Ukrainian Montrealers host evening for one-year anniversary of refugees’ arrival

The event was also hosted in celebration of Easter and those who helped the refugees come to Montreal.

On Good Friday, church Église Espoir in Longueuil, a place of community and faith, opened its doors in celebration of Ukrainian refugees and the families who aided them. 

Last year, efforts by Ukrainian Montrealers, the Shapovalov family, culminated in the safe arrival of eight families, comprised mostly of their relatives.

From posting flyers to taking to social media, the Shapovalovs’ spent their time raising awareness for the family members they hoped to see safe.

They also organized a GoFundMe, which their youngest daughter, Iana Shapovalova, helped set up. The funds currently accumulated stand at over $40,000. 

A year has passed and the Shapovalovs’ endeavors yielded more than they had expected. With help from both members of their church and beyond, including refugee processes by the Canadian government, all eight families made their way to Quebec by May of last year. 

“I still have strong feelings about the people who are still there,” said Iurii Semikin, refugee and relative of the Shapovalovs’. “Especially for the children, I think it hits them harder than [adults].”

Iurii Semikin on stage presenting pictures taken from his time in Ukraine to the attending crowd at chruch Église Espoir in Longueuil on April 7th 2023/ Photo courtesy of Antoine Rabeau Daudelin

The event was coordinated by the Shapovalov family and included testimonies from refugees, Semikin included. The testimonies detailed the trials of living in the east of Ukraine, days shortly after Russia’s invasion. 

The celebration included performances of Ukrainian songs, sung by younger members of the extended family, as well as other celebrations of Ukrainian heritage. This included a quiz on general knowledge of Ukraine where attendees could participate on the website Kahoot! independently. The evening’s festivities concluded with a musical performance by the attending family members. 

Semikin, a father of three, was one of the first to arrive in Montreal along with his family. He had the Shapovalovs’ to thank for helping with the process of moving.

From the start of the invasion, developments occurred hour by hour, according to Semikin. As borders closed, Semikin had to ensure the safety of his family. Living in Mariupol, his brothers and uncles were hit the hardest, losing houses overnight and forced to cook over a campfire. 

Before the process of emigrating to Montreal was complete, Semikin would drive around his impacted city with his brothers in a van lending aid to those in need. 

Following the ease of travel processes thanks to the Canadian government’s Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, Semikin would finally meet with the Shapovalovs in the safety of Montreal.

“Speaking from the perspective of being in Quebec, despite my gratefulness I find that it has its faults to gain citizenship,” Semikin said.

Semikin is an electrical engineer by trade and currently works for the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM). Although paying rent for housing and already working a job in his field, he said adjusting to life in Montreal has been challenging. 

Within six months, immigrants must learn conversational French, and can only be considered permanent residents after living in Canada for two years. 

To obtain permanent residence, Semikin was required to fulfill certain criteria beforehand. This included being trained in certain professions according to the National Occupational Classification (NOC).

Despite his struggles, he was grateful for the families that aided in funding his safe arrival, and to a country that gave him the opportunity to live a normal life again. 

“It happens, it’s hard times now, but we must have faith and find strength in that,” Semikin said. 

“We felt a duty, in a sense, to get them to safety,” said Ilya Shapovalov, the eldest Shapovalov  son and software engineering student at McMaster University. “After we felt like these families, my family, have often been heard of by those who helped, but we felt it right to present them and to thank them publicly, because it’s very touching.” 

Shapovalov said days leading up to the invasion in February of last year were filled with anxiety. His family had already contacted their relatives in Mariupol, trying to convince them to consider leaving the area. 

As the first sirens of war rang across the country, Shapovalov said his family’s efforts to aid their relatives were put to action, prompting the aforementioned posts on social media and the GoFundMe page. 

“The government of Canada did a lot to help Ukraine, but you know, there are also people here who helped locally,” Shapovalov said. 

Aid for refugees came from more than simple payments. Some provided a roof over the heads of newly-arrived Ukrainians. 

“It was like a long journey for them, and they were just exhausted. They were just happy to see a bed,” said Robert Kulka, a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur who, along with this wife, offered to provide temporary housing to a family of refugees. “Now they don’t have to worry about where they’re going to go next, you know?”

Kulka learned of the Shapovalovs’ efforts last year from matriarch Olena Shapovalova. She had set up a poster at her place of business, a butcher’s shop in Greenfield Park, Longueuil, hoping to gain attention from potential donors. 

According to Kulka, what would have been a lengthy process was shortened thanks to the temporary emergency residency offered by the government. 

The family Kulka took in needed time to process the memories of their previous home, with a journey riddled with overlays. 

“I think it’s hard for me to dissect between what is usually adjustment and trauma,” Kulka commented. “There’s the little one, say yesterday, if there was an airplane flying low over our house, she would duck.” 

Nonetheless, Kulka said his new residents are adjusting to average life in Montreal fairly decently. He and his wife helped register the children in school and assisted their parents in finding work. 

Kulka mentioned the family’s integration into regular Montreal life was something he thought they needed after their long journey. 

“If you hang in limbo and don’t do things, you don’t have anything to do, you start to despair,” Kulka said. “And their bond within the family? It’s very strong.” 

Hanna Pliushchakova, a mother of five children, planned to leave Ukraine after developments on the eastern front in 2014. 

