options, including most clinics and hospitals, you will most likely be billed after you use the service. The clinic or hospital will establish a payment plan if necessary. 

What if I need urgent medical attention? Can I go to my nearest hospital’s ER?

If there is an emergency, it is encouraged that you go to the nearest hospital. However, it is important to note that you may be asked to pay for the cost of your hospital visit and that you may be asked for payment in cash upfront before receiving treatment.

What are my rights once I am receiving medical care?

As a patient, you have a right to:

  • Receive safe and proper care.
  • Give or refuse consent for any procedure, and for any reason.
  • Have a medical professional clearly explain health problems and treatments to you.
  • Participate in health care decisions.
  • Ask questions and express concerns.
  • Request a second opinion; within reason.
  • Be assured that personal information is confidential.
  • Request to access your health information records.
  • Request the transfer of your health records to another medical professional; you may be charged a fee.

What kind of work is ‘OHIP For All’ doing to advocate for healthcare rights for all people regardless of immigration status?

OHIP For All is a campaign that spreads awareness on health-related issues in Ontario. There are many groups similar to OHIP For All across Canada. This platform unites healthcare professionals, students, and other advocacy groups to come together and organize rallies and events that ultimately mobilize groups of people. We have spread awareness in mainstream media engagement, strong social media platforms, migrant community engagement, and direct lobbying with the various provincial political parties

Accessing Education for Precarious Migrant Students

black and white Abstract drawing of various shapes and

By: The S4 Collective

“The value of education and school was instilled in me from an early age. As a result, I have a deep-rooted passion for learning and the acquisition of knowledge. These ideals accompanied me on my migration journey to Canada – a land of opportunity. I was not prepared for the hurdles that I encountered in the realization of that goal.”

S4 Collective member

In the fall of 2018, the Sanctuary Students Solidarity and Support Collective (S4 Collective) was formed in Toronto. The group emerged in response to several challenges identified by a group of students with precarious immigration status at the threshold of post-secondary education. The realization of this group was supported by practitioners who had been working with newcomer youth in varying capacity for several years. Although early in its evolution, the group has two main objectives: 1) to support students with precarious immigration status in navigating various levels of education in Ontario; and 2) to support the capacity building of programs and institutions to increase equitable access for these populations. Several members of this collective have contributed to the development of this article, reflecting our own experiences in identifying and overcoming challenges with accessing education in Ontario. We would like to caution readers that our individual experiences may not directly reflect those of other precarious migrant students (particularly students outside of Toronto); however, we hope that this can provide a general roadmap for those in similar situations. If you would like additional information or support, please contact us at 

Overview of the Issue and Existing Responses 

In Ontario, every child under 18 has the right to attend school regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. This right, ensured by Section 49.1 of the Ontario Education Act (OEA), however, is not extended to everyone. Most Canadians don’t worry about being turned away when they walk in to register for school. Non-status youth, on the other hand, continually face barriers and exclusion when trying to get an education in Ontario. Children as young as 4 or 5 have been sent away from schools, with the inaccurate and harmful message that they are not eligible to join their peers. 

Over the past two decades, targeted and community-driven advocacy campaigns led by Social Planning Toronto, No One Is Illegal, non-status youth and allies have significantly increased access to schooling in Ontario. These efforts have resulted in the greater implementation of section 49.1; the development of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy at the Toronto District School Board. This policy assures that student’s immigration status will not be shared with immigration authorities, and the creation of a ground-breaking new program at York University, which allows non-status (as well as students with precarious immigration status) to pursue undergraduate degrees at domestic fee rates. 

Despite this progress, barriers remain for non-status youth trying to exercise their right to education in Ontario. For instance, policies and directives are often misread or misinterpreted by administrators within primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions. These administrators, who stand between the students and the classroom for registration purposes, continue to turn youth away. Other youth and their families may be unaware of their right to education and/or unable to advocate for this right as they may be isolated or disconnected from community resources that could help them. These experiences of social exclusion are unfolding within the context of the growing anti-immigrant rhetoric in the global north, which further increases the likelihood of youth experiencing the harmful impacts of xenophobia and racism while striving for meaningful access to education. 

The Regulations and How they Work 

At the primary and secondary level, children and their parents face specific challenges enrolling in school if they do not have immigration documents to prove their status in Canada, which, in fact, directly contradicts section 49.1 of the OEA. They will also be turned away if they have been in the country for less than six months, indicating that they are still visitors/tourists. This temporary status is, therefore, a barrier for families that intend to stay and eventually submit an immigration application. Moreover, the absence of a proof of address, which many undocumented families do not have for a variety of reasons, may cause significant challenges for school registration. Finally, minors that travel to Canada alone to escape violence or persecution may also face challenges if they don’t have a guardian in Canada. Conversely, those who are over 18 years old are not covered under the OEA and may also be excluded. For those who do manage to get past the initial threshold of registration and thereafter attend classes, other experiences of discrimination often await them, barring them from having an equitable school experience comparable to that of their Canadian-born counterparts. 

Focusing on the progress that has been made over the years, we will outline some of the advocacy strategies that have enabled non-status youth to gain access to education. As mentioned above, it is important to caution readers that many pitfalls continue to exist, and not all strategies will work for everyone. Notably, there is a sweeping lack of consistency around how policies are understood and implemented by different gatekeepers in different settings. Much of the information we will provide is Toronto-centric, reflecting the larger concentration of non-status youth in this city. It is our experience that non-status youth outside of Toronto often feel more invisibilized, and are in turn more excluded or misunderstood as a result. If you know a young person who is trying to access some form of education with precarious immigration status, we would therefore strongly encourage them to seek community support (resources will be listed at the end of this article). 

High School 

Detailed information around the experiences of non-status youth at the high school level across Ontario can be found in the Uprooted Education Report. Although this report reflects experiences from 2015/2016, sadly little progress has been made since then. Youth reported continually having to disclose their status at multiple points, depending on the area, (at the school board, at an assessment center, at the school itself), which lead to significant anxiety about their status being disclosed to others, including immigration authorities. However, if they are able to get through these psychological and bureaucratic barriers, they have the right to study in Ontario – well, to a point. 

Section 49.1 of the Ontario Education Act states: “A person who is otherwise entitled to be admitted to a school and who is less than eighteen years of age shall not be refused admission because the person or the person’s parent or guardian is unlawfully in Canada. (1993, c. 11, s. 21).” This should mean that anyone is entitled to free primary and secondary education in Ontario IF they are under the age of 18, and IF they aren’t entitled to a study permit (excluding international students and visitors). However, within some school boards, youth who have been in Canada less than six months may be eligible to register for school so long as ONE of their parents has been present in Canada for more than six months or holds a valid work permit. However, this important information needs to be known and understood by school administrators and other key actors for it to be implemented effectively. 

In Toronto, non-status youth who meet the eligibility outlined in Section 49.1 have two options: the public school board (TDSB) or the Catholic school board (TCDSB). The registration processes differ quite significantly between the two. For the TDSB, youth first have to go to the school board offices at 5050 Yonge Street to request a letter of eligibility to move forward with their registration process. 5050 Yonge Street can be an intimidating place, as the austere building has an authoritarian feel, and families are asked about their status in a hallway of strangers. Youth must prove that they have been in the country for more than 6 months, reside in Toronto, and in some cases even prove parentage (as administrators have, at times, challenged family members with different last names). Once they have cleared these challenges and received the eligibility letter, the youth must go to a Newcomer Reception Centre to determine their competence with a math and English test. Here, they again need to disclose their status and resubmit some of the proof (but with arguably more sensitivity). Finally, these young people are given their assessment package and instructed to go to the school closest to their residence, fill out more paperwork, and finally start class. This process could take anywhere from a day or two, to a few weeks or even months. 

At the TCDSB, families need to show the same documentation (proof of being in the country more than six months, residence in the city of Toronto, parentage) but have a more “one-stop-shopping” experience. Youth can make an appointment with the TCDSB Orientation Centre, where they disclose their status, fill out some paperwork and take the assessment test all at once. They can sometimes even start school the next day. Another important difference lies at the primary level, where families can register their students directly at a school, as long as they can prove they’ve been in the country for more than six months, and the child has been baptized. 

As mentioned earlier, these issues are frequently less understood, with even less defined procedures outside of Toronto. The lack of visibility of non-status residents and subsequent lack of understanding of their situation in smaller municipalities may lead to greater confusion – and with harmful consequences. According to the Uprooted Education Report, there is no consistency between school boards, and even between schools across Ontario around registration procedures for precarious status students. The report mentions several factors that may influence the experience, including the personality and mood of the administrator that students first encounter, having an advocate with them, awareness of how the systems work and their rights within these systems. 

When advocating for access to schooling for non-status youth outside Toronto, some have tried referring school administrators to section 49.1 of the OEA, though certain administrators dismiss these efforts. For the safety and security of non-status families, people may prefer to seek appropriate assistance while navigating these systems. Advocates can begin by inquiring anonymously for families at particular schools/school boards to assess the barriers that exist. If this doesn’t work, advocates may attempt to strategically argue for access, leveraging existing legislation– including OEA and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. If responses remain negative, next steps may include advocating with sympathetic school board trustees or MPPs. This can also develop into larger advocacy efforts to change local policies and practices. 

