Open Letter To Council Requesting Affirmation Of Toronto As A Sanctuary City

Dear Deputy Mayor, Councillors and city staff,

My name is Joe Fantauzzi. I’m a resident of Toronto and first generation Canadian. My family immigrated to this country from Italy in 1957, fleeing a region of that nation torn by the Second World War. My family was lucky. Low-skilled urban labour was in demand at the time we arrived. It was also an era of post-war boom in Canada which permitted upward mobility. As you’ve likely noticed, much of that has changed. Temporary foreign workers are being brought to this country by the hundreds of thousands[1] with no clear agenda to grant them access to the privileges enjoyed with Canadian citizenship.[2] At the same time, real wages are stagnating. With this dire economic situation as a backdrop, I write to you today to urge you to uphold your Feb. 21, 2013 decision to declare Toronto a Sanctuary City and to continue to allow this city’s estimated 200,000 undocumented people access to city services.[3]

This is a matter of basic human dignity. Without status and in a foreign land, undocumented people are reduced to bare life. They are here because we deem them productive or because they have fled another place for a better life here. But they have no agency in Canada. They face barriers to the free health care we show off to the world as an example of our just society. And they cannot look to the state to assist them financially if they lose their jobs. But they are here and may have every intention to stay. It is unconscionable to block their access to city services and programs ─ including funerals. The refusal by this city in January to pay for the burial of Rogerio Marques De Souza, an undocumented labourer from Brazil, whose family could not afford a funeral, was disgraceful.[4]

But if you will not uphold Toronto’s status as a Sanctuary City for the undocumented, do it for yourselves. Some will derisively tell you that Canadian municipalities are merely creatures ─ or even tools ─ of the provinces in which they are located; that you are all out of your jobs if the provincial government decides it be so. I see things differently. I see Toronto, specifically, as a unique place guided by unique legislation (The City of Toronto Act) and in a unique position to leverage that autonomy against the interference of senior governments. Neither Queen’s Park nor Ottawa exerts day-to-day management over this city. Toronto, for all practical purposes, must not function, politically or psychologically, as some colony of the Province of Ontario, I argue to you. You have the ability to redefine who gets to be “in” and who has to stay “out.” You have the ability to create a safe space for vulnerable people living in fear of deportation, distrustful of authority and disconnected from the society in which they live.[5] I tell you again: these human beings are here now and they deserve dignity, compassion and just treatment now.

Thank you.

Joe Fantauzzi


 

[1] Government of Canada, “Facts and Figures,” Fact Sheet — Temporary Foreign Worker Program, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/publications/employers/temp-foreign-worker-program.asp (accessed on February 20, 2014).

[2] Gwen Muir, “Expanding the settler-state: racialized exclusion and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” Solidarity Across Borders, May 10, 2013, http://www.solidarityacrossborders.org/en/solidarity-city/solidarity-city-journal/expanding-the-settler-state-racialized-exclusion-and-the-temporary-foreign-worker-program (accessed on February 20, 2014).

[3] Nicholas Keung, “Toronto declared ‘sanctuary city’ to non-status migrants,” Toronto Star,  February 21, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/02/21/cisanctuarycity21.html (accessed on February 20, 2014).

[4] Nicholas Keung, “City of Toronto refuses to pay for funeral of undocumented immigrant,” Toronto Star,  January 24, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2014/01/24/city_of_toronto_refuses_to_pay_for_funeral_of_undocumented_immigrant.html (accessed on February 20, 2014).

[5] City of Toronto, Undocumented Workers in Toronto, October 22, 2012, http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2013/cd/bgrd/backgroundfile-55291.pdf (accessed on February 20, 2014).

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III. Austerity and The Blocking of Social Citizenship In Ontario

When the Social Commons are enclosed, the state has decreed there are those inside and those outside the political order.

took up the issue of the Social Commons and its enclosure in Part II. This post will attempt to locate those excluded from social citizenship when the Commons is enclosed.

I put it to you that contemporary life has been split between by a “Producer” and “Beneficiary” dichotomy by neoliberal power brokers. The language of the state makes a better case for this than I can: Residents are now “taxpayers“, who produce a product for the state; equalization, a bedrock of Canadian federalism, is now the “welfare rolls of Confederation”; and a social welfare agenda has been cast aside in favour of a race to balance the budget deficit by an arbitrary date, while unemployment levels in Ontario remain higher than the national rate.

The message emanating from the state is that receipt of benefits, many of which have been previously paid for, places an individual in a Beneficiary role while the productive members of society continue to toil away and pay for the non-productive to continue receiving their benefits. This adversarial relationship has arguably not created an austerity regime but it has allowed it to flourish.

But what of those “Beneficiaries”?

  • I propose that the state austerity — and those who push the neoliberal Producer/Beneficiary dichotomy — reduces those designated unproductive “Beneficiaries” to the status of bare life, pushes them outside the political order and blocks social citizenship.

But to what end? It is biopolitical. Stripped of Producer capacity, there are fewer recognized by the state as enjoying social citizenship and thus being part of the pluralistic voices to be heard. Without counter-action, the bare life Beneficiaries are to eventually lose the few benefits the state has extended through a process of austerity and be further outside the political order. The lucky few deemed “Producers” are to enjoy access to eroding benefits, which have become increasingly privatized and costly while living without stigma.

Here, citizenship blends into “taxpayer” and “Producer” perfectly and becomes an exclusionary class looking down over Beneficiary. The taxpayer produces, while the unemployed person, the social assistant recipient, the minimum wage worker, among other Beneficiaries, are pushed outside the political order. It is no longer enough that those designated Beneficiaries have contributed or can contribute — let alone if they are unable to contribute due to illness or other reason. The outlier in this scenario is the corporation, which now pays comparatively little tax and yet arguably enjoys the benefit of superior Producer status.

This is a blocking of social citizenship. An individual is a citizen of Ontario by birth or naturalization. Non-citizen residents are afforded varying degrees of similar standing. But this emergence of production as a political order stands as an intermediary zone between birth and citizenship. It is, I put to you, a dangerous zone, where political death is practiced.

I raise the question here of where this leaves those traditionally oppressed by discrimination and intersectional biases. These people, I suggest, are now and will be later among the first the state will attempt to push further outside the political order. I suggest they will feel the full brunt of the intense state coercion that typically follows austerity regimes.

It is not my place to declare the political death of any group — especially given the ensuring spirit and daily confrontation with oppression of so many — but to warn against disproportionate gain by subjectively ordered elites. It is the very oppression that many state designated Beneficiaries face that places them in that position. Very often, it is the Producers who decide this social ordering or, at the very least, are complicit in it.

† There are no doubt those granted honourary Producer class status despite their objective lack of production.
These will be individuals who face no biases in Ontario’s predominately patriarchal, racist and heteronormative cultural hegemony.

I propose that the zone in which Beneficiaries are consigned to exclusion will become exacerbated by an austerity agenda in Ontario.