undoing border imperialismLast Monday, Jan. 20, many people came out despite the cold to hear the Community Race Relations Committee’s event “Undoing Border Imperialism, Reclaiming Citizenship,” featuring Deepan Budlakoti, Harshia Walia, and Vanessa Gray on acts of environmental and cultural violence committed by the Canadian government, and Ayendri Perrera on creating a space for catalysing local activism for detainees.

Budlakoti is an Ottawa-born activist who was stripped of his citizenship in 2010. He was to be deported to India, where he has never lived, but, due to India not recognizing his citizenship either, he is now a stateless person pitted in a battle against the Conservative government for his right to citizenship.

“I’m born in Canada. I have an Ontario birth certificate. I have lived in Ottawa all my life,” Budlakoti began, explaining he was charged with the transfer of a firearm, and during his incarceration, got into an altercation with one of the guards who sent him to solitary confinement. He stayed in the hole for 30 days.

While there, a guard asked him if he was a citizen, and then, when shown documentation, took away his passport and contacted the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), which was beyond that guard’s jurisdiction to do.

Deepan Budlakoti was then sent to Toronto West Detention Centre, interesting because many Toronto residents are sent to Lindsay.

“They want to distance you from lawyers, support. They want to isolate you,” he explained, further remarking, “I want to point out that it’s not a Holiday Inn. [The guards] will attack you. There are blind spots in all different institutions.”

In these “blind spots,” without CCTV, individuals are often beaten by guards. In one instance, Budlakoti was “choked out and dragged to the hole.” In these situations, victims are discriminated against so a search for reparations would be basically fruitless. “Who are they gonna believe? The five guards watching this? Or the detainee?”

Elaborating on the conditions he endured in detainment, he said, “You’re in a cell that’s six-by-12. You may be locked down for three days, you may be locked down for three months, and you’re only allowed out of solitary for ten minutes to take a shower.”

Budlakoti also stated that guards might use pepper spray against inmates and then throw them in solitary. “Imagine your skin feeling like it’s burning. You’d be like this for days on days before they’ll let you take a shower.”

Budlakoti endured detention revues seven times before release. “A lot of my evidence was thrown out. The adjudicator didn’t want to decide on it, so dismissed a lot of my evidence,” Budlakoti commented. “I had no status whatsoever – just deportable.” He was denied based on the belief that he was an Indian national.

Many of the situations he faced were under direct violation of international law, “but no one’s challenging them.”

If Canada wins, Budlakoti asked what it would mean for the government to deport a Canadian citizen, what precedent this would open up. “I think the Conservative government is testing the waters [with me]. They’re pushing it to see how far it’ll go.”

Even with the release from the detention centre, Budlakoti is on a nine to five curfew and is unable to work. He was also released to his parents’ home, a place he hasn’t lived in since he was 12 years old. “It’s a situation I don’t feel comfortable in in the first place. But the situation is better than the detention centre. You take your chances,” he commented.

Budlakoti now has no health care, and has to undergo processes to gain or regain a work permit, social insurance number, and driver’s license, and, in one year, he will have to go in front of the same judge to plead his case again. Of course, all of these applications and procedures cost money which Budlakoti will end up paying year after year. “Canada has violated international law on several charters they have signed. Their tactic is… for me to give up,” he remarked.

Budlakoti encourages individuals to write to ministers and their local MPs. You can also sign a petition to support Budlakoti online at www.justicefordeepan.org.

The next speaker was Harsha Walia, whose new book Undoing Border Imperialism combines academic discourse, lived experiences of displacement, and movement-based practices. By reformulating immigrant rights movements within a transnational analysis of capitalism, labour exploitation, settler colonialism, state building, and racialized empire, it provides the alternative conceptual frameworks of border imperialism and decolonization.

“This book is rooted in movement,” explained Walia. “There is no liberation in isolation.”

Walia has a long history of confronting oppressive states, with her grandfather involved in the independence movement against the British Raj in India, where “he witnessed horrific levels of violence, including sexual violence.” Her father also underwent living in migrant labour camps while she herself spent almost nine years in precarious conditions of incarceration.

Walia talked about the Canadian paradox of “constructing individuals as illegal, while [themselves] illegally occupying indigenous land,” and the misguided, Canadian-centric discussion of “what will immigrants do for us?” instead of “what are the global forces of capitalism, colonialism, and oppression that are causing displacement?”

“When we don’t back down is when we win,” said Walia, citing her own experience of having been incarcerated six times in the year she finally won her case, when she was most certain she wouldn’t be able to.

The conservative estimate from the United Nations is that there are one billion migrants, 40 percent of whom are under 18. Walia stated that the fastest growing demographic of migrants is climate refugees, which Canada doesn’t recognize as a category under Stephen Harper, understandable considering he does not recognize that climate change exists either.

With the strong industry of resource extraction (tar sands, fracking), and 75 percent of the world mining headquarters being in Canada, the government does not want to recognize either the environmental injustices they commit or the climate refugees that result from it, explained Walia.

She gave a variety of examples of abuse of migrants, such as Filipino individuals, 10 percent of whom are forced to work overseas.

“One million people are leaving the Philippines every single year,” said Walia, also pointing out that many are specifically women who go into the Living Caregiver Program (LCP).

The LCP is a temporary foreign work program where women are often forced to live with their employer. Seventy percent of women working in the LCP report sexual assault. They are also paid less than minimum wage and work hours on end, while not legally allowed to leave the program lest they risk incarceration and detainment.

“If they reject being abused by their employer, they’ll be detained,” explained Walia.

This privatized pool of domestic labour allows the government to get away without early childhood care programs.

“The opposition to the migrant workers program is the idea that migrant workers are stealing jobs, instead of the problems within it. Under Harper’s prison plan, it’s estimated that the major demographic is migrant detainees,” Walia commented. There are also plans to make detention mandatory for asylum seekers.

“The Canadian state is racist, the Canadian state is exclusionary,” said Walia, citing the uproar around Tamil detainees, with the media feeding people ideas that these were terrorists trying to sneak into Canada. “Four hundred-ninety-two people on a massive boat are not sneaking in, yet people buy into this.”

Walia explained that “entrenched behaviours in society lead to increased consent from people,” also citing the example of the occupation of Afghanistan where white people were under the impression that they were liberating brown women from brown men.

“How can you liberate people at the barrel of a gun?” she commented, and continued, “We’re all implicated by capitalism and colonialism. Migrants are not simply worthy based on capital or labour.”

Walia is a big proponent of No One Is Illegal, a group she stated is “rooted in analysis of root causes.”

“We operate under a system of global apartheid, where bodies are gendered in specific ways and are bearing the brunt of violence,” Walia said.

But she also had words of encouragement, stating, “It’s very possible to win and fight a seemingly uphill battle … These resistances are happening every day.”