Graduation and Moving Forward 

At the end of grade 12, despite the significant accomplishment and all the excitement around graduation, members of our group faced some really difficult decisions and insurmountable barriers. Applying to college and/or university often led to disappointment when members realized that they would be asked for a study permit and obliged to pay international fees. Without a SIN, many then faced the reality of having to take on precarious, often low-paid and exploitative work. There are currently no provincial provisions to facilitate access for non-status students at the post-secondary level. However, advocacy efforts and community-university collaboration at York University has led to a ground-breaking program which facilitates admission for non-status and precarious status students. This program has enabled many of our members to start undergraduate degrees and follow their passions. While the initiative at York University reduces many of the significant barriers faced by non-status students, additional obstacles often present themselves. Being ineligible for OSAP, as well as most scholarships and bursaries means that tuition fees must be entirely covered by the student, which is a big financial undertaking. Nonetheless, as the obstacles are increasingly being identified and efforts are made to address them, the opportunity for other post-secondary institutions to increase access is significant. While many of our members are excited to be studying at York, some have identified other universities or colleges as their first choice, which drives our efforts to continue to work for expanded access. 

Final Thoughts 

Access to equitable education is widely understood to represent an important social determinant of health. For people residing in Canada with precarious immigration status, navigating the school system continues to be a complex and fraught process. Far from a homogenous process, one’s experience can be shaped by the region they live in: access to advocacy support and community resources, the biases of administrators and other gatekeepers at a particular school, age, length of time in Canada, and other social markers of identity likely to contribute to ease of access. The Bridging Program at York University – established in 2017, currently represents the only avenue by which precarious status students can feasibly access undergraduate studies in Canada. The S4 Collective has therefore emerged as a community-based group of precarious status students and allies to offer support to individuals, families, and communities striving to meet their educational goals, and to advocate for policy shifts in support of equitable access regardless of immigration status.

Know Your Rights

Block letter text reads "Migrants Know Your Rights!"

A Guide to Immigration Arrest, Detention and Deportation & Your Rights At Home, On The Streets And At Work

By: The Immigration Legal Committee


You may be at risk of immigration arrest, detention and deportation if any of the following situations apply to you:

  • Your visitor, worker, student or live-in caregiver visa has expired
  • You haven’t followed all of the terms and conditions on your visa
  • You made a refugee claim that was denied and your Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) was also denied
  • You received a date for your deportation but didn’t leave Canada
  • You entered Canada without showing any papers to Canadian immigration officers
  • You haven’t followed the terms and conditions of a release order from detention or terms and conditions you signed with an immigration officer
  • There is an immigration warrant for your arrest

There may also be other situations that put you at risk of immigration arrest. If you think you might be at risk, contact a lawyer or immigration consultant.

If you’re already in detention see the last section of this guide, GETTING LEGAL HELP WHILE IN DETENTION, for more information.


This guide aims to provide basic legal information to people without immigration status so that they will be able to better protect themselves from the risks of immigration arrest and detention.

When does an immigration warrant get issued?

If you miss an appointment with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) a Canada-wide warrant will be issued for your arrest. Appointments include regular reporting; a special “call in notice” to receive a decision; or even an actual date at the airport for your deportation. People may not know that they’ve missed an appointment if CBSA has sent a letter to an old address. That’s why it’s important to make sure that CBSA and CIC have your current address.

CBSA can also issue warrants if they believe you should not be in Canada and are a danger to the public.

Submitting either an application for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds (an “H&C application”) or an application for spousal sponsorship will not necessarily prevent your deportation. If you have submitted one of these applications, make sure to discuss with your lawyer or immigration consultant how it affects your immigration status.

The Limits of this Guide

Legal rights only go so far. The Canadian government is making it harder for people to obtain permanent resident status in Canada. This means that many people live here with precarious immigration status or without any status at all, often working and living in exploitative conditions. Despite the rights set out in this guide, people without status are at risk of arrest, detention and deportation.

The Importance of Collective Action

While it’s useful to be aware of your legal rights, laws are designed to remove people without immigration status from Canada. We have to continue to organize, mobilize and fight back against immigration detention and deportation that tears apart families and communities. Political victories are possible. Communities working together have stopped deportations and have successfully campaigned governments to grant immigration status to large groups of undocumented people.

Two Things You Can Do Right Now If You Don’t Have Immigration Status

  1. Develop a strategy of what you will do if confronted by an immigration or police officer at home, in the street or at work.The rest of this guide will help you plan a strategy that best fits your situation.
  2. Make a safety plan in case of arrest. This plan may help you get out of detention faster and may reduce the stress of being arrested. You can use the following checklist to make sure your safety plan is as complete as possible.

Safety Plan Checklist:

  • I have the number of a trusted lawyer or immigration consultant
  • I have given a spare set of house keys to someone I trust and who can access my important paper tell others living at my house what has happened
  • I have found someone who can contact my lawyer, take care of my children or other family members, tell my work about my absence, be a bondsperson for me
  • I have found support from religious or community organizations, neighbours, and other allies who can rally together to help me get out of detention
  • I have given my immigration client ID to trusted friends and family so that they can give it to the lawyer to locate me if I’m detained
  • I have read the rest of this guide and know what strategy I will use if confronted by immigration or police officers

1. Bondsperson A bondsperson is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who is 18 years or older and who can help guarantee my presence at an immigration hearing by putting down a deposit and/or promising that they have enough income to pay a certain amount of money if I don’t show up

2. Community Action Plan. Communities continue to organize everyday to protect themselves and their members from immigration raids. This US resource may be a good resource to help prepare for a large-scale raid in Canada: www.nilc. org/ce/nonnilc/raids_ checklist firm_2007-04. pdf

Where will they take me?  

If you’re arrested in Toronto and you don’t have criminal charges or a criminal record, then you will most likely be taken to the Immigration Holding Centre at 385 Rexdale Blvd.

If you do have criminal charges or a criminal record, then you will most likely be taken
to a provincial jail. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know for certain which one you will be taken to.

What will happen to my children when I’m in detention?
If you’re in immigration detention but have children who are Canadian citizens, your children have a right to remain in Canada. However, their immigration status will NOT prevent your own deportation.

If you have no one to care for your children, they may be able to stay with you at the Immigration Holding Centre, but this is not possible if you’re detained in a provincial jail. Once your children are in the detention centre with you, you can ask to have them released at any time if there’s someone who will care for them. If your children also don’t have status in Canada they will likely be detained with you.

What should I do if an officer comes to my home?
Strategy 1: Exercising your RIGHT TO PRIVACY at home

The RIGHT TO PRIVACY means that, in general, officers aren’t allowed to enter your home. But they can legally enter your home if you invite them in, or if the officers have the TWO necessary warrants.

How you can exercise your RIGHT TO PRIVACY at home:

  • When officers knock on your door and identify themselves you can ask them what they want through the door. If you open the door the officers may force their way in
  • They are likely to say they have come to make an immigration arrest.
  • You can then exercise your RIGHT TO PRIVACY in this way:
  • Do NOT open the door
  • Ask (through the door) to see the TWO
  • warrants they must have with them to make an arrest inside a home: (1) the immigration arrest warrant and (2) a special warrant that lets them enter a home to make an arrest (it’s called a “special entry” warrant or “Feeney” warrant)
  • Ask them to slip the warrants through the mailbox or under the door
  • If the warrants don’t fit, open the door a little in order to take them and then close the door again
  • Make sure that there are TWO separate warrants, and that they are dated and signed
  • Ensure that the person named on the warrants is in the house. If they only have one warrant, or there’s a mistake on the warrants, you have the right to tell them they need a second warrant or that the information on one or both warrants is incorrect
  • Then ask them to leave (without opening the door)

3. Immigration enforcement is carried out by officers from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) or by police officers. The following is not legal advice but information based on your rights under the law, but note that officers don’t always obey the law!

What happens if officers come to my shelter?
For a brief period of time there was a policy in Toronto that directed officers not to enter shelters that served survivors of domestic violence. In February 2011, that policy was removed.

So it’s a good idea to ask staff at your shelter to find out how they deal with immigration and police officers. If you think your shelter might report you to CBSA if you ask these questions, then have a friend who has immigration status ask for you.

What if the officers have the TWO necessary warrants and ALL the information is correct?

  • If this is the case, the person named on the warrant may choose to leave the house and get arrested
  • This may protect others inside the house who may also be at risk of immigration arrest
  • Or, you may choose to continue to exercise your RIGHT TO PRIVACY and wait until the officers force their way inside your home

Advantages of continuing to exercise your RIGHT TO PRIVACY at home:

  • It may take some time before the officers decide to force their way in. This may give you time to contact a lawyer and make any necessary arrangements

Disadvantages of continuing to exercise your RIGHT TO PRIVACY at home:

  • Once the officers are in your house, they may arrest others who also don’t have valid immigration status
  • If they eventually do arrest you in your house, the officers could prepare a report that says that you didn’t cooperate at the time of arrest. This may be relied on at a “detention review” hearing to say that you shouldn’t be released

Strategy 2: Exercising your RIGHT TO SILENCE at home

The RIGHT TO SILENCE means that you do NOT have to speak to an officer in any situation, unless you’ve already been arrested or detained. How you can exercise your RIGHT TO SILENCE at home:

  • When officers knock on your door, you can simply stay silent
  • If the officers don’t have the TWO necessary warrants that they need to enter your home, they may go away
  • If the officers do have the necessary TWO warrants, they can force their way into your home

Advantages of exercising your RIGHT TO SILENCE at home: If the officers don’t have the TWO necessary warrants, or don’t think you’re there, they may leave

  • If the officers don’t have the TWO necessary warrants, or don’t think you’re there, they may leave
  • This may give you time to contact a lawyer about your legal options and to make any necessary arrangements

Disadvantages of exercising your RIGHT TO SILENCE at home:

  • If the officers have the TWO necessary warrants they can force their way in, and then arrest others in your house who also don’t have valid immigration status
  • If they eventually do arrest you in your house, the officers could prepare a report that says that you didn’t cooperate at the time of arrest. This may be relied on at a “detention review” hearing to say that you shouldn’t be released
  • Even if the officers do NOT have the
  • necessary warrants, BE AWARE that physically preventing the officers from entering your home may lead to criminal charges. If you decide to inspect the war- rants, you should be aware that anything you say may be used against you at a detention review hearing.

