Archive | August, 2013

International students and the Canadian state

12 Aug

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 12.08.12 PMWhen I was first involved in the student movement, one of the great victories that we had won was the right for international students to work off campus.

Prior to June 2005, international students were limited to only being allowed to work on campus.

On campus jobs are highly competitive. Most will work around academic schedules, they’re usually better paid jobs than off campus and they also tend to be more interesting. Domestic students would apply for these jobs too, making it possible that international students would find themselves out of luck for work, just because the demand on these jobs was so high.

The federal government created a task force to examine the possibility of allowing international students to work off campus and started by piloting a project in several major cities across Canada. It wasn’t long before a new off campus work permit was created and international students could seek work off campus.

The entire question of “being allowed to” work is absurd. International students come to Canada to study and are treated like oases of money: in the desert of Canadian students scraping by and funding their futures on debt, international students arrive on campus, keen and ready to learn. Sure, the great lengths they take to get there tend to be invisible to Canadians, but it doesn’t matter. They’re willing to pay three to four times the amount of money that a Canadian student wants to pay. And, without citizenship, they’ll behave. No one wants to be deported for protesting high tuition fees.

Let’s ignore the human side of this (you know, the side of where they’re far from home, many are away from spouses and kids, how none of this is just etc.). Speaking purely about money, international students have to contend not just with outrageously high tuition fees, but they also have two other threats: the fact that, at most schools, tuition fees are deregulated and that they can increase from year to year at any amount, making multi-year budgeting impossible. And two: with currency fluctuations, the worth of a foreign currency against the Canadian dollar can change from year to year. Oh, your home currency’s worth plummeted this past year? Factor that into your tuition fee costs and it becomes even more expensive.

Considering these pressures, there is no question of being “allowed” to work. International students are forced to work. The vast majority depend on their Canadian jobs to find the money to, you know, eat and pay rent.

This reality is what makes the plight of two University of Regina students so sick.

Despite promises to harmonize the system in the next year, the federal government has not yet merged the on-campus visa with the off-campus visa. Students holding one must find work where their visa allows them to work. So, if you find a shit job at Wal-Mart, for example, but the government says that your job must be on campus (and there aren’t any Wal-Marts on campus, yet!), you could get in trouble. Your employer would likely fire you, if they read the visa and realized that it applied only to on campus jobs. You might be fined.

Or, for Victoria Ordu and Favour Amadi, you face deportation.

For working a few weeks at Wal-Mart, before quitting once they realized their mistake, they risk losing three years of their university education, three years of international tuition fees, three years of being away from home. And the federal government thinks that they deserve such a harsh punishment.

In an era where Canada relies on non-Canadian workers to drive its economy through the temporary foreign worker program, and where that program has been widely abused by huge corporations, Victoria and Favour’s deportation order is clearly an attack on two women who simply don’t have access to power. Ignore Wal-Mart’s responsibility too; they clearly didn’t bother to check their visas, which they’re required to do. It’s the women’s faults.

The University of Regina has opposed the deportation order. So have the provincial SaskParty and the NDP. The support for deportation comes from the hypocritical, draconian and punitive federal government. Ministers have refused to intervene, which they have the right to, and Victoria and Favour have been living in sanctuary for more than a year.

The federal government has created an impossible position for these students: entice them to Canada to study, allow for universities to exploit them through their excess fees and restrict where and for how long they can work (work permits prohibit students from working more than 10 hours a week). After stealing so much from them, they’re then told to get out.

And all the two students want is a degree that says “University of Regina” before they return to Nigeria.

Up until recently, Jason Kenney was the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Despite the cabinet shuffle, it was under his watch that Victoria and Favour have endured the majority of their ordeal. Despite being generally vile, Jason Kenney’s refusal to step in on this case is particularly nauseating.

Kenney was himself an international student, at San Francisco’s Catholic University. After abortion rights activists fought and won the right to freely express themselves on campus, Kenney helped to lead a petition drive demanding that the word “Catholic” be dropped from the institution’s name. If the petition failed to convince the archbishop, Kenney and his band of zealots had planned to go directly to the Vatican because, why not? While a student there, he likened allowing pro-choice activists to allowing the KKK to operate on campus.

I suspect that Kenney wasn’t deported for his views. While probably despised by a sizable chunk of his classmates, he was likely allowed to continue with his activism and finish his studies, all while being in that precarious world of being an international student. And then, as Minister and despite having been given the freedom to carry out his anti-woman campaign while he was a student, he showed no sympathy for Victoria and Favour’s ordeal, instead condemning them to deportation and a multi-year jail term in various church basements.

