Skip to main content

P.E.I. hunger strikers enter second week of protesting changes to immigration rules

The Prince Edward Island legislature in Charlottetown on Sept. 25, 2003. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan The Prince Edward Island legislature in Charlottetown on Sept. 25, 2003. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The 22-year-old leader of a group protesting changes to P.E.I.'s immigration rules says he's lost almost 15 pounds since he and other immigrants started a hunger strike outside the provincial legislature a week ago.

Rupinderpal Singh and a number of other protesters also stopped drinking water on Tuesday to draw attention to their cause, a desperate move that he said has yet to prompt a response from Premier Dennis King and his Progressive Conservative government.

"This is the only option we were left with," Singh said in an interview from the protest camp, where 21 people had gathered on Thursday afternoon. "We are here because unfair decisions were made .... We want our voices to be heard."

Asked how long he's prepared to go without water, Singh said: "I going to stand tall ... and see how long I can take it."

Several protesters passed out Wednesday night, though paramedics were there to help those feeling weak, he said.

The protesters are challenging the government's decision in February to slow the Island's population growth by reducing the number of immigrants who will be granted permanent residency, a change that has put a particularly tight limit on those who entered the province on permits to work in the sales and service industry.

Even though Singh has lived in P.E.I. for five years and now works as an internet sales representative, he's convinced he will be forced to leave Canada once his