Seeking asylum in Spain, her family’s application for citizenship was denied. Forced to return to Mariupol, conflict was always in the background, an aspect of their lives that would only worsen as Russia’s invasion fully commenced. 

“Every day, we could hear explosions because our home was so close to the edge of the city,” Pliushchakova said. “We decided to move somewhere again, because it was hard finding a place in Ukraine, so we decided to look for a home somewhere else.”

Olena Shpovalova, sister to Pliushchakova, alerted her of the possibility of going to Canada, which would be funded by the Shapovalovs. 

Pliushchakova said the government was fast to react to her family’s needs in receiving status as refugees, which helped in easing their built-up stress. 

However, Pliushchakova’s family was taken in by Montreal residents, similar to Kulka. She mentioned that she was thankful for the event hosted by the Shapovalovs, as she got the chance to meet many of the people who helped face-to-face, including donors, church members, and other people who took families in. 

The evening was capped off by traditional Ukrainian dishes served and prepared by various members of the church, including the Shapovalovs and their extended family.


Advocate organizations gathered in support of the regularization of immigrants without status

While the federal government is working on a regularization program for immigrants with precarious status, immigrant advocacy groups demand that they be inclusive of all people in Quebec

Immigrant advocacy groups gathered at Peace Park on Sunday Nov. 6 for a protest demanding that the new federal regularization plan be fully inclusive of all immigrants without status. The program that the federal government is currently working on would allow non-status workers to become permanent residents. 

Advocates for the rights of people with precarious status are skeptical whether or not this program would be sufficient. On Nov. 9, various Quebec-based organizations dedicated to supporting migrants gathered in front of the office of Christine Fréchette, the Minister of Immigration, Frenchisation and Integration to demand the plan be expanded to include all undocumented immigrants.

“The program that we heard about is being built for migrants with precarious status and is going to be a regularization plan,” said Aboubacar Kane, a member of the advocacy group Solidarity Across Borders. “So us being actors and living the situation and being faced with the reality, we just wanted to prevent it from being a selective program but for it to be an open program to all migrants so everyone has access to it.”

During the demonstration, advocates denounced the living and working conditions of people without status in Quebec. Until undocumented immigrants are regularized, it will be impossible for them to access fundamental rights and services. 

Carlos Rojas-Salazar, Director Operations and International Affairs for the Association for the Rights of Household and Farm Workers (RHFW), explained that immigrant workers who are overrepresented in the agricultural field in Quebec possess fewer legal rights than Canadian workers despite facing harsher working conditions. 

“Without them, the whole agricultural industry would be nothing,” said Rojas-Salazar. “When people come here, they find themselves living in crowded rooms, we have seen beds stacked on four levels, with minimal maintenance and that’s just terrible.” 

Rojas-Salazar explained that the inadequate working conditions of undocumented workers was brought to the RHFW’s attention, including amid the pandemic when workers got sick at a much higher rate when compared to the rest of the population. The RHFW has found that, because of the labour and a lack of services, immigrant workers are at greater risk of developing chronic health problems.

“What we’re doing is we’re importing healthy people and we are sending back to their countries people with dramatic conditions, with chronic diseases, people at 45 years old that have the back of an 80-years-old,” explained Rojas-Salazar. “This is the case for men, which in Quebec account for 90 per cent of the workers and for women it’s even worse.”

According to Rojas-Salazar, immigrant workers are also more at risk of being exploited compared to their Canadian counterparts since they have no legal recourse and might fear being deported or detained if they speak up. “Why should Canadians care about this? Because when you have people who are being paid less, who don’t have rights, you open the doors to crime, to abuse, people don’t have the right to go complain because they are afraid, they’re afraid of losing opportunities so they shut up,” he said. 

Kane added that in making its proposal for the program, the federal government should be careful not to think solely in terms of immigrant workers but also include those who cannot work. 

“The government is always speaking of the workers, the people that can contribute but they forget that there are elders, children inside of it too — people that cannot necessarily work that need to be included too,” said Kane. 

He believes that a fully open regularization plan would allow immigrants without status not only to have access to the fundamental rights and services that permanent residents and Canadians are entitled to, but also to feel overall more included in the society.

“It is a solution because it’s going to allow access to healthcare, to coverage, to services that people don’t have,” Kane said. “The psychological state of the people is also going to change, it’s going to relieve stress from them, all the trauma that they lived from being excluded from society is not going to be gone but at least taken care of and it’s going to help them feel equal, well-treated and part of this society fully.”


Concordia For Dummies: The Provincial Elections

Welcome to The Podcast. Cedric Gallant will produce and host this podcast alongside our Section Editors every week. The shows will rotate weekly to cover topics from each section of our newspaper!

This week’s show, Concordia for Dummies, was produced by Cedric Gallant, Gabriel Guindi, alongside our News Editors, Hannah Tiongson, Lucas Marsh, and Staff Writer Mareike Glorieux-Stryckman. Tune in for future episodes of Concordia for Dummies, where we explore topics on students minds throughout the school year.

In this episode:

Cedric Gallant covers this week’s headlines and shares interviews with First Nations leaders around Montreal reflecting on Truth and Reconciliation Day (Sept. 30).

