Saturday, August 04, 2007

Canada-US Stupid Border Policy

The fellow on the left is named Tom Juravich. On the right is his partner, Teresa Healy. Declaration of interest: Teresa lives a couple of blocks from me. I know and like them both. Teresa is a researcher for the Canadian Labour Congress. Tom is a respected professor of labour studies in the United States, the director of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Labor Relations and Research Center. The two of them are also accomplished musicians. I had the pleasure of listening to a porch concert at their place a few weeks back when we had a neighbourhood garage sale and fair.

Tom was invited by Carleton University to teach graduate courses this coming term. This may not happen. He has been denied a work permit--because he was arrested 26 years ago for participating in a non-violent sit-in against "replacement workers." Charges were dropped the next day, and he has no criminal record. But, so far as Canadian immigration officials are concerned, he has to prove it. That may not be easy, because the documentation in the US apparently no longer exists. He had hoped to have Massachusetts state officials confirm that the charges had been dropped, but they told him to submit an application and wait.

Now, as the meat in a binational bureaucratic sandwich, Tom is waiting for his clearance so that he can take up his duties at Carleton. He and Teresa are worried that all of this will tell against his eventual application for permanent residency in Canada.

Is there a whiff of politics in the air? I'm not certain at this point, although the potential for a chilling effect on legitimate protest is obvious, and the academic community is already on the case. But I have been asking myself this: suppose he had been convicted of sitting in after all. So what? That's usually a trespass offence or something of that nature: a misdemeanor, not a felony. Would this mean, were the man still alive, that Martin Luther King, not to mention too many civil rights activists to count, couldn't teach at Carleton because they once did a lunch-counter protest?

Smart border? Not so long as it keeps intellectuals of Tom's calibre out--and lets drunk drivers of dubious intelligence in. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: (August 4)

Tom got his work permit! Here is his open letter:

This morning at 11:00 am (Friday,August 3) I entered the Canadian Border Services office at Cornwall and am delighted to report that I was allowed back into Canada and received my work permit to teach at Carleton University. I presented a court document indicating that all changes had been dropped against me (which turned out very difficult to obtain because my official court records were no longer available 26 years later).My file on both sides of the border now indicates I have been "rehabilitated" – from being innocent! There is much more to say about this, but not today. Teresa met me at the border and there was never a more joyful reunion.

As I stood at the border this morning, it was very clear that I was not alone. So many of you were standing there next to me. I don’t know how I can ever thank everyone who wrote letters, sent emails, faxes, and made phone calls on my behalf. These, along with all the press it generated, were instrumental in changing how I was treated at the border today, as opposed to 9 days ago.

In all my joy today, I am mindful of all those who don’t have funds for lawyers on both sides of the borders, and letters of support from universities and unions. We must stand for them as well. And we must speak publicly about the dangers of the unregulated exchange of information that the government is pushing so hard. As Teresa and I sang today, "Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around…"

Tom Juravich

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