On August 5, news broke that over 100 activists had been denied temporary visas by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to attend a global social justice meeting, the World Social Forum, in Montreal. 

The World Social Forum (WSF) is one of the largest global gatherings of civil society where tens of thousands of activists from labour and social movements meet to discuss and strategize solutions to the most important issues of our time affecting the economy, the environment, human and trade union rights, and democracy.

This year’s event was the first time the WSF was being held in the Global North and many activists speculated that Canada’s immigration system would be a barrier to participation of activists from around the world, particularly from poorer, racialized countries. With the new government in power, some were cautiously optimistic that the Harper-era immigration policies would change. It was disappointing to learn this would not be the case.  

Important social movement activists from Mali, Brazil, Palestine, Iran, Congo, Nigeria, Morocco, Haiti, and Nepal were denied entry into Canada. Those denied entry included Aminata Traoré, a high-profile anti-globalization activist and candidate to succeed Ban Ki-moon as United Nations Secretary-General.  

Traoré was quoted by the CBC stating “the visa controversy is a stain on Canada’s reputation as an open country.” She observed that “the West is more and more afraid of debates on ideas … We are bearers of ideas, not bombs.”

CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer, Charles Fleury headed the CUPE delegation at the forum. CUPE’s contribution included networking and strategizing with activists from around the world to oppose water privatization, flawed international trade and investment deals, austerity policies and precarious work,  while also promoting a just transition for workers in the energy sector. 

In our workshop entitled What is a Blue Community? Protecting Water Against Extraction, Privatization, and Embracing the Right to Water, we examined how international trade and investment rules demand changes to our waste water effluent regulations. We addressed the shameful reality of boil-water advisories in First Nations communities, and exposed how new federal infrastructure funding is setting the stage for privatization in both indigenous and non-indigenous communities. 

Despite the many missing global voices, dynamic and inspired discussions did take place that chart a course to ensure water and wastewater around the world remain in public hands – and continue to be the source of good jobs and decent work.