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Exposing and challenging migrant detention in Canada

Tings Chak - from her book "Undocumented" - used and modified with permission

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Tings Chak. She is a migrant justice organizer, an artist, and a writer with training in architectural design. She talks about the graphic novel-style book Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention, which she wrote and illustrated.

How we experience spaces and places is just as wrapped up in power and resistance as everything else in life. At the level of the nation, for instance, the power invested in borders keeps some people out and lets others in, and in a wide range of ways marks those who are admitted for different levels and kinds of harm and vulnerability and violence. At the scale of our everyday lives, buildings and landscapes are shaped by and can help to enact social relations -- to name a few examples, the form of houses in communities across North America reflect dominant assumptions about what makes a family; churches and mosques often embody principals of the faiths to which they are sacred; modern cityscapes are organized by and around the political dominance of fossil fuel industries and the private automobile; and solitary confinement units in prisons are a cruel crystallization of the violence of the carceral state.

Canada's immigration system -- notwithstanding all of the Liberal hype about its supposed gentle virtues -- embodies both of these things. It excludes broadly, and it does various things that marginalize many of those who manage to enter, thereby organizing violence into many lives. And it makes use of power translated into built form to realize some of its least savoury outcomes.

Take, for instance, people who are undocumented. In Canada, that mostly doesn't mean people who entered the country without documents, though that situation has been in the news lately with refugee claimants fleeing the Trump regime in the United States. Rather, most of the estimated half a million people in the country without status arrived with some sort of temporary status, built lives and families and communities here, and were subsequently prevented by the system from regularizing that status -- they were pushed by the system into being undocumented, and into all of the risk and fear that comes with that. For many undocumented people, any interaction with an official or a service provider, including the most basic of services that the rest of us use without a second thought, is an opportunity for their lack of documents to be discovered and reported to federal authorities. This can result in detention and deportation, up-ending lives and causing incredible hardship. And when deportation is not possible, that detention can drag on for years and years: Despite an international standard that calls for immigration detention to be for no more than 90 days, Canada detains migrants indefinitely without charge or trial. And this coercive power over the lives of migrants is in part enabled by the built form of the facilities in which they are detained, both specialized immigration detention centres and maximum security prisons.

Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention is a graphic novel-style account that draws on both the author's research and her experience in working with undocumented people and migrant detainees during her time as a member of No One Is Illegal - Toronto and the End Immigration Detention Network. The book both "documents the banality and the violence of the architecture" and works to highlite "the stories of daily resistance among immigration detainees." Originally produced as a zine and then as a limited print-run book, it will be re-released with additional content in the next couple of months by a new publisher -- the Ottawa-based Ad Astra Comix. A recently completed and highly successful crowdfunding campaign has financed the re-publication, and all royalties from the book are being donated to the End Immigration Detention Network.

Chak talks about undocumented people and immigration detention in Canada, about the politics of migrant justice and prison abolition, and about Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention. You can learn more about the book here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image modified for this post is used with permission of Tings Chak.

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