What can I do if an officer stops me while I’m walking in the street, in a shopping mall, in the park, or in any other public place?

If you don’t have immigration status, an officer can arrest you with or without a warrant. Be aware that resisting arrest could make your immigration situation worse and could lead to criminal charges.

What can I do when an officer tries to arrest me WITH a warrant?

  • If an officer claims to have a warrant for your arrest, you have the right to ask to see it
  • Make sure that you’re the person named on it, and that it is dated and signed
  • If there is a mistake on the warrant or any information is missing, point that out to the officer
  • If the officer still arrests you, make sure that you tell your lawyer about the incor- rect warrant

What can I do when an officer tries to arrest me WITHOUT a warrant?

  • If you get stopped by officers who don’t have a warrant for your arrest, it may be because they have illegally targeted you due to your race, background, or because the language you’re speaking is not English or French
  • The officers will then start to ask you questions about your immigration status
  • null
  • Even though you have a right to silence if you’re not driving a car or riding a bike, you may choose to identify yourself with your name, address, and date of birth, as officers can arrest someone without immigration status if they don’t believe that you’ve identified yourself correctly
  • The officers may ask you lots of other questions—like how long you’ve been in Canada and how you got here. They want to
  • null
  • find out whether you’re here with valid immigration status or not. If they determine, based on your answers, that you’re here without status, then they can arrest you without a warrant
  • If you’ve already identified yourself to the officers, and they keep asking you questions, you do NOT need to answer them. You could ask the officers, “Am I being detained or am I free to go?”
  • Eventually they will either arrest you or they’ll let you go
  • Walking or running away while they’re questioning you may lead to criminal charges

3. If there is already an outstanding warrant for you the officers will find it if they do a computer check as immigration warrants are also registered in a – police database called the Canada Police Information Centre (CPIC) – in which case the officer will detain you at this time.

Developing your own strategy

The current immigration laws make it easy for an officer to arrest a non-status person without a warrant. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to family, friends, community organizations, and especially other people who don’t have immigration status about the best ways to avoid arrest in public places.

Sample dialogue: What you may choose to do when an officer tries to arrest you without a warrant

Officer: You, there. Stop for a minute please, I’d like to ask you some questions. 
You: I’m in a bit of a hurry. Do I have to stop and talk to you?
Officer: I’d like you to. Listen, where are you from?
You: I know that I have a right to silence, but I’m going to give you my name, address and date of birth to help you do your job.
Officer: Sure. But I’m actually wondering where you’re from?
You: My name is John Doe. I live at 35 Riverdale Ave. My date of birth is June 29, 1982.
Officer: Thanks. When did you arrive here? You (as politely as possible): I’ve identified myself to you. If you’re not detaining me, I’d like to leave.
Officer: Just a minute. Where did you say you were from again?
You: Am I being detained?
Officer: Did you come here on a work visa or a visitor visa?
You: Am I being detained?
Officer: You’re not being detained. You’re free to go.

There are a few different ways that an officer may not be “satisfied” with your identification:

  • If you refuse to answer any questions about your identity
  • If you’re carrying false identification documents
  • If you’ve already identified yourself to the officers, and they keep asking you questions, you do NOT need to answer them. You could ask the officers, “Am I being detained or am I free to go?” Eventually they will either arrest you or they’ll let you go
  • If the officer suspects that you aren’t telling 4the truth about your identity

What can I do if an officer stops me while I’m in a car or on a bike?

  • If you’re driving a car (or you’re on a bike) you must show your identification to the officer
  • If you’re a passenger and not the driver, you have the same rights as if you’re stopped in a public place (see the previous page)
  • If you don’t have immigration status, driving puts you at high risk of being detained as a result of traffic stops by police
  • For example, if the police pull you
  • over for speeding or if the police are illegally profiling you based on your race, they may learn of an immigration warrant when they run a check on your driver’s license or name and date of birth through their database
  • Also, if they can’t find any record of you on any database, they may hand you over to CBSA

What if an officer comes to my work?

  • You may be at risk of immigration arrest if you’re working somewhere without a valid work permit, or if the place you’re working is not the same place named on your work permit. Both situations are illegal under Canadian immigration law (despite what your recruiter may tell you)
  • Whether the officers enter your work- place or wait for you outside, they will be able to question you in the same way that they can in a public place, and this may lead to your arrest
  • In general, don’t rely on your recruiter for legal advice as they profit from immigrant workers. Recruiters often advise people to contact representatives from their countries (at consulates or embassies) if they run into immigration problems, but contacting representatives from your country may actually speed up your deportation
  • If you have a trusted co-worker you may wish to give them contact information for family members or a lawyer in case you’re arrested at work

What rights do I have at my job as a migrant worker?

Various laws in Ontario are meant to protect workers, such as how much you should be paid, how you can be fired, how much vacation pay you should get, and how you can get money if you’ve been injured on the job.

These laws apply to anyone working in Ontario, including all migrant workers— whether they’re working with a valid work permit or not. But if you try to enforce your rights, and you’re not working under a valid work permit, your boss may report to you to the CBSA for not having a valid work permit.

Legal help for migrant workers If you’re a migrant worker living in Toronto without immigration status who is owed money by your boss, you should contact the Workers’ Action Centre (www. or 416-531-0778).

They are an amazing organization that fights to improve the working conditions of people in low-wage and unstable employment.

If you live in Ontario (but outside of Toronto), you may contact a local Legal Aid Ontario community legal clinic to see if they can assist you with your work-related legal problems (visit for a list of community legal clinics.

Please note that most community legal clinics do not practice workers’ rights or immigration law. But they may still be able to provide you with referrals to lawyers who do practice in these areas.


Toronto Refugee Affairs Council (TRAC) :If you’re being held in Toronto at the Immigration Holding Centre (which is usually referred to as “Rexdale”) you can request the assistance of TRAC for legal information. TRAC operates an office at the Immigration Holding Centre Mondays to Thursdays. Their telephone number is 416- 401-8537.

Refugee Law Office (RLO) :An RLO staff member goes to the Immigration Holding Centre (385 Rexdale Blvd) in Toronto on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as part of TRAC. You can call them at 1-800-668-8258 or 416-977-8111.

The RLO also provides people with legal advice and representation to persons detained at the Immigration Holding Centre, Toronto West Detention Centre, Vanier Centre for Women and Central East Correctional Centre (known as “Lindsay”). Staff members also give summary legal advice by telephone to immigration detainees calling from other detention centres in Ontario.


  • Do not sign any papers without first speaking to a lawyer because you may be giving up your rights to pursue an application to stay in Canada, such as a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA)
  • However you should note that CBSA has argued that refusing to sign papers (even if it’s to speak to a lawyer first) shows that the person is uncooperative and therefore should not be released from detention
  • As a result, it is useful to have a lawyer pre-arranged in case you’re arrested and to speak to them quickly
  • Do not rely on CBSA Officers to pro- vide you with accurate legal advice
  • Ask for an interpreter if you don’t under- stand what’s being said to you
  • You have a right to contact your embassy or consulate, but you may not want to if you fear the government of your home country
  • For more information on immigration detention, refer to the fact sheet “Being arrested and detained for immigration reasons”:

This guide is for informational purposes. It is NOT legal advice.

About the Authors:
The Immigration Legal Committee (ILC) is a Toronto-based group of law students and legal workers. We support community organizations and grassroots campaigns that advocate for immigrant and refugee rights by providing legal education workshops and by creating community resources such as this guide. We don’t provide legal advice or representation.
The Immigration Legal Committee (ILC) is a sub-committee of the Law Union of Ontario ( and No One is Illegal- Toronto (

For more information about us or to book a workshop, contact:

For an online printable version of this document, visit:

The authors thank all individuals and organizations that assisted in the production of this document.

Tips for Organizing an Anti-Deportation Campaign

illustration of 3 people looking upwards it reads "No human being is illegal. human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? how can a human being be illegal? - Elie Wiesel"

By Felix and Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

Illustration by Favianna

When it comes to organizing a campaign, people often jump to holding a rally or coordinating some sort of public event. Public events are important but there are so many different strategies that come with organizing a successful campaign. 

The article aims to provide tools and ideas for organizing a campaign against someone’s deportation. However, these are only ideas. Each situation is different and so taking your time and weighing the pros and cons of different strategies is essential. We, as writers do not encourage or condone any particular action, our goal is to simply offer the information we know in order to organize actions as easily and safely as possible. We tried to include as much information as possible, however we understand that our experience is limited. And so, if you are considering organizing an action, we encourage you to speak with other organizers or search online to find resources to support you along the way. 

Know the Risk

Regardless of if you are the advocate or the individual who is at risk of being deported, it’s important to note that anything that is public carries a risk. CBSA and Citizenship and Immigration Canada can look at a public campaign and chose to take “compassion” on the individual or they can use the campaign to justify speeding up the removal. 

Before deciding whether or not to do a public campaign in response to someone’s deportation, it is important to have some knowledge surrounding where their immigration matter is at legally. 