For our Concordia for Dummies segment this week, we decided to host a discussion between a few members of our staff, all of whom came to Concordia with different backgrounds, cultures, nationhood, and native languages. Listen in for a roundtable discussion on the various Quebec party platforms as we head into our Provincial Election Day tomorrow, Oct. 2.

Thanks for listening and make sure to tune in next week!


A Ukrainian family reunion in Montreal

The first of eight Ukrainian families funded and supported by Ukrainian Montrealers arrives in Canada, following Russia’s invasion of their home

For the past month, Iana Shapovalova and her family have been raising money to bring eight families, a total of 37 people, to Canada from Ukraine. The first of these families arrived in Montreal on Friday, March 25.

The Shapovalovs are originally from Ukraine and the eight families they are trying to rescue are mostly their relatives.

Iana Shapovalova arrived in Canada in 2013 at 11 years old and until recently was living a normal life; a 19-year-old in her third year of CEGEP, undertaking an internship in computer programming. But, following the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine on February 23, Shapovalova and her family began doing everything they could to bring their relatives to safety.

“I cannot cry or anything, I gotta like, move, I gotta do stuff. Like, this is my way of fighting, to give them a hope, to give them the ideas of ‘Okay. We’ll make sure that you are okay,’” said Shapovalova.

Shapovalova and her family started posting on social media, working tirelessly and doing everything they could to bring their relatives to safety. The GoFundMe page they started has raised $16,837 as of March 28.

Initially, all of the funds were to go to flights and visa applications, but the Canadian government has since made visa applications free for Ukrainian refugees. The first family’s visa application process cost $855 CAD. Initially, the idea to raise money was difficult for her family.

“My family’s the kind of family that, you know, we’re gonna figure it out on our own. Like, we don’t really want to be like those poor guys that need help, you know. But at this point, you got to put yourself down because, you know, it’s for someone else. It’s for families,” said Shapovalova.

A month of fundraising, numerous visa applications, phone calls, interviews and the direct help of a member of parliament (whose identity was not shared), culminated on a rainy Friday on March 25, when the first of eight families funded by the Shapovalovs arrived.

Iana and her brother Illia arrived at the airport at 4 p.m. to meet their family. After the family of seven (including two parents and their five children) landed, they spent another six hours in the airport completing COVID protocols and immigration processes. There was only one other family from Ukraine coming in alongside them.

“They’re pretty much the first ones going through this process,” said Shapovalova.

Iana and Illia patiently waited at the airport the entire time, while their parents waited in the cars to bring them to their arriving relatives to their new home.

Iana’s father took on the role of keeping in touch with family in Ukraine whenever possible.

“Every call was just so important,” said Shapovalova. “Every call, I would just run downstairs just to listen to the conversation, because you never know if you’re gonna hear them another time.”

Hanna Pliushchakova is Iana Shapovalovas aunt and the mother of the first family to arrive. She spoke with The Concordian in an interview which Iana translated. “We never expected to be leaving this way,” Pliushchakova said. “We left when we saw that the danger was unavoidable.

Pliushchakova said the trip was long and tiring but now that they are home and rested it is getting easier. The days leading up to their journey were naturally stressful as well.

“We were very worried not only because of this trip coming up, but also we couldn’t get in contact with some family members that are in Ukraine,” said Pliushchakova.

“There’s this part of worries and there are the anxious thoughts of ‘How is this going to go? What is this whole process going to be like, going somewhere?’ We have no idea.”

Coming from Mariupol, Ukraine the family had a normal life. Pliushchakova mostly stayed home with her children while her husband worked managing a chain of retail stores. Now they do not expect to ever be able to return to Ukraine.

“It’s a double feeling, one point of view is that everything there is destroyed and there is no way back because there’s nowhere to go,” said Pliushchakova.

“The second side of this was that we’re very, very glad that we can start from scratch here in Canada in a safe place.”

While many here in Canada are calling on their government to do more, Pliushchakova finds it difficult to ask for more support.

“It’s hard to tell because there’s this whole overwhelming feeling of getting this help already. The way that Canada is so open to Ukrainian refugees. It’s very, very touching for us and we’re very, very thankful.”

The Pliushchakov family will quarantine with a couple who has offered the basement of their house. Eventually they will rent their own apartment, begin learning French and English and put their five kids into school.

On the day of the first family’s arrival and seeing her family’s work come to fruition, Iana said she is speechless.

“I remember just going to bed and being like, if they can make it, to hear all of them. Like at least like three families. That would be like a miracle. I’m definitely just, you know, speechless. It’s really hard to put it in words, I’m really happy for them,” said Shapovalova.

“But at the end now, you know, just seeing this generosity from people here. It’s such a big contrast to what is happening there. Basically, they’re just sponsoring my family and it’s wonderful.”

Hanna Pliushchakova’s family is the first of eight that the Shapovalovs hope to bring to Canada, with the second family arriving on March 28. Supporters can donate and follow the families journies at their GoFundMe page.

Photo Courtesy of Iana Shapovalova


After a year of hardship in Haiti, the response from Haitian Montrealers has been disappointing, says one activist

Activist Frantz André is calling on politicians to encourage greater support for the Haitian community

Activists are calling on Montreal’s Haitian community and the Canadian government to take greater action to support the small nation.