Pretty Catholic of the guy.

Borders that have been put up in Canada and around the world are senseless, meant only to control people so that power remains in tact. International students should have all the rights and freedoms afforded to them that the Charter gives to all Canadians. While you’re living here, you should not be subject to the unjust oppression of the Canadian state.

Victoria and Favour have done no wrong. For an infraction not even as dangerous than speeding, they’re facing the ultimate punishment and there’s no, rational way to justify it.

For more information about the campaign to stop Favour and Victoria’s deportations, visit http://stopurdeportations.com/

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Ontario NDP given chance to pull the Liberals left

2 Aug
Peggy Sattler with Andrea Horwath during the August Ontario byelection

Peggy Sattler, middle, won in London during the August 1 Ontario byelection

Voters delivered a clear message: out with the Liberals, down with the PCs.

The NDP won two of the five liberal ridings up for grabs in this byelection. The new MPPs are successful politicians in their own rights: Percy Hatfield was a city councilor in Windsor and Peggy Sattler was a school trustee. Both were running in ridings where the former representatives, Dwight Duncan and Chris Bentley, wore most of the controversy of the $500 million waste in the gas plant scandal. 

The Liberals barely held onto Dalton McGuinty’s former riding and Mitzie Hunter took over for Margarett Best, a cabinet minister whose profile was never very high.

The PCs only won Etobicoke-Lakeshore in a race that had more to do with Toronto politics than Ontario politics, where two sitting councilors raced against each other. Former Etobicoke mayor and Rob Ford insider Doug Holyday is their new MPP.

Before any party claims victory, a sober analysis of the political scene is critical: were people voting for, or against something?

There’s no question: the PCs and the Liberals, if not tied to be this byelection’s loser, were neck in neck for that laurel. The PCs might just take it as byelections tend to be the opportunity to show the ruling party a lesson. In the next general election, these votes might swing right back to the Liberals. Many have wondered publicly what this will mean for Tim Hudak’s future. I agree that his days as leader are numbered.

This bring me back to my first point: the Ontario NDP might regret these results.

That’s my pessimistic way of saying this: the NDP has won its greatest opportunity since they held government to influence government. Are they up to the challenge?

Assuming that government holds long enough to even consider a budget, the pressure on the NDP to deliver a budget with the Liberals that reflects some progressive values will be their greatest test in nearly 20 years. The Liberals will need NDP support. The New Democrats cannot rely on weak, populist policies if they’re going to prove that they’re a viable alternative. They’ll have to demonstrate that they can play politics: make serious demands or force a general election.

Will party insiders see this reality? Or will they actually believe that folks in London and Windsor voted NDP because they think Andrea Horwath should be premier?

The victories for the NDP in this campaign are not insignificant. Sattler and Hatfield will be important additions to Queen’s Park.

But the losses for the NDP are more significant than this byelection’s gains. The absurd powerplay of Adam Giambrone to become the candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood called into question both the party’s internal democracy and moral decency. It was a bigger error than Sattler’s win was a victory. Miscalculating Giambrone’s transit strategy and siding with a Rob Ford-esque subway promise was a bigger error than Hatfield’s win was a victory.

They’re bigger errors because they seem to have been orchestrated by the party’s central command. Where Sattler and Hatfield won mostly on their reputations followed by the banner of the NDP, Giambrone seemed to be steered by the back room of the party. Or, at least that’s what it looked like from the outside.

When budget negotiations come around, who will be the strategists? The folks who organized Giambrone’s campaign or Sattler’s campaign?

If the NDP picks their big issues now (public childcare? lower tuition fees? new energy policies?), pulling a Liberal budget to the left won’t be politically difficult.

Staying on their current track: figuring out the easiest policies to implement and allowing populism to drive them, will result in the a PC victory during the next election, if that party jettisons Hudak.

There are many, many months for the NDP to clean itself up internally and find the best political minds and organizers they can mine from the left. With an activist Ontario Federation of Labour, this shouldn’t be a hard task.

They have no other choice: they have to finally put their progressive rhetoric into action or left-wing Ontarians should walk away and start something new.

Whether or not “the party” sees this is an entirely different question that I’ll no doubt get to write about in a few months.

Photo from http://www.peggysattler.ca