When the Canadian Border Safety Agency officers heard that they would be going undercover, their excitement was roused. “Oh boy!” they probably thought, “CBSA officers almost never get to go undercover. I wonder what we’ll be doing? Maybe busting an underground illegal immigrant railway. How thrilling!” This buzz was soon quelled when they discovered they were going to be undercover as vehicle inspectors, stopping cars in a mainly Hispanic area of Toronto, to sweep up all the illegal immigrants they assumed live there. Of course they ended up with the least exciting and most passively racist activity there is. This same disappointment was felt by 21 undocumented workers who thought they were getting pulled over for a routine vehicle inspection, but instead soon found themselves under arrest and in handcuffs.
Canada Border Services Agency, the OPP, and the transportation and environment ministries began a raid in the morning on Thursday, August 14th in the Jane and Finch area of Toronto. While most of the arrests were the outcome of mock-vehicle inspections, others claim they were arrested while in parking lots as they got coffee on their way to work. The CBSA described the incident as a “commercial vehicle safety blitz.” While that is a really bad-ass operation name, it isn’t cool enough to mask the targeted racial profiling it is allusive of. Syed Hussan, a representative of the migrant activist group No One is Illegal, said, “It’s a sweep, it’s racial profiling stopping cars in Jane and Finch under the guise of a traffic stop then coercing everyone to hand over their IDs, then detaining them.”
Geraldine Ortiz said her 27-year-old brother-in-law from Mexico, who is currently in the process of making a citizenship claim, was among those stopped on Thursday. “They didn’t ID themselves as police or CBSA, they just told them to pull over and produce ID,” Ortiz said. Her brother-in-law has married a Canadian woman and is working as a contracted painter.
Look, what we have here is a classic case of probable cause violation. And, yes, I did imagine myself grabbing hold of my suspenders and pacing across the court room like an old timey southern lawyer as I wrote that. Probable cause is one of the fundamental roots of our democracy. It is what stops police officers from picking you off the street for whatever reason they want, or from searching my house for the kilo of cocaine I have hidden. Now, despite how unusual it sounds, it is not unusual for border agents to coordinate sweeps with the OPP. In 2006, similar raids were conducted in the Dufferin Mall area where many undocumented migrants from the Portuguese and Latin American communities were arrested and later deported. Now, we could continue to deflect immigrants with the same democracy they sought refuge in, or we could amend and reform our immigration laws to help better incorporate these people into Canadian society. Toronto is the world’s most multicultural city, something that is part of my Canadian identity, and something in which I take pride.
While this controversy has been brought to attention due to its subtle racist implications, there are those who like to skip the romance entirely and get straight to the sweaty stuff. Early this week, outright anti-immigration flyers surfaced at York University. The flyer is titled “The Changing Demography of York University,” and says that, if “mass third world immigration continues, Canadians will be reduced to a persecuted minority, not only at York, but in their own country!! It doesn’t have to be this way!!” The page includes the York University logo, and displays two photos of York sports teams: one is black and white and shows white men only, while the second, more recent picture shows students of various ethnicities. However, Immigration Watch, a group behind the distribution of very similar flyers in April, denies their involvement in this recent distribution.
All in all, It’s been a tough few days for Toronto’s immigrants. Suffice to say, they deserve a break, an opportunity to kick back, relax, and enjoy the quintessence of the Canadian culture they’ve come here to enjoy. Maybe dine in one of the many paradigmatic Canadian restaurants Toronto offers, from the latino taqueria of Kensington, to pho sanctuaries of Saigon in Chinatown, to the tandoori ovens of Little India. It’s just a shame they’ll have to bring their papers with them.