From the crisis that followed the assassination of former Haitian then-president Jovenel Moïse in July, to a massive earthquake on Aug.14 that saw a wave of refugees flee to the U.S. and Mexico border seeking safety, it has been a devastating year for Haiti.

Many of the migrants from Haiti and many South American countries were living in makeshift camps near the Del Río-Ciudad Acuña International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas. With little access to food or water on the American side, asylum seekers were forced to travel to Mexico in order to obtain supplies. It was on their way back to the camp where these people encountered the U.S. border patrol.

Images of border patrol agents on horses pushing back Haitian refugees have since gone viral.

Frantz André, a Haitian activist in Montreal who has long advocated for the rights of asylum seekers, said that “The image that came to mind was that we were back to slavery times, with slaves running away from the cotton plantation.” André is a spokesperson for Solidarité Québec-Haïti, and has been a member of the Action Committee for People Without Status (CAPSS). He was nominated by Gala Dynastie for activist of the year and has received the medal of the National Assembly of Quebec.

Montreal is a city with a large Haitian community. Haiti is a former French colony with a large number of French speakers, and this connection is what makes Montreal a popular location for migrants and refugees. Now some Haitian support groups and activists, like André, are condemning the actions of the U.S. government, and are calling on greater action here in Canada.

The reason for the sudden influx of asylum seekers at the U.S. border was the decision to renew a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months by the Biden Administration. Many Haitians thought if they arrived in the States, they would be covered by the TPS. But this was not the case, as the TPS only applied to Haitians already residing in the U.S.

Many of the Haitian migrants who arrived at the border were already living in other South American countries and decided to make the journey to the U.S.

“Many decided, ‘I do not have a good life in Brazil, or Chile or whatever, I’m going to try to get in.’ Because some people do [get into the U.S.] and some people don’t,” said André.

“But when they arrived, most of them didn’t get in and thousands of them got deported to Haiti, even though some of them do not know it. Some of the kids were born in Brazil or other countries in South America.”

Solidarité Québec-Haïti is one such group that has been fighting against the mistreatment of Haitian migrants. The organization hosted a protest in front of the U.S. consulate in Montreal on Sept. 25. According to an article by the CBC news, only a few dozen people attended.

To activists like André, it’s been a disappointing reaction.

“To be honest, I’ve done two protests in the past two or three weeks and we didn’t get the response that you would have expected,” he said.

“Whatever we are doing to defend our community or defend the people back home we aren’t getting the response we used to […]  It’s almost like they have given up on the country or given up on our identity, they have given up on the suffering of our brothers. […] The response is very timid and verbal.”

Haitian people began immigrating to Montreal in the 1960s André himself arrived in 1965 and even though their numbers were smaller at that time André says “There was greater solidarity.”

André says that many Canadian-Haitian leaders have not been taking a strong enough stand.

“We don’t get much from Frantz Benjamin, Emmanuel Dubourg, Nadine Girault, Dominique Anglade and other community leaders,” said André.

Frantz Benjamin, Nadine Girault, and Dominique Anglade are all members of the National Assembly of Quebec, while Emmanual Dubourg is a member of Parliament representing Bourassa. The Concordian has reached out to these community figures, but have not yet received a comment.

In a response made to The Concordian by Peter Liang, a communications advisor with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, it was stated that “Canada has a deep and long-standing commitment to Haiti, and we want to continue to strengthen our efforts to improve the lives of the Haitian people. Canada, along with other key players in the international community in Haiti has been engaging directly with the interim government and other actors, to ensure peace and stability and encourage an inclusive dialogue with all political parties and all sectors of society.”

“When I do protests they’re not there,” said André. “Those Haitians that are in politics should be talking about what’s happening and asking the Canadian government to take a strong stand, denouncing and telling the States that ‘What you’re doing is not right. We in Canada are with Haitians and what you are doing is wrong.’ We don’t hear that from Trudeau or any of my brothers and sisters who are in politics.”

Despite a disappointing reaction from the public and politicians alike in André’s eyes, he reinforces that “Getting into the protests, definitely writing to the MPs, definitely writing to Mr. Trudeau himself,” are some of the things that Haitian and non-Haitian Montrealers can do to support the nation and its people.


Graphic by James Fay

“A safe space to learn and grow:” an interview with Alina Murad of PoliticalThot

 Political podcaster Alina Murad talks social justice, Concordia, and getting involved in activism

Alina Murad is a Concordia student and the host of “PoliticalThot,” a political explainer and interview podcast with a specific focus on systemic and institutional racism and xenophobia. The first five episodes are available on Spotify, and the most recent two are in video format on Instagram. I spoke to her via video call on Friday.

What prompted you to start your own podcast? 

I’ve always been a pretty politically involved person, but one day I was in class and learned something that really pissed me off, so I went on Instagram and I took a selfie, captioned it “political thot of the day” and just, like, did a rant, and I got a bunch of responses. Positive, negative, I got some threats, it was a whole mixed bag of things. And I realized, like, I actually have a lot of thoughts here that need a platform, so why not make a podcast?

So now that you have that platform, who are you speaking to?