For example, having an application with pending approval can, at times be a safety net if a campaign is held but is not successful in stopping a deportation. It is important that people have good communication with their lawyers during the campaign so they are fully aware of where their immigration status and applications are at. 

Any social media content or press coverage that uses the individual’s name is going to alert the authorities about the case. It’s also going to alert anyone who sees any press about the status of the individual, including employers. Sometimes for their own safety, people prefer to keep campaigns lowkey. This can mean hosting letter-writing campaigns or call-ins to the ministers and CBSA rather than public protests.

Each campaign is different and different people are willing to take different risks. It is important to set boundaries and decide what feels safest before going public.

Know Your Target

It’s important to direct your message to people who have the power to make the change you need. In regards to organizing against a deportation in Canada, you’re generally looking to target these three people:

1)The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

This Minister specifically deals with arrest, detention, and removal. They have the power to release people from detention, grant temporary stays and intervene in removals/deportations. They are a good go-to if someone has a criminal record, is in immigration detention or have a warrant out for their arrest that is related to immigration.

2) The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

This Minister deals with everything under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. They have the power to initiate an intervention regarding a deportation and or grant someone status.

3) Your Member of Parliament (MP)

MP’s can raise the profile of your campaign and garner support from other MP’s in parliament. 

Make your Targets Aware of your Demands

Gather the contact information for each of your targets. All of their contact information is posted publicly online. From there, you can write them a letter, email, give them a call and/or @ them in your tweets and instagram posts. 

Sometimes campaigns will announce a set number of days where they ask that supporters call or email public officials in order to flood their methods of communication. This helps create a buzz and ensures the campaign is on their radar. 

If you are interested in flooding the emails or phone lines of public officials, it can be helpful to create a template. This template would offer supporters basic information about the individual in question and why they should be able to stay. Creating this makes it easier for people to confidently communicate to officials what the demands are in a campaign.  


It is always important to reach out to other organizations, businesses and well-known people in order to build support for your campaign. If you find groups that are supportive of your cause, it is good practice to get these people to sign onto your demands and share media related to your campaign. If a strong relationship is built, it may be possible to co-organize actions which will increase the reach and capacity of your campaign. 

A great way to involve the people you have networked with is by creating a letter of support they can sign. The letter can then be posted publicly online and sent to officials. This list can grow as your campaign grows.

Create an Informational Sheet

Having a short informational sheet that gives readers a basic overview of the campaign helps get new people involved. These are useful to handout at talks, rallies, workshops or anywhere where you could gain additional support. An informational sheet can also be posted on social media sites. It’s important to keep your messaging concise and simple.

Make a Petition

Petitions are common in any sort of campaign for social justice. It should be known that for a petition to be read in parliament, there are specific requirements that one must follow. If you would like your petition to be read in parliament, look up the Public Petitions page from the House of Commons website under the House of Commons Procedure and Practice section. 

In addition, petitions to grant someone permanent residency are generally used for  humanitarian and compassionate claims (See “Pathways to Status” article for more on this claim). They urge the Minister to grant the individual in question permanent residency. If you are planning on creating a petition for a humanitarian claim, you need to make sure to get a significant amount of signatures (minimum 75-100). 

A typical format one would use for this type of petition would be the following. 

To: the Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and 
to: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

We, the undersigned, sign this petition in support of ______________ application for Permanent Residency in Canada.

We confirm that we know ____________ and that they are valued members of our community, and we pledge our support to continue to help them to integrate and establish themselves in Canada.  

We understand that _______________ cannot go back  to _________. 

As such, we ask that you use your discretion under section 25(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and grant Mrs. Cardona Arias Cardona and her family Permanent Residency in Canada.

Sometimes campaigns will also create a symbolic petition (meaning it cannot be presented in parliament) to demonstrate the number of people in support of the campaign. A symbolic petition with many signatures makes a good statement. In this case, you print the petition out and bring it to a public action or hand it in to the office of individuals whose attention or response you are seeking. 

Run a Social Media Campaign

Creating a Facebook Page and including basic information about the case can be very useful. Make sure you include ways people can get involved such as: links to petitions, contact information for government officials you are targeting, information for upcoming rallies, brief description of your campaign and why it is important..etc. In order to grab people’s attention, it’s really useful to have at least one graphic specifically designed for your campaign. This graphic can be used by newspapers, circulated through instagram or used as a poster for rallies. Here are some examples of past graphics used:

It’s also really useful to create a hashtag. Simple hashtags like #LetYusufStay or #JusticeforYusuf are easy to remember. Try to stick to one single hashtag so you can keep track of actions and campaigns more easily. 

Once you have all the necessary information on the Facebook page; create your first post. This post should give readers basic information, include a graphic or video and will invite people to like and follow the page. It’s important to have all this information available before inviting people to like the page. 

When your page is ready, send an email to people you know who will support this campaign with the link and a personalized message asking them to post it on their social media pages. This will help spread the word faster. Friday and Thursday afternoons are the busiest times of the week when it comes to social media traffic and so, if possible, launch your campaign during these hours. 

It’s important to keep your readers up-to-date and to ensure your page stays in people’s newsfeed. You can achieve this by creating regular posts to update people, sharing news stories about the campaign and pictures and posts about upcoming or recent actions. 

Sometimes a social media campaign will involve a call out asking people to post a selfie with the hashtag on a specific day. 

Here’s an example: 

Photo contributed by Stacey Gomez

Create a Press Release 

See Article: Creating a Press Release

Organize Actions

There are many different ways that you can organize an action based on the amount of people you think will come, the risks involved and the timeline/frame. Some people choose to go directly to the office of the Minister who has the power to stop the deportation and addressing them there. They are usually not in their offices, but it can still create a stir when you go to the office directly. Others go to symbolic locations such as Immigration offices where hearings are held and decisions are made. Actions in public spaces with high foot traffic are also very useful as they will gather a lot of attention.

Types of actions

Projection Bomb

This involves putting a projection of an image related to your campaign on the side of a building. It’s generally considered pretty low risk.

Things needed for the action: 

  • A good quality projector with proper lighting to project your image
  • An electrical source
  • A good place for the projector to be placed. 

Usually takes some pre-planning to see what will work since you will need to play around with the angle of the projector to ensure the image is well placed. 

Banner Drop

Creating a large scale banner to drop in a location with high foot traffic can generate some attention. This can also be low risk depending on where you are dropping your banner from (being on private properties is riskier). Sometimes campaigns will organize a day where banners can be dropped in different cities at the same time to highlight awareness of the campaign. This can then be uploaded to social media. 

If you are doing a banner drop, it is important to ensure the banner will legible even when there is wind. Check out different methods of making banners online to ensure it doesn’t fly upwards and is weighed down safely.


A gathering of individuals in support of the campaign can be a great symbolic action especially when it is done is very public areas.

Some things you might want to include in the rally are:

  • An MC who addresses the crowd
  • A megaphone
  • Speaker(s) to inform the crowd about the issue (1-3 usually). It’s good to have a speaker who gives the broader context of the immigration system and the details of the situation. This can be the individual themselves or an advocate if anonymity is important. 
  • Depending on the context it may also be useful to have a legal advocate speak
  • Signs and placards for people to hold up to ensure you message come across
  • A designated person to speak to the media
  • Some rallies might have hot beverages or snacks for those in attendance


Usually, this involves taking over a street and collectively marching to a location to host a rally. If you are occupying a road you want to have marshals on both sides of the road to make sure that traffic is staying away from the individuals and control the direction of the march. If you are occupying a road without a permit for the march, it’s important to have a police liaison to speak with the police. A police liaison must be someone who understands the law, can remain diplomatic and can negotiate with the police officer. The goal of the liaison is to try to keep the people at the rally safe, to make sure no arrests are made and that there is a direct line of communication with the police and organizer of the march.

Some other aspects to consider during the march are to have:

  • An MC who addresses the crowd
  • A megaphone
  • 1-2 speakers before the march begins 
  • Lots of placards and signs
  • A few loudspeakers to lead people with chants. 
  • Noisemakers
  • A designated media spokesperson who can ensure the right message is coming across
  • Depending on your budget, you can also rent an accessibility van to ensure people with disabilities and elders are able to participate or a speaker system to ensure your message is loud and clear.

Blocking an Intersection or a Road

Some people choose to block a road or an intersection. In this case, people generally pick a location that is fairly busy and will cause a noticeable disruption. This type of action is high risk as the police will try to move you to ensure cars are able to reach their location. This means there is a higher risk of arrest, especially if the number of people attending is small. 

Generally for this type of action, an initial group of individuals will take over a road and then call for a larger group of people to come. This can mean a group of ten initial participants proceeded by a rally coming to join. Or, it can look like a section of a march splitting off to block a road and then inviting the rest of the march to join. Everyone has a different method of doing this. However, one thing is certain; the more people you have, the less likely you are to be arrested. 

Communicating the level of risk to participants is essential, especially if they don’t have status. Those who initially block the intersection are usually more at risk of being arrested than people who come after to attend. It’s important to have individuals you can trust in the initial group. Prepping these people should be done ahead of time so they are fully aware of the schedule, risk, and protocols.

It is not uncommon to have drivers get angry if the road is blocked. Speak with your group about what you will do if you are approached by an angry driver or if a car tries to pass through the roadblock.

For this type of action, it is crucial to have police liaisons as they can help negotiate with the police. Their role will be to keep the crowd as safe as possible and negotiate the length of time you are able to stay in the location. The longer you block the road, the more negotiating will have to be done with the police. Additionally, a longer stay often means a greater chance of arrest.

Sometimes people will have a legal team for this type of action who hand out legal clinic numbers or their personal numbers in case individuals are arrested and need to call a lawyer. 

