As Canada 150 draws nearer, those committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty and dislodging the power of colonialism are faced with the task of dispelling the myth of Canada as a benevolent nation. While the expanding grip of neoliberalism has given rise to a reactionary global right-wing populism, the violence of supposedly “progressive” liberal settler-colonial states has fallen through the cracks of popular analysis and comprehension.
Part of the history of the last five centuries on these territories is the story of Europeans displacing Indigenous peoples for economic gain. It is this history that Glen Coulthard, in his new book, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, calls the “violent transformation of noncapitalist forms of life into capitalist ones.” This form of primitive accumulation, through violent dispossession, has since given way to quieter, less visible, structures of constant displacement. In the pointed words of Patrick Wolfe, cited by Coulthard, “settler colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event.”
On May 31st, 2014, another Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) was sold to an undisclosed private investor for $989,000.00. The St. Ehlmo hotel is located in the East Hastings Corridor at 425 Campbell St. It is a 3-story building with 18 single occupancy rooms which cost approximately $400 per month. For that money, the residents have the “luxury” of sharing two toilets and one shower per floor. The listing for St. Ehlmo hotel on the Colliers International website claims the appeal of the St. Ehlmo hotel is that it “represents a fantastic opportunity to add value and capitalize on the power of revitalization.”
The decrease in permanent immigration and simultaneous explosion of the number of migrant workers is not, as some might contend, a reflection of a ‘broken’ immigration system. The temporary foreign worker program is a system of managed migration perfected to ensure the steady supply of cheap labour within neoliberalism while further entrenching racialized citizenship. What happens to migrant workers should matter to all of us because dispossession, labour flexibility, and hierarchical social relations are central to how capitalism and colonialism marginalize various communities.
AUTHOR’S NOTE | This article emerges from 5 years of working as a community organizer for the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). Thank you to the VANDU Board for allowing me to lean on their community organizing work and to collaborate in developing an analysis of the ‘mass incarceration agenda.’ And thank you to all the VANDU members who shared their experiences, challenged my ignorance and encouraged me to contribute this analysis to the struggle against the drug war and the war on the poor.
The last decade in Canada has seen the strengthening of the instruments of repression of the Canadian State such that we can now begin to describe and analyse the neoliberal containment state as a specific set of policies and institutions. These policies and institutions are aimed at containing the growing social ‘disorder’ and emerging resistance that have resulted from 30 years of the neoliberal economic order.
One of the experiences that propelled me into the migrant justice movement occurred thirteen years ago when Bilquis Fatima, a 64-year Pakistani refugee in a wheelchair, was reported to immigration officials during her dialysis treatment at the hospital. She was incarcerated with her son Imran, a minor, for over a month while awaiting deportation.
The very real experiences of thousands of migrants like Bilquis who are afraid of accessing healthcare, who are unable to enroll their children in school, who are denied access to food banks, who are ineligible for a range of social assistance benefits, who are detained by local police forces and turned over to immigration enforcement has underscored the critical and urgent need for Sanctuary City movements.
Calling for a moratorium on migrant workers first, and then paying partial lipservice to some permanent immigration system is a de facto call for mass exclusion of people of colour. If we truly believed in equal access for people irrespective of their racialization and impoverishment, we would first ensure full immigration status for all before shutting down the program that gives a toehold to some.