It’s geared toward millennials, young people, primarily, but focused on people of colour. And the reason for that is the topics my podcast deals with — racism, xenophobia — this isn’t the first time people have heard about them, but a lot of the time the way these topics are dealt with doesn’t keep in mind that they are sensitive and emotional and triggering, especially for people of colour. So I am keeping in mind that these topics are sensitive … It’s primarily a safe space to learn and grow.

I definitely get that impression listening to it — often political podcasts tend to be more news-focused, analyzing specific current events as they occur, but PoliticalThot seems broader in scope. During this time of the 24/7 news cycle, what role do you see your podcast playing in the political media landscape?

I’m actually really glad that you asked this question, and especially that you mentioned the 24/7 news cycle. While it’s so important to keep up to date with news, the way that the news is dealing with reporting, it’s often very sensationalized. And most media outlets will not show you what’s happening behind the scenes, they’re not going to say “hey, here’s the reason for all of these xenophobic behaviours we’ve been seeing.” So PoliticalThot deals with things more broadly in the hopes that it’ll help people to analyze more news, more everyday situations.

Likewise, your most recent episode was a three-parter on anti-Blackness at Concordia. Alongside checking out that episode, what do you think Concordia students should be considering about this institution as we start our classes this year?

There’s so much to consider. I find it really interesting because part of the appeal, to me at least, of Concordia was that it’s this integrated campus in the city, and the facade they give off in their advertising is “oh we want you to get involved in the community, give back, get involved with politics, get involved with social justice,” but they have a very long line of “political incidents,” if you will – good and bad – that they cover up. So the first thing I’d say is to do your research, learn the history. The computer riots, the bomb threat in the EV building three years ago that was targeting Muslim students, the sexual assaults that still haven’t been properly dealt with. And the second thing is to really actively bring pro-Blackness into our institution. Because more times than not, Canadian institutions will inherently be anti-Black. So pay attention to Black scholars, Black activists– and not just on Instagram! Read books written by Black Canadian authors like Robyn Maynard and be aware of the racism disguising itself as credibility in academia. Actively seeking pro-Black information and materials and bringing them into the institution is so important.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take action on social justice issues but might be afraid to get started?

It’s definitely a scary thing to put yourself out there, but I think the one thing to keep in mind is that everyone is learning, and making a mistake isn’t the bad part, the bad part is not taking accountability, not fixing it, not learning from it. That’s all we can ask, right? For people to learn, to try, to grow. And if you’re gut-wrenchingly terrified of doing something, I’m sure you can find friends that also want to try and get involved — you’ll have friends who might already be involved. Just ask people. That’s honestly one of the best things about social justice work, it’s the humanity. It takes a village to do anything, and when you trust people and you put faith in people, people are good.


Graphic Courtesy of Alina Murad


Diary Entry: Writing to cope with immigration

I write every day to process, and I hope to learn from my past.

For instance, I recently wrote this: “By now, I’d accepted that one day I might be blown to bits by a car or truck bomb. Amazingly, I even could see the silver lining to that dark cloud: I wouldn’t know much about it. What worried me was the bomb that didn’t kill me but left me a multiple amputee, perhaps unable to see or hear.”

These words date back to the 1970s. Was I writing a novel set in Baghdad or Beirut during that time? No, I was writing about the facts of life—and death—in my native city Belfast, a United Kingdom city torn apart in the early 1970s by a religious conflict that dates back to 1690, when protestant King William of Orange defeated catholic King James at the River Boyne in Ireland. Back then, as a fresh graduate, sudden death wasn’t my only worry: there was the usual laundry list of QLC (Quarter Life Crisis) issues—relationships, careers, a serious cash shortage, the gathering storm of full-blown adulthood and so on.

I did my best to navigate this sea of troubles, but when the possibility of emigration came along I jumped at it. Unfortunately, I left hastily with no planning and landed alone, mid-winter, in a small rural Ontario town where I had no family or friends.

I was totally unprepared for my new life. I’d taken a job that most of the townspeople felt should have gone to someone local. Then there was winter. In Ireland in January the average temperature is about 5ºC, – 20ºC days are unimaginable. As one of 10 children, I’d never experienced solitude which would be a hallmark of my new life. It wasn’t easy, but I survived.

Three very isolating years later, I moved to Montreal, which was love at first sight, as it still is. Mind you, my new life was still a struggle. I had no relatives or friends, no Northern Ireland community and few possibilities of friendship in my workplace. I had to learn to work and live in French, and much more.

On top of these adaptation challenges, I lived with survivor’s guilt and worried about “that call” bringing news that mum, dad, a brother or sister had been injured or killed in a bombing. My sudden amputation from Ireland’s green rolling hills, ocean beaches, sea breezes and rainbows was a low level, but persistent sensory deprivation. I might even have had a touch of PTSD. It’s not surprising that it took me three decades of sustained effort to feel truly at home.

My friends, even after decades, even as they succeed, still say, “We love it here but it’s not home.” This between-two-worlds; at-home-in-neither, life is, I know, a default setting for most of us who arrive as adults and it’s where I’d still be without my writing.  In the end it was writing that brought me home and for that I am so very grateful.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


New migrant detention centre set to replace Laval Immigration Holding Centre in 2021

“These people are not at all dangerous in any way. None of the people who are at the detention centre have any criminal record.” – Richard Renshaw, a Roman Catholic priest who regularly visits migrants in detention centres.