Once the group has taken over the intersection, organizers will often immediately send out a press release to the media which has been prepared ahead of time. It will describe what is happening, why and how people can support along with media such as videos and pictures. You can also have a live video over Facebook or Instagram during this time and send out Tweets.  It is useful to have a designated media person to do this. This person can also encourage people in the group to share posts, write their own posts and take pictures. Another person can be designated to speak to the media that shows up to the road-block to ensure the right message comes across.

Some things to consider including for this action are:

  • Loudspeakers for chants
  • Having leaflets to hand out to drivers and pedestrians to let them know why you are there and what the demands are 
  • 1-2 MC’s
  • Speakers who can inform people about the issues at hand (the case, the immigration system, colonial borders, etc…) 

Storming an Office or Event 

Storming a location usually involves going to an office or speaking event where a prominent individual will be. Sometimes people prefer to take a small group of people to surprise the MP and/or Minister and list their demands. Other times people prefer to be more disruptive and arrive with banners, music makers and a group of people. One or two people will usually speak and list the demands being made. This does involve some research because, if you want to go and interrupt the MPs or even Ministers at their office, you need to make sure they are actually there. Ministers are often not at their offices and it’s important to not waste your time. 

Sometimes people go to events they know prominent people will be at and interrupt that person while they are speaking. Often people will hide banners under their coats of jackets and unfurl them during a speech. It is important to know ahead of time that whoever is speaking will likely getting kicked out or may get arrested.

Occupying  Space

This type of action usually involves going to a symbolic location and staying there until demands are heard. An example of this is when Black Lives Matter Toronto camped out in front of the Toronto Police headquarters. The occupation lasted two weeks and was done to pressure the police to lay charges on the officer who shot and killed Andrew Loku. 

For this kind of action, you will need a dedicated team of people willing to stay for the duration of the event, a police liaison and a media spokesperson present at all times. Depending on how long the occupation lasts you will need to think about food, drinks, first-aid kits, an on-site medic, security, sleeping bags, ways to go to the washroom, methods of charging your phone, etc…

This type of action takes a lot of work and is generally considered high risk. It can lead to arrests, especially if you are taking over an office or a building. Remember; if you are taking over a building or an office, you often will not be able to leave the office or building without being arrested. This means you have to consider a wide range of things including people’s safety regarding status, the medication they need, pet-care, etc.

People will generally ensure some members of their team are not present at the actual occupation. These people will be in charge or talking to the media, arranging other solidarity events, and generally getting the word out about the action.

Sustain the Campaign

Campaigns against a specific deportation often have a short timeline due to the set date of removal. During the campaign, it is important to be consistent. Hosting a different action every two days sounds great, however, if you become too tired by the end of the week then you have missed your goal. Make sure you create a plan ahead of time that ensures no one is too overworked and that you are able to continue to fight until a decision has been made.

Continue to Build Momentum

You can build momentum by raising awareness about the national and global context of immigration and borders across the world. If you are able to organize, connect and build relationships with other organizations, businesses and community members before anyone you know or love receives a deportation order, then you can more readily draw on their support and tools in the future. Workshops, panel discussions, and teach-ins are all great ways to connect.

Creating a Press Release

black and white close up photo of man holding a dslr camera

This piece is a combination of work written by Ciaran Breen from No One Is Illegal and the media guide created by Solidarity Across Borders

Coordinating a media and communication strategy for a political purpose can appear daunting at first, especially if your cause has struggled to gain the attention and coverage you know it deserves. However, the good news is that there is a method to the madness and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to create materials with more flow and ultimately, with more success.

Media Advisory vs. Press Release

Giving the media a heads up: A Media Advisory

The goal with a media advisory is to inform the media of the details of your event but also tempt them to come to get the full story, the exclusive interview, the picture, the video. If there will be visuals, make that clear in the advisory.

Length: Ideally 1 page max

If the media doesn’t come: Do a Press release

The goal of the press release, also known as a media release is that after someone reads it, they have all the info. The story, the quotes, the pictures (if available). A journalist sitting at their desk who didn’t come to your event should have enough from a press release to be able to write a story. As such, a press release is as much like a news article than anything else. Think copy and paste. Write like a journalist. Make it as easy as possible for them to write a story about your event or cause.

Length: Between 1 and 2 pages + photographs (if available)

Before you start writing a press advisory or release, you need to have a few things clear, including:

  • the situation (what are the facts? what is going on? who is involved?)
  • the message (what are you seeking to communicate?) 
  • the demand (what do you want people to do?).  


The table below outlines various check marks you can refer to to ensure your headline messaging is on-point and effective. (The following examples draw on experience organizing around immigration detention).

Specific event‘Immigration detainees demand a meeting with Minister of Public Safety’ 
Highlight conflict‘Minister refusing to speak to immigration detainees’
Timely‘Immigration detainees mark anniversary of hunger strike with 24-hr protest’
Firsts (superlatives)‘Landmark immigration case to be heard at supreme court’
Visuals that are strong and can be reported on briefly‘Families of immigration detainees will join supporters in a colourful march to CBSA offices’
Unusual so it actually gets picked up‘Canadian child spends second birthday locked in immigration detention’
Alarming‘17 people have died in immigration detention since 2000’
Pop appeal‘Family day rallies planned across Ontario’
Make sure it ties into a clear ask/into the issue

‘Supporters are demanding the introduction of a 90-day limit on immigration detention’

Format of a Media Advisory and Press Release

The table below outlines the different sections of both a media advisory and a press release. Use these sections as a guide if you are planning to do your own media advisory or press release.

1Headline – Use active languageHeadline – Use active language
– The most important info (1-2 small paragraphs)
– Remember the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When)
– The most important info (1-2 small paragraphs)
– Remember the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When)
– Crucial info (argument, controversy, story, issue)
– Crucial info (argument, controversy, story, issue)
– When, where, what, who
– A quote that invokes feelings and balances with story told so far
– Additional details & background (e.g. history of an issue, international context)
– This is the last section in a media advisory 
– Additional details & background (e.g. history of an issue, international context)

– Second quote can provide a particular perspective, often from someone with social capital or expertise.

– Extra info, interesting or related
– Assume that most journalists will have stopped reading by this point.

Timeline to send Media Advisory and/or Press Release

The following timelines are a guideline only and you should plan according to your situation, context and media landscape.

5 days before Action/event/other: send Media Advisory

4 days before Action/event/other: pitch calls to friendly media

Day before: Re-send media advisory

Morning of: Re-send media advisory early morning (e.g. 7am). Call news desks (television & newspapers) around 8am.

Day of: Send press release, take photos

Day after: Send pictures, additional information etc.

Different types of Press 

Press Conference

A press conference is a sit-down media event. The classic formula is the following: 

  1. An MC briefly introduces the topic and each speaker in turn
  2. 2 or 3 spokespeople each give a 3-minute presentation
  3. Then there is an open question period, facilitated by the MC. All in one hour. 
  4. After the formal press conference, journalists might ask for one-on-one interviews with some of the speakers.

Press Conference Tips:

  • Don’t forget television and cameras: make sure the conference or event has a visual dimension. An attractive background (eg. a poster, written slogans, photos, banner) helps to get the message out. Also, make sure the light is not behind the speakers.
  • Cards with the name of each speaker to put on the table in front of them can help media identify who is speaking.
  • When you are setting up, leave a central aisle with lots of space so that cameras have room to manoeuver.

Checklist for press conference:

  • Book appropriate location
  • Speakers (prepare, coordinate, inform of location and time)
  • Media Advisory (write, send)
  • Phone calls to journalists and news desks
  • MC (briefed and prepared to give introductions, manage question period and end the press conference)
  • Media kit (prepared and copied) – see below!
  • Attractive visuals (banners, photos, etc.)
  • Set up the location (leave yourself plenty of time), including water and kleenex for speakers, and name cards on the table.
  • Sign up sheet for journalists (you can leave it at the door, and ask journalists to ‘register’ so you can follow up with them afterwards)

Press Briefing or Scrum

A press briefing or scrum is like an informal press conference, with more energy. In general, it takes place outside a symbolic venue or at an event (eg. before a court hearing) or as part of an event you are organizing (e.g. during a demonstration). 

Classic formula : an MC, followed by two or three spokespeople who give key messages in 5 minutes (total), followed by questions.

Tip: It is important to have a poster or banner behind the people talking.

Exclusive Interviews

An exclusive interview is an interview offered to a single media outlet or journalist. There must be a commitment to respect exclusivity: if you have an agreement with one journalist, you can’t give an interview to another on the same topic. 


An op-ed is an opinion text that you write and have published in the opinion pages of a newspaper. It normally has to have some link to current events or symbolic date, and express a strong opinion eloquently. There are strict limits of length. The editors usually reserve the right to edit your piece.

Sometimes you can write a piece and ask a well-known person to put their name to it, to attract more attention.

Best Time to do Media 

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are usually the best days for media events and press releases. Sunday afternoons also work if they are promoted well in advance because there is often no other news at that time.

Although it is impossible to predict what may happen, try not issue a press release or hold a press conference during major news stories (unless it is about that topic). Conversely, aim for symbolic dates that work with your story.

The cut-off time (time that journalists must have their report completed) is usually 4pm for TV and 6pm for newspapers. Radio journalists may conduct interviews in the early evening.

Ideally, press conferences are held between 9 am and 2pm. If possible, you should avoid having one after 4pm.

For a special event in the evening, you must notify the media well in advance.

