To commemorate Labour Day 2019, more than 50 people came together in protest at Hastings Racecourse, where an attack on migrant workers at the hands of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) took place just a week and a half earlier. In the early morning of August 19th, a militarized, gun-wielding crew of two dozen CBSA agents led to the detention of approximately 26 people and at least seven deportations.
This raid is a clear example of anti-migrant violence on occupied and unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territory. Rally speakers explained that many of the workers believed they had the proper authorization to work. A Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch employee allegedly charged them for documents that they did not realize were fake.
Bryon Cruz from Sanctuary Health contextualized the impact that the militarized raid has had on the broader migrant worker community. “Today, we are sad and angry. As migrant workers we are excluded from many things. There is nothing to celebrate here today,” he said. “The Canadian government has made claims that they are protecting migrant workers but have only taken advantage of them and then conducted this raid.”
Chris Sorio from Migrante BC demanded that the provincial government declare BC a sanctuary province. He emphasized that this act of racialized violence brings shame to the BC NDP, who have made toothless promises to protect migrant workers in the past.
A sex worker and labour organizer, Hailey Heartless, argued that if we are fighting for sex workers rights we must also fight for migrant sex workers’ rights. She spoke about Operation Northern spotlight, an RCMP and CBSA operation which targets migrant sex workers through covert deportation raids.
This CBSA raid on migrant workers is not a new development in Canadian history—it is a continuation of Canada’s long history of state violence towards racialized migrants. A speaker from Kiwassa neighbourhood house highlighted these patterns and connections, pointing out to the crowd that Hastings Park was a site where Japanese Canadians were held in internment camps beginning in early 1942 after Canada declared war on Japan. Over 8,000 people of Japanese ancestry were detained at Hastings Racecourse before being involuntarily dispersed to work camps across the country—forcefully removed from their homes and communities, and held indefinitely in dehumanizing and unsanitary conditions.
Amidst chants of “permanent residence for all!” and “stop the deportations!”, protestors demanded that the federal government allow those deported to re-enter Canada, and provide work permits and permanent resident status for all migrant workers upon arrival. Speakers situated these demands within a broader fight against capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. The timing of the rally against CBSA raids and deportations on Labour Day sets the interests and struggles of migrant workers alongside the broader working class in Canada.