There have been several events and protests at Concordia University, and in Montreal, over the past couple of years over concerns about asylum seekers in migrant detention centres in Canada.

In 2016, the federal government released its plan to replace the current migrant detention centres across the country through their National Immigration Detention Framework. The government allocated up to $138 million to transform the immigration detention system in Canada.

“The Government of Canada is committed to exercising its responsibility for detentions to the highest possible standards, with physical and mental health and well-being of detainees, as well as the safety and security of Canadians as the primary considerations,” said Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in a public statement.

Richard Renshaw, a Roman Catholic priest who pays friendly visits to migrants in detention centres, said recent protests started in 2011. “In a number of detention centres, there was a hunger strike of the people inside, refugees that were being held there, because of the conditions,” he said.

The latest event was an information session held on Nov. 20 at the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia, hosted by QPIRG McGill and Solidarity Across Borders, a migrant justice organization based in Montreal.

“The men and women are separated, and usually the children are kept with the women,” said Renshaw. “They can see each other during visiting hours.”

Renshaw explained that in some cases when Canada tries to negotiate with the country of origin of asylum seekers to return them, the negotiation could take years – so they must stay in the detention centres or prisons until it is resolved.

But some said building new detention centres would not be enough to fix the situation- there needs to be systemic change.

SAB and other grassroots groups have been fighting the construction of the replacement migrant detention centre in Laval since 2016. The movement demands the construction to stop and for “Canada to cease using detention to control and limit the movement of migrants.”

There are now three official migrant detention centres in the nation, one in Toronto, Vancouver, and Laval. According to data found on the government of Canada website, Quebec sees the most asylum claims in the country; 97 per cent this year so far. In provinces and cities that do not have a migrant detention centre, migrants are placed in jail.

“A third of the people who get sent to detention end up in actual prisons,” said Renshaw.

Renshaw said the main reasons people are detained is because the border agent who processes them feels they might not show up to their upcoming hearing, or because they are unsure about their background or their identity. If there is any hesitation, they are put into detention.

According to data gathered by the government of Canada, this year, between January and October, 97 per cent of asylum seekers have entered through Quebec, totaling 13,372 people so far.

The Laval Immigration Holding Centre (LIHC) has a capacity of 109 people, and according to Stop the Prison, the new one that will be replacing the LIHC will have a total capacity of 158. Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said at any given time there is an average of 450 to 500 individuals detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Renshaw said the LIHC will be run as a medium-security prison, as that is the standard that the CBSA uses.

“They can be there for three or four days while they work things out, or they can be there for a month, or a year, or five years – there’s no limit,” said Renshaw.

Only the people who are detained or work at the centres see the inside. Visitors are allowed in the visitation room and nowhere else.

“They’ve told me that they have rooms where there are four or five in the same room, and they have meals which are standard, rather unspiced bland food,” said Renshaw. “These people are not at all dangerous in any way. None of the people who are at the detention centre have any criminal record.”

Renshaw said protesters believe the system is ““retraumatizing traumatized people, for no particular benefit to society. They could be out working, and getting integrated into the society they’ve come to and want to be a part of.”


Graphic by Victoria Blair


Immigration: a pass or fail test

Immigrants will have to pass a values test in order to settle in Quebec.

The Québec government announced last October that immigrants who want to settle in Quebec will have to pass a ‘values test’ as of Jan. 1, 2020.

According to the Official Gazette of Québec, the official publication of the Québec government, the test will serve as part of Québec’s selection process. It must be passed within a two-year period before applicants can apply for permanent residency.

The values tests for new immigrants was one of the electoral promises made by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) during their 2018 provincial election campaign, along with a mandatory French proficiency exam.

During a press conference, Quebec’s immigration minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, shared an example of what the questions will be like: “Since March 27, 2019, Bill 21, the secularism of the state, says every new police officer cannot wear religious symbols on the job. True or false?”

The test will be made up of 20 questions covering topics like francophone culture and Québec democracy, among others. The questions will be chosen at random from a bank of questions. “It will never be the same evaluation,” said Jolin-Barrette.

Applicants are required to get a score of 75 per cent or more for it to be successful. Only after passing the test will applicants receive a certificate selection, allowing them to apply for permanent residency with the federal government.

If the applicant fails the initial test, they must wait a minimum of two weeks before being allowed to retake the test. If the applicant fails a second time, they will have to follow a course offered by the government to learn about the province’s values. Should the applicant fail a third time, they will have to restart the process from the beginning.

“It’s important, before deciding to come to Quebec, to know that if you expect to be in a job in a position of authority, you will not have the right to wear religious signs,” Legault told reporters during a scrum. “So, I think it’s important that you understand the values of where you want to live.”

International students who wish to settle and work in Québec after graduating are given a choice: they can either attend a course, or take the exam. The course is offered by the Québec government and upon completion, students will receive a learning attestation. Temporary workers will be offered the same option.

New economic class immigrants must take the test, with exemptions for children and applicants who have a medical condition preventing them from taking the test. Immigrants who are coming as refugees or through family reunification are also exempt.

“I think it’s normal that immigrants who arrive in Quebec and enjoy all of its advantages have to respect its values,” said Zachary Lumbroso, an international student studying Journalism at Concordia University.