Preparing to Speak to the Media

1) Prepare Yourself

Decide in advance which information to disclose or not to disclose about your personal life. You can control the information you share. You can set limits and decide not to talk about certain things.

Decide whether to go with your heart and tell your story as it comes to you on the spot or prepare a statement in advance.

Decide whether to show or hide your face, whether to ask for your voice to be altered, to use your real name, etc.

Emotional preparation: an interview/press conference can make us emotional or even make us cry. That’s fine. At the same time it is important to keep your goals in mind: the message you want to get across; the personal information you don’t want to talk about.

Link to a broader analysis / similar situations: prepare facts, examples, sentences to connect your situation to broader problems.

Some journalists insist on having the full immigration file. Most journalists will ask for some documents. Decide in advance which documents you will give and which you will not give.

2)  Preparing a Spokesperson

The spokesperson needs to understand the case, and be prepared for any questions. If there are difficult parts of the file (e.g. a criminal record, irregularities in the file), it is important that the spokesperson knows about them in advance and knows how to respond.

Ensure that the spokesperson understands and is prepared to respect the message the family/individual has decided upon and what information the family/individual does not want to disclose.

The spokesperson needs to be prepared to present the specific case, responding to its urgency and immediate needs, while raising similar situations and speaking about the system that produces such situations.

3)  Preparing for a Press Conference or Press Scrum/Briefing

Choose two or three points you would like to make and write them out. Practice saying them. At a press conference or press scrum, this will be the basis for your initial speech. Emphasize these messages and repeat them in different words whenever possible during the question period: “If I only have one thing to tell people, it is that …” or ” My main message is that …”.. Don’t let the journalist divert your attention and make you deviate from the points you want to make.

Try to guess the journalists’ questions and criticisms and be prepared accordingly.

4)  Preparing for an interview

All previous points and:

Ask the journalist about the topics s/he wishes to cover to help you prepare. Ask them to send you the questions in advance by email if possible. You may in some circumstances be able to respond by email. Remember that you have more control over what you write than what you say.

Ask if there will be other interviewees and find out about their positions.

5)  Coordinating among Different Speakers

It is very important to ensure basic coherence between messages by the different speakers and especially to avoid contradictions and too much repetition. Here are some tools that can help coordinate messages:

Prepare a “talking points” document and share it with all speakers well in advance of the event. Talking points consist of key questions that you are sure will be asked and suggested response or responses for each.

Come up with a game plan about who covers what points, what points you will avoid, who will repeat the main demand, etc. (this can be worked out in a meeting or teleconference or in an email sent to all speakers).

You need to check in with each speaker to make sure they know the time, the place, have read the talking points, and are clear on how long they have to talk and which points they are supposed to cover.

6)  Media Kit

It is usually a good idea to prepare a media kit (in french and in english) to give to journalists at your press event. A media kit typically includes the following:

  • press release for the event (or minimally the press advisory);
  • list of speakers, a short biography for each and, sometimes, their contact information;
  • fact sheet(s): depending on the topic, this can provide details of a specific case and relevant background information; information can also be presented in the form of question / answer or a chronology;
  • Previously published media articles;
  • Experts reports or other documents that provide the context or documentary evidence to back up your assertions;
  • More creatively, you can include video clips, quotes from your speakers, statements of support from groups that are not present, SAB flyers, even stickers, buttons, etc.

Sanctuary in Canada: What You Need to Know

A black and white photo of a family in front of their town with large arms holding them. It reads "Sanctuary cities now"

Research by Sanctuary Canada

Written by Ciana Hamilton

Illustration provided by 2019 Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

Canada has four official Sanctuary City designations, which allows someone to access most city services without being questioned about their immigration status. Municipalities across the country, big and small, are continuing to join the Sanctuary City movement and although big cities like Montreal, Hamilton and Toronto are trying to alleviate the fears around deportation, the Sanctuary City designation does not protect the most vulnerable refugees from deportation.  

Sanctuary cities are new but the offering of sanctuary, for those in the most need, is an ancient practice. It is important to not confuse the two. Before the hype of sanctuary cities, the term ‘sanctuary’ was reserved for when a person or family would seek refuge in a church or place of worship. Churches were (and still are) able to provide a special kind of sanctuary or protection since they are seen as institutions outside of government laws. This type of sanctuary still exists today and here’s a basic guide of what you need to know about sanctuary in Canada.  

So, what is Sanctuary? 

Sanctuary is support and protection that is given to an individual or family by a church or place of worship. Refugees may seek sanctuary if they are at risk of unjustified deportation back to a country where they will face persecution, violence or death. In Canada, the last 30 years of sanctuary cases have been resolved peacefully. Churches review sanctuary requests on a case-by-case basis and not everyone who seeks sanctuary is granted sanctuary. The ultimate goal of sanctuary is to have a safe outcome for an individual or family facing deportation. 

Formal vs. Informal  

Sanctuary comes in two forms, formal and informal. Formal sanctuary takes place in a church; this type of sanctuary comes with the complete support and safety from the church congregation. Someone in formal sanctuary needs to remain in the church until his or her status has been resolved. Informal sanctuary is sanctuary offered outside of a church. A network of support systems holds this type of sanctuary together, but because the person or family is not staying in a church they are more vulnerable to arrest and deportation. Locations for informal sanctuary are undisclosed in order to keep the families protected. This type of sanctuary can still have the backing of the church but not the same type of protection. 

Who can go into sanctuary? 

Sanctuary is often reserved for the most serious of cases. There is a process that the church goes through in order to decide whether or not a particular situation requires sanctuary. One of the biggest deciding factors is to determine the level of immediate danger to a person or family in their country of origin. The church must verify and have evidence that there is, in fact, ‘extreme danger if deported’. The congregation must also ensure that all persons seeking sanctuary do not have anything in their personal history that could void the church’s practice of sanctuary (arrest warrants, criminal charges etc). Anyone can approach a church and inquire about sanctuary but it’s important to know that churches take sanctuary very seriously. 

Could sanctuary be for you? 

If reading this you feel that sanctuary could be an option for you, a family member or friend – here are some tips for further investigation. The Canadian Sanctuary Network ( is a network of volunteers who are advocating for refugee claimants whose statuses have been wrongfully rejected. On the website is information about how sanctuary works, a detailed description of the process a church takes in order to determine sanctuary and other resources. Not all churches can offer sanctuary but most churches can help guide a family in the right direction.  

Keep in Mind 

It is important to remember that the congregation of the church must take a number of factors into consideration to ensure that sanctuary would be the best option for an individual or family. Sanctuary requires a long-term commitment from both the church and the family. Once a person is in sanctuary, the process is often described as isolating and emotional. Sanctuary is one of the last options a church can offer however, many churches are able to provide additional support for migrants who are facing deportation. 

Habeas Corpus

8 black abstract drawings of people and 1 greyish abstract drawing

How Understanding This Legal Term Can Help You Avoid Immigration Detention 

By: Macdonald Scott 

I am a licensed immigration consultant with Carranza LLP, a multiethnic lovely law firm. I have been honoured to provide legal support to many of the people whose cases are discussed below. I am also a member of No One Is Illegal (NOII) and the End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN). NOII is a migrant justice group, EIDN is a group of detainees, ex-detainees and supporters working to end immigration detention. 

What the heck is Habeas Corpus? 

A writ of Habeas Corpus (which means to “produce the body”) is a court order demanding that a public official (such as a warden) deliver an imprisoned individual to the court and show a valid reason for that person’s detention. 

What does it have to do with immigration detention? 

So in the “olde” days (that’s how they spelled it back then) in England (back even before the Magna Carta, so before 1215), the government and lords often detained people without any notice to their families or communities and without showing justification for the detention. Habeas became a legal instrument whereby the state or lord had to produce the person (or their body) and justify why they were detained. 

In the landmark case Chaudhary v Canada Ont. CA 2015 we were able to get the courts to acknowledge that this right should be extended to migrants without status in detention. This was the case of Amina Chaudhary, a mother of three disabled children, who is free right now and taking care of her sick spouse. 

Ok, so what does it mean to file a Habeas? 

Filing a “Habeas” means that the onus is put on the government to prove that the actual detention is lawful. This is different than most cases, where the onus is on the detainee to show “clear and compelling reasons” why they should be released. 

How does immigration detention work? 

What is immigration detention? 

It’s detaining people without full immigration status, or who are having their status revoked (including permanent residents) to make sure that Canada can remove them. It is separate from deciding if they should be removed but is a tool to make sure they cooperate with removal efforts. Let’s look at how it works in brief. 

Why are people detained? 

As above, for removal. In theory, it is also because of the following: The person is considered a flight risk (they won’t show up for removal), they are a danger to the public (criminal record anywhere, resistance on arrest) or immigration enforcement needs to hold the person to identify them. 

Who is detained? 

In reality, people detained are mostly black, the others are almost all brown. Women are detained who fought back against their spouse’s abuse. I had a black client who does hip-hop work with at-risk youth. Some transit cops stopped him for smoking on the bus platform, and he ended up getting detained because he swore when immigration enforcement arrested him. 

How can people challenge their detention? 

After 48 hours of detention, a detainee is given a detention review. At this review, a board member (pseudo-judge) will decide if they are a flight risk, danger to the public, and/or need to be detained to prove their identity. The board member will also look (very briefly) at how long the detainee will be detained (i.e when removal might occur), whether there is an alternative to detention (i.e. Someone can post bail and make sure they show up for removal), community connections, and whether the person is cooperating with their removal. 

After this, the person detained has a detention review 7 days later and then every 28 days. BUT at these reviews, normally the pressure is on the person detained to prove that they should be released. This gets harder and harder for each hearing. As well, though the length of detention ought to be considered, it is only one small factor to be considered. 

In many ways, beyond the fact that black people and brown people are specifically targeted, this is similar to the criminal bail system. Detention in the criminal justice system is used to pressure people into pleading guilty to get out of jail. Immigration detention is used as a way to pressure migrants into agreeing to their removal. 

What is the political agenda? 

Canada has a long history of excluding certain people from helping settle stolen indigenous lands, including People of Colour, Black people, LGBTIQA+ people, single women, disabled people. Immigration detention (even under the very handsome Mr.Trudeau) continues to be a tool for excluding those our system either prefers would not come in the first place, or would not be compliant workers with or without status. 

How does Habeas change things? 

Until Chaudhary, Habeas was not allowed for detained migrants. While it may not be as effective as organizing to get rid of detention of migrants (or jails in total), it is a tool that our people can use to get free. It also seems to upset the state given that they have committed considerable resources to try and stop it. Recently the government attempted to challenge the right to Habeas for migrant detainees in the Supreme Court of Canada. EIDN was an intervenor and on May 10th, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of migrants having access to the Habeas!! 


Chaudhary was a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal. Historically immigrant detainees could not file a Habeas either in the Federal Courts, since the Federal Courts Act does not allow it, or in the provincial courts. However, the Supreme Court Judgment in a case where a man held in federal prison was allowed to challenge his transfer to a different prison by way of Habeas, opened the door for people to challenge federal detentions by way of Habeas. Chaudhary then filed for a Habeas in the Ontario Superior Court where it was turned down. We then appealed it to the Ontario Court of Appeal which granted that a Habeas could and should be allowed to be heard in migrant detention matters as it was more advantageous or equally advantageous to the detention review process (and subsequent federal court review). Recently the Alberta Court of Appeal agreed in the Chhina case which the government appealed to the Supreme Court, it is being heard in November and EIDN is attempting to intervene. 

How does one file a Habeas? 

Get a lawyer! 

One should hire counsel. Organizations like NOII can help find a good lawyer who will take legal aid. If you or the person you are working with wants to do it on their own, it can be done (and has been done successfully before) and a lawyer can apply to be an amicus – a friend of the court – and help out without representing the detainee. 

What will happen? 

First a Notice is filed. Then a record must be made which includes all the evidence. This record must be entered as an affidavit which is a sworn statement. After this, a factum must be completed which is the document that makes the legal arguments based on the facts. Then there is a hearing. This all happens at the Superior Court nearest to the place where the person is detained. If the detainee loses, then the appeal goes to the Ontario Court of Appeal. 

The Struggle – how did it happen? 

In 2013, 191 detainees went on hunger strike, the largest migrant hunger strike in Canadian history. Activists in the prisoner rights/prison abolitionist movement and migrant justice movement joined together to support them. The activists first focused on conditions of detention but the detainees said, “no, what we want is to be released after 90 days if they can’t deport us.” The movement went forward and EIDN was formed. EIDN held demonstrations at jails (with fireworks, the guards were very upset), press conferences, filing paperwork with the United Nations, assisting lawyers doing court work. 

What has happened since? 

The number of detainees has dropped dramatically, the Toronto Holding Centre used to be full (around 110) and now holds on average 60 detainees. Provincial prisons across Canada held 400 or more, they now have about 150. The releases to Toronto Bail Program (a non-governmental program that supervises released detainees) tripled last year. Children are rarely detained now, and fewer detainees are held in Provincial prisons (maximum security jails). A recent audit of the detention review system tore into the system recommending heavy and deep changes. 

Why go forward? 

Our lovely Prime Minister has decided to expand the immigration holding centers in Laval, Quebec and Surrey, BC. Once these are expanded they will be filled. Though they are minimum security, they are still jails. Immigration detention is not going away, the liberals have just put a smiley face on it. Families will still be separated, people will still be jailed. 

What do we do next? 

Support No One Is Illegal’s ongoing struggle to end immigration detention, find local detained migrants, visit them, ask them what they need (talk to NOII first to find out good sustainable ways to do this), support your local migrant justice organization. 

Tear down walls, build bridges. 


illustration of two eagles sitting on green patch of grass. text reads "one land one people. una tierra un pueblo"

By: Isaac Murdoch

Illustration by: Isaac Murdoch

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples from around the world have freely roamed, following the natural rhythms of Mother Earths’ cycles. This ability to roam freely helped preserve the diversity of languages and traditional governments, as well as strengthening bloodlines and relations with other tribes. 

This was critical for sustainable economies, which every Indigenous person depended on. Trading food sources, medicines, and knowledge was extremely valued and all dependant on the right to free and safe travel. I remember this style of living on the land as a child. 

Back in my youth, we lived on the land and were able to exist without the use of a garbage can. There was no such thing as waste, as every part of the animal was used. We were a free people with our own laws and government. We had safe passage throughout the territory, which our sustainable economy depended on. As a result of this freedom, the Canadian and United States government viewed us as the “Indian Problem.” 

Because Canada and the USA have already been mapped out with their states and provinces, a series of legislation and policies have been developed. These laws pave a road to make way for a free-for-all in regards to resource extraction. This has been in place, in its entirely, for over a hundred years; leaving many free, roaming Indigenous peoples displaced. 

Globally, more land has been stolen and more Indigenous people have been killed by maps than by guns and bombs. Colonization kills. 

By forcing people from a sustainable economy on the land, to a consumer-based economy has tragic effects. First off, people are displaced into cities or towns and often find poverty in unjust social and legal conditions. Women and children become targets in cluster housing complexes and the rate of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) becomes rampant. The direct relationship between resource extraction and the high rates of suicide and murders are clear and staggering. 

People inherently follow their blood memory; they migrate to find sanction elsewhere when in despair. This is a fundamental reaction to danger. Every species on earth follows this pattern for survival. It’s natural law. However, colonial borders and laws prevent the most vulnerable from accessing that inherent right of freedom. 

As Indigenous peoples, we have jurisdiction on who enters our territories. The Treaties gave settlers rights on Indigenous lands, and never once did we surrender our rights to self determination. It’s only assumed by the state that we are inferior and have no legal grip to enforce natural migrations based on agreements amongst tribes that are pre-settler disruption. 

Recently, my community of Nimkii Aazhibikoong welcomed migrants stuck at the border to come live in our village. We did this using our self determination and were in our full rights and responsibilities to do so. As part of our support, we launched a campaign called “One Land, One People.” This generated a small but dedicated group of individuals who believe in Indigenous people supporting other Indigenous people. It’s also rooted in prophecy that was birthed in what is now known as South America. 

The prophecy is of the Eagle and the Condor coming together as told by Nicolas Pauccar, 

Qeros Tribe, Puru. 

“Different cultures, and humanity generally, are always in search of the best narrative to live by. Within these different narratives or stories are prophecies that hold these stories together until the prophecy is fulfilled. When a prophecy is fulfilled, there is space for new stories to fulfill other prophecies. If a prophecy is supposed to be fulfilled, but the narrative has not yet fulfilled the prophecy, then these stories continue to repeat themselves. They almost start to create a vacuum where the same things happen over and over. This can construe the time and space in which a prophecy is supposed to be fulfilled. When this happens, the best thing to do is to intentionally conduct rituals and ceremonies to call for space so that the stories can shift and the prophecy may be realized. That way, humanity can follow the timeline it was destined to follow; which was called on by our ancestors. 

In essence, that is what is happening with the Prophecy of the Condor and the Eagle. The prophecy existed in both the North and the South and said that if the condor from the south reached the north and flew with the eagle, peace would come, and/or if the eagle reached the south and flew with the condor in the South, peace would also come. This is what we in the North and the South (whether we know it or not) have been trying to fulfill. 

When we look at the symbolism of both of these birds, the Condor, who represents the South, is seen as the Mother. Meanwhile, the Eagle, who represents the North, is seen as the father. Symbolically, it is the union of a mother and a father coming together to make “the new child” in a spiritual or meta-physical way. In a biological way, this prophecy is also seen as bringing together both sides of the brain; being able to use both sides together, in balance, so there can be a deeper awareness and understanding of everything around us. It is also seen as the relationship between our physical bodies and the natural elements; which surround us. We’re currently living a reality where the story has become that many of us have disconnected our relationship between our physical body and the elements around us. This prophecy signifies the reconnection of that relationship; which will then create a balance in reciprocity and a sense of reciprocity. 

When we migrate, we bring things. We bring our genetic energy, we bring information, we bring awareness…etc. Our role, as biological creatures, has been to pollinate; we are constantly pollinating. That is to say, bringing things from one place to another. 

Most important all, migration is happening because people are in search of a better story; a better narrative to live by. However, the story that has been repeating is not the life that was meant for us. The better story is the story that we are going to forge for ourselves when we choose to break that repetition and do something new; something different that is based on what has been taught or told from our ancestors and our old stories. “ 

In closing, I think that it is very special in this time and history to look beyond borders, beyond political factions, beyond racial divisions and look at the human being. We need to find the good in each other and raise each other up. When we decide to help our relatives, it’s far more powerful than being against colonial structures. There is great medicine in uniting. 

When the Forgotten Resist

black and white photo of a stack of letters onto of fanned out pile of mailing envelopes

by Mina Ramos

On September 17th 2013, 191 immigration detainees at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay ON collectively went on a hunger strike. At the time, it was one of the largest prisoner hunger strikes in Canadian history and the first time immigration detainees in Canada protested for their rights en masse. Since then, detainees incarcerated in Lindsay, ON have been fighting alongside former detainees and allies to put an end to immigration detention in Canada.

