Protesters fill the streets of Villeray

Hundreds of demonstrators demand permanent residency for all immigrants

18-year-old Adler Chounan came to Canada from Haiti over 17 years ago and is now a citizen. He was at the protest to show his support. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk NEWSFIRST

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Villeray on Sunday to demand that the government grant permanent residency to hundreds of thousands of essential workers and people on precarious immigration statuses. 

The demonstration was organized by the United Refugee Council Canada and Solidarity Across Borders and demand the regularization of status for immigrants.

The event was attended by many people who are still unsure whether they will ever receive permanent residency status even though they have lived in Canada for several years and have worked hard for it. 

“We immensely feel that the front and the backline workers have the same amount of responsibility,” read a statement by Chetan Rajpurohit, one of the organizers of the march, on the role of immigrants in the fight against COVID-19. He added that they “must be regarded with the same dignity & equality.”

Need for an equitable approach

Walking north on Christophe-Colomb Ave. accompanied by loudspeakers and a percussion section, demonstrators marched on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s constituency office on Crémazie. The group then made its way back to Villeray Park where it gathered for speeches and statements.

This comes after the federal government announced a program to regularize approximately 90,000 essential workers, especially those in the healthcare system. But the program is not open to Québec residents as the province has a separate immigration system.

The plan has also attracted criticism as it leaves out refugee claimants and those without status, as well as many who are not deemed essential workers, like those working in supporting services such as food delivery or industry. 

Many want an equitable approach that will help all migrants achieve permanent residency, regardless of status or employment. “The rights of equality should be given to every immigrant,” said Rajpurohit. 

Visa expiry in two months

One of the protestors that day was Park Extension resident Mansim Ranjeet, who is currently on a student visa and studying early childhood education at Ahuntsic College. 

He came here from India in 2018 and still doesn’t know whether he will ever get permanent residency status.

“After two months it will expire,” said Ranjeet of his student visa, worrying him about whether he will be able to stay in Canada. He added that participating in a protest like this one could help bring visibility to their cause.

“It can help because from the media they can see us, that we want PR and they can come to know,” Ranjeet added. 

“The rights of equality should be given to every immigrant,”

Desire to contribute

Another person who was calling for more to be done to aid those with precarious status was 18-year-old Adler Chounan, an immigrant himself. He came to Canada from Haiti over 17 years ago and is now a citizen.

“I was lucky to grow up here and get my papers very early, but I find it sad that I have friends that still don’t have them, and I’ve known them since elementary school,” protested Chounan.

“I find it unfortunate that immigrants who come here for better living conditions and who work hard on minimum wage still can’t get their papers after many years,” deplored Chounan, saying that immigrants wanted to contribute to Canadian society.

“I would like the Trudeau and Legault government to see that we are here to help,” he said, adding that “everyone deserves to be equal.”

Demonstrators marched on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s constituency office on Crémazie. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk NEWSFIRST

Will of the people

Borough mayor Giuliana Fumagalli and MNA for Laurier-Dorion Andrés Fontecilla were also present at the rally. 

“All Montrealers are for the regularization,” said mayor Fumagalli, adding that “status for all is a must.” 

In February, Fumagalli brought forward a motion at the city council asking both the provincial and federal governments to regularize the status of all immigrants. The motion was adopted unanimously. 

“It is telling that we are here next to our Prime Minister’s office, reiterating what all municipal councillors voted for. Status for all, solidarity,” she stated to the crowd.  

Invisible people

That sentiment was also echoed by local MNA for Québec Solidaire Andrés Fontecilla, who gave a speech in Villeray Park. 

“There are two distinct classes who have access to all the rights and those with precarious or no status who live without the protections of the state, two classes of people,” stated Fontecilla of the current immigration system.

“They live in anxiety that they may have to leave Quebec even if they are an integral part of this society,” added Fontecilla, further demanding that both the provincial and federal governments broaden their immigration statutes.

“Immigrant workers have been on the front lines for the past year and they deserve recognition,” said Fontecilla adding that “for too long immigrant workers have been invisible.”

Protestors were demanding that both the provincial and federal governments do more to regularize immigrants with precarious status.  Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk NEWSFIRST