Many seem to think that the idea behind the test is good because it is important to know about the culture and the values of the places you plan on living in. However, most are also under the impression that the test will be a waste of time.

“I don’t mind learning about Québec values,” said Piyush Gulia, a second year international student studying architectural sciences at Montreal Technical College. “I just think that having to do a test is a bit silly, it’s a waste of time honestly.”

People have also been skeptical about how honest the applicants will be when answering the questions.

“Anyone with some common sense can pass this test, regardless of whether or not they actually respect the values in question,” said Gulia. “They’ll answer what the government wants to hear.”

Despite the uncertainty and skepticism, the Québec government is still proceeding with the implementation of the test. The CAQ hopes that it will one day become more than just part of the Québec selection process, and become a part of the permanent residency process, according the Official Gazette of Québec.


Graphic by Victoria Blair


The imminent immigration fear

My husband and I watched “Living Undocumented,” a show on Netflix about illegal immigration in the United States, for the same reason we like watching people trying to crawl out of debt: some sort of warped guilty pleasure we share.

We wanted to feel good about our mediocre existence and compare ourselves to people who had a long journey ahead of them. It wasn’t a sick act – we weren’t mocking, but rather seeing how far we’d come; from the headache of filling out dozens of applications, ordering official documents and multiple interviews, to waiting anxiously for the results  we couldn’t be sure about. If we weren’t accepted, it would upend our lives.

My husband’s Canadian citizenship ceremony was happening the next day, after nine years of our own hike across the land of bureaucracy. We both have a Brazilian background; I moved to Canada with my family at three years of age, and he arrived as an exchange student when he was 18 years old. It finally felt okay to be excited, and we decided to be reckless and get a taste of what the very first steps felt like.

We watched the first episode, then another, until it was 1:30 a.m. We wouldn’t go to sleep until we finished at least one more. What we expected to give us peace, made us doubt if my partner’s ceremony would happen at all.

I expected it to be bad, but my ignorance as to what constituted bad was quite juvenile.

It was as if I had been irresponsible in thinking everything would go smoothly. Without giving blatant spoilers, I learned about the unfairness of the US Border Patrol. For example, I didn’t know they could negotiate peaceful terms involving an undocumented family meeting another family member one more time before they get deported without being deported themselves, only to take it back , and put the visiting family members into indefinite imprisonment at the detention camps. Another thing that shocked me was that US border Patrol could physically assault lawyers representing undocumented immigrants without any immediate repercussions.

It was not just the difficult decisions they had to make — it was the spirit they felt from their community; the constant struggle between wanting acceptance but never being able to reveal yourself.

All this doesn’t compare to how surprised I was to see that under the Trump administration’s Zero Policy, every single undocumented immigrant is treated the same, and can be deported at any time. That means undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes in the country are treated the same as one that is law-abiding and a constructive member of their community through their work and family. The policy forbids any official who oversees the undocumented immigrants to exercise discretion or determine what consequences are appropriate based on the immigrants merits, sometimes allowing for leniency, such as allowing them to stay in the country, or even have a driver’s license, if the individual has contributed constructively to their community and has no police record. Instead, all officials have to apply a predetermined punishment, in this case deportation or detention at an internment camp.

This means undocumented immigrants who have willingly checked into Border Patrol agencies throughout the years, paid taxes, are raising their families with their kids going to local schools, and have never committed a crime, could be deported at any moment.

The friendly relationship between the agency and the people wanting to live a better life had come to a terrible end: mothers and fathers having to say goodbye to their children, decade-old careers abruptly ceased.

I couldn’t help but wonder, what if we weren’t safe from this? What if all it takes is one government worker interpreting the law in their own way, destroying everything we worked for?

These nine years of our own process to citizenship were challenging, not because we were undocumented, but because it escalated to a lengthy trial where my partner had to win in order to apply for citizenship. On the day of the verdict, the judge said how impressed he was with my husband because he had represented himself in court, and won. This was an incredible victory; we were overjoyed and relieved. But it also became an event warranting suspicion; the trial proceedings and outcome had to constantly be reviewed throughout the application process.

While I am not at liberty to divulge all the details surrounding the case, it ultimately meant we had one more hurdle to overcome. Before the ceremony, all applicants have to go through a final verification process, meaning everything that occurred during the process had to be reviewed one final time. We were worried: could the person behind the desk use this as a reason to postpone us from crossing the finish line? On the day of the ceremony, neither of us spoke about it. I prayed for the best, and started thinking about a calculated reaction to the worst.

As the day progressed from the initial anxiety to the reassurance of the judge’s welcome, to sitting and witnessing my life partner swear the oath as a citizen of Canada, I realized I never had anything to worry about. There was a pride and unity that filled the room, a rhetoric that went beyond integration — there was open praise for our different backgrounds, and that as people we would add our culture to the fabric of Canada’s history.

Our victory felt bittersweet knowing how hard it is for others to work for years, only to have it taken away. We had finally made it, and I can only feel an abundance of gratefulness: for my country, for this nation of people who are accepting, and that we can now officially call ourselves a Canadian family.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Anti-immigrant: nationalist, or downright racist?

I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard someone say “I’m not racist, but…” and every time I hear someone say that, I think to myself: either you are, or you aren’t.