Background on Immigration Detention

At the very basics, immigration detention is a tactic used by the Canadian government to jail migrants. Many immigration laws have been changed in the last 5 years that it doesn’t matter if you are undocumented, a refugee claimant, permanent resident or citizen. As long as you weren’t born here, you can be subjected to immigration detention.

Here’s an overview of how people become immigration detainees in Canada:

  • They commit a crime in Canada. This can be any type of crime. It doesn’t matter how long they have lived here; their status can be taken away and they can be placed in immigration detention
  • They had some sort of visa and it expired. Maybe they were applying for permanent residency, maybe they were waiting for another visa to be processed. Doesn’t matter. If they are caught, they will be placed in immigration detention.
  • They show up at the airport to make a refugee claim, but the government thinks the claim is a fraud or that their papers or identity aren’t real/true. They will get arrested at the airport and be placed in immigration detention.

The government likes to call immigration detention, “administrative hold”. They say this because technically immigration detainees aren’t actually serving time for criminal offenses. Canada has just decided that they don’t deserve to live in Canada anymore and keeps people detained until they find somewhere to deport them to. Even if someone commits a crime with a prison sentence, they first serve the sentence for their crime and then get put under immigration detention. The problem is, “administrative hold” can mean anywhere from 2 days to 10 years and detainees never know if they are going to win their case and be given bail in Canada or deported back to a country where they: a) are in danger b) have not been to in years c) have never been to at all

Because detainees are technically not serving time, the government also gets away with never giving detainees an actual trial. They have something called a “detention review.” It happens once a month and is the only way a detainee can get out of detention. Instead of a judge, they have a randomly appointed member of the Immigration Review Board (ie. The people who helped to put them in jail in the first place) who meets with detainees over something similar to skype. The whole process is such a joke and the release rates are so low that in June of 2014 detainees in three different prisons including the Central East Correctional Centre boycotted their reviews for the month. To give a statistical view of release rates; in 2013, 7,000 people were held in immigration detention but only 711 or 9% were actually released. In fact, Canada is one of the only “western” countries in the world that doesn’t have a set limit on how long someone can be detained for. It is all based on the detention review process.

In the past eight years, over 100,000 people have been held in immigration detention. Hundreds of these detainees are children. In 2013, 205 children were detained in Canada’s immigration holding centres. Although there are 3 designated immigration holding centres (with a fourth being built in Toronto as we speak), almost a third of all immigration detainees are also held in maximum security prisons. Despite some of the obvious human rights issues with immigration detention, millions of dollars are invested in maintaining this system. Canada Borders Services Agency (CBSA) who play a huge role in detaining people has had their budget balloon from 91 million dollars in 2010 to 165 million dollars in 2014-2015.

To be clear, immigration detention does not affect immigrants coming to Canada equally. 90% of immigration detainees at any point in time are racialized and approximately 75%-80% of all detainees are black. It becomes quite apparent that race plays a huge role in terms of who is profiled and targeted for immigration detention and who isn’t.

Detainees Organizing from Inside the CECC

In August of 2013, the ministry of public safety decided to merge a bunch of detainees from different prisons across Southern Ontario into one unit at the CECC in Lindsay ON; a maximum security prison.

The detainees who had been moved were angry. The move had happened without warning and the majority of them were now hours away from their lawyers and family. Unlike many jails across Canada there was no rehabilitative programming and no opportunities for paid work. With the average prison wage rate of 3 dollars a day across Canada, prison work is nothing to boast about. To go from that to nothing however, was a shock. On top of this, the detainees were being subjected to inhumane living conditions. This included constant lockdowns (which basically means never being let out of the cell), rotten food and mould in the cells and showers.

It was under these circumstances that their hunger strike began in September 2013. The detainees in Lindsay ON were in a unique position. They had previously been scattered across Ontario and for the first time they were clumped together in a large group. They started to talk. They realized that immigration detention itself was extremely problematic. They began to question why they were being held in maximum security prisons when they didn’t have charges or why there was no limit to how long they were being detained. They noticed that because they were on immigration hold, they were not getting equal access to the bail program even if/when they had someone to bail them out. Within the first week of the hunger strike, immigration detainees re-focused and changed their demands drastically. They were now focused on 3 things:

  • 1 – End arbitrary and indefinite detention: Implement a 90 day maximum to detention. If removal (deportation) cannot happen within 90 days, immigration detainees must be released. This is recommended by the United Nations, and is the law in the United States and the European Union.
  • No maximum security holds: Immigration detainees should not be held in maximum security provincial jails.
  • Give immigration detainees fair and full access to legal aid, bail programs and pro bono representation.

Detainees connected with migrant justice organizers on the outside and a phone line (which continues to run to this day) was started to keep up active communication with detainees in Lindsay ON. The collective hunger strike officially ended in the beginning of October but detainees continued to organize. Over the last two and a half years they have drafted and snuck out collective statements and petitions against immigration detention, boycotted their detention reviews, held cell walkouts, had fasts, held meetings to negotiate with CBSA and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and done an exuberant amount of media. Despite all of this, nothing has been done to change any of the laws in respects to immigration detention.

Transformative Justice and Immigration Detention

I have worked on the phone line that connects to detainees since September 17th 2013 and have seen how remarkable their organizing has been. It is difficult to sustain organizing in a prison, let alone when you are also at threat of being deported. Despite this, the guys continuously take risks to speak out and come up with new ideas to fight for their freedom. They hold range meetings and educate new detainees when they are brought in about Canada’s immigration system and why immigration detention is unjust. Packages sent in by allies which contain a history of immigration detention, actions that have been taken to fight against it and media coverage on immigration issues are used to help educate new detainees about their situation.

Apart from the organizing aspect, the detainees look out for each other.  Many of them do not speak English and have a hard time advocating for themselves. Often, older detainees will work to try and connect non-English speaking detainees to those that can speak their language to help translate when they need to make phone calls and speak to their lawyers. Although the guys do fight, whenever someone is sent to segregation they call the phone line to check in to see if their friends have called from segregation and are okay. In 2015, when Abdurrahman Ibrahim Hassan died while locked up at the CECC, migrant justice organizers already knew what had happened before he was officially pronounced dead. This was because the guys worked together to know exactly what was going on when Hassan was originally taken out of his cell.

The phone line set up to maintain a connection with detainees and allies on the outside has played a huge role in laying down the foundations for a transformative movement. Although the line was started to hear and support the organizing being done by detainees, it has morphed to be much more than that. Overtime the line has helped to open up many different dialogues that might not have taken place otherwise. For example, in the beginning of their organizing, mental health was something that was rarely brought up by detainees. Through conversations on the line, mental health became a huge topic. As the guys felt less isolated, they opened up about mental health issues both on the line and with each other. In 2015, detainees collectively asked to be individually assessed by a psychotherapist to see how they have been mentally affected by immigration detention.

Although it still has a focus on organizing and bringing up things that come up in the jail, for some the line has also become a place to escape from immigration detention and talk about light hearted things. For others it has become a place to talk about systemic issues. A typical phone line day can look like getting into a debate over why detainees constantly state that they are not criminals and instead exploring the idea of prison abolition, to talking about dating and relationships and the first thing to order in terms of food once they get out of jail. As someone who is queer it has been such an indescribable experience coming out to detainees over time through the phone line and getting into all kinds of discussions around misogyny, patriarchy and homophobia. Since coming out as queer I have always had such a jaded view of cis straight men and at this point spend most of my Tuesdays getting into deep discussions with cis straight men that are deemed by the state as “inadmissible” to Canada but have more brilliance than the politicians who are demonizing them.

I will admit, the movement around immigration detention in Ontario has major fallbacks. Possibly the biggest shortcoming is the fact that at the moment there are very few black people involved in the movement who are not former detainees. This is not the fault of black organizers and community members but rather of migrant justice organizers who have historically failed to reach out and create genuine connections with different black communities or have straight up pushed out black folks from migrant justice organizations. The irony of working with mainly black folks in jail but having little to no black allies on the outside to connect to is too real. Over time, it has become a huge reality check for organizers working with detainees at the CECC to own up to the anti-black racism rooted in the migrant justice movement as it exists and begin to change dynamics that have led up to this. Although I write this article to demonstrate the transformative aspects of this movement, there is clearly a lot more work to be done.

Although many people remain locked up and too many have been deported, there are a few who have been successful in being released from immigration detention since 2013. Just last week, a group of former detainees and people running the phone line gathered for the first time as a group to hangout, eat food and strategize how to continue organizing with those on the inside. The guys exchanged news about different detainees still in jail, joked about sueing CBSA and gave each other advice on how to navigate getting ID’s, work permits, mental health resources…all kinds of things.  The feeling of people being together, some of us meeting each other in persyn for the first time is hard to explain in words. We couldn’t stop taking pictures joking about who would be the first one to post on Instagram. No one actively voiced what we were all feeling until after the hangout. The laws might not have changed but the fact that two and a half years later, the struggle to be free and the connection through the phone line has created deep bonds between the guys themselves and us on the line. Bonds that the system hasn’t been able to break despite their best efforts. That people are still so committed to fighting and through the fight have learnt so much about themselves, each other and the ways that we relate to each other as humans is beautiful. That this means we are winning. If that’s not transformative I’m not sure what is.

mina sitting on a the ground with her arms behind her and smiling

Mina Ramos is a queer mixed race Latina. She is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues that centre on migration and the movement of people. She also enjoys listening to all kinds of music and occasionally dabbles in making music on her own.