A lot of the time, people will try to avoid being condemned as a racist by hiding behind other concepts and terms, often trying to make themselves look patriotic in the process. They often say things such as “I’m only trying to protect our country’s values,” or “I’m trying to preserve our history.”

In a country as socially-advanced as Canada, it’s sad to see that some are still behaving in such a way: going against immigration and diversity because it threatens their way of life – a life in which white supremacists hold most of the power.

On Sept. 7, readers of the Vancouver Sun witnessed such behavior when they came across an article called “Can Social Trust and Diversity Co-Exist?” written by Mark Hecht. Hecht was nothing more than a racist white supremicist who disguised his thoughts as a concerned nationalism.

The Vancouver Sun pulled the article from their website within a day of publication, but there is nothing they could do about the paper that was sent out. The damage was done and now thousands of people have read the article.

While Hecht wasn’t upfront with his racism, he encouraged and praised homogeneity; as well as discouraging diversity and inclusion. In his article, Hecht argued that our country is becoming less and less socially trusting, and to counter this, “the minimum requirement is that we say goodbye to diversity and inclusion.”

He wants everyone to be the same; to have the same values and to fit in perfectly with his idea of the proper Canadian society.

But we aren’t robots, we aren’t programmed to think the same way, to value the same things. We’re humans, and as humans, we have the ability and the right to express different opinions and values, so long as it doesn’t hurt the person next to you.

What people like Hecht need to understand is that Canada is a country built on immigration and diversity. When British and French settlers came here in the 1600s, were they not immigrants themselves? What about in the early 1900s, when Ukrainians and Polish people settled here?

All of these people came from different parts of the world in search of a better life and better opportunities, which is the same reason people come to Canada today.

Can you imagine what Canada would be like if everyone who immigrated here had the same beliefs, the same values and the same origins? Think about how bland it would be. Think about everything we’d be missing out on: the food, music, movies, art, etc.

There’s so much that we benefit from living in such a diverse country. We have a more open minded understanding of the world, and this allows us to grow as individuals and as a country.

While I understand that Hecht’s article is an opinion piece, and that he has every right to express his opinion, I find it hard to stay quiet and say nothing about it. Before writing an article on how Canada would be better if we stopped being so diverse, take a minute and remember where you came from.

We’re a country that prides itself on our rich and diverse culture, and every new-comer adds to that.

Everyone here deserves to be respected; regardless of their status, their religion, or the color of their skin. Without them, there would be no us.


Graphic by Victoria Blair


The missing bridge between two worlds

One student’s thoughts on leaving Chile and entering Montreal’s diverse atmosphere

Moving to a different country often leads us to feel between places and cultures. I’m sure most of us who have come from a foreign land to study here at Concordia struggle to find that sense of belonging, whether our place is here, there or neither. It is easy to lose your sense of identity and feel lost, or like you have no sense of direction after your studies. Does this sound familiar to you? Because for me, it is a recurrent state of mind.

It is important to acknowledge the privilege many of us have to have been able to leave our homes in order to pursue a degree. However, this is not the situation experienced by the vast majority of people who immigrate. Many do so due to the hardships, conflicts and lack of opportunities they face in their home countries. Regardless of the case, experiencing nostalgia, sadness and/or loneliness is common. We all leave a life behind in order to make a new one; making multiple sacrifices along the way, since parting with what is familiar to us is never an easy task. Of course, there are the family and friends you’ve left behind, which always encompass one of the biggest pulls between both worlds.

Personally, growing up, I always had a particular itch to leave Chile, in order to get a new perspective on both the exterior world and my interior one, too. I was so confident that a change was in order—that if I moved, it would be permanent. I was and I still am extremely grateful for the privilege I have that allowed me to make that decision in the first place. But now that three years have gone by, I’m able to acknowledge how wrong and naive I was. Ever since I left, I have felt in between places and countries; not fully here but not quite there, either.

In Montreal, we experience new challenges. Language becomes a barrier if you don’t speak French and learning it can be a difficult task. Especially since by attending Concordia, we are mostly exposed to English speakers, which leads us to connect with only a small percentage of Francophones. However, one of the best features this city has to offer is diversity. No city is perfect, nor has it all, but Montreal does have a certain degree of multiculturalism, which helps us bridge the gap between our two worlds.

I must also acknowledge the fact that we are students living in a student city—in fact, Montreal was named number one in the world according to a 2017 QS World University ranking, an annual publication of university rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds. That being said, there’s always someone else you can bond with over the struggles that come with moving and living in a different country.

Nothing in life is permanent but change, and we are happiest when we do not resist it or overthink about the future. What I’m trying to say is that it is ok to feel conflicted, lost, homesick, sad, unsure, lonely—you name it. We must allow ourselves the space to experience the baggage that comes with moving farther away from home. This way, in this new place, we learn to grasp and contemplate our previous life from a new perspective. At the same time, we create a mindset that allows us to live and make the most of our current student experience.

Changing countries has multiple complications, which at times can be overwhelming, but feeling lost or homesick from time to time is natural. Getting anxious about where we are going next will only take away the peace that we enjoy in the moment. We will get there as we once got here. And if there is still a void you cannot fill, I strongly recommend you fill it with large quantities of Quebec’s greatest gift: poutine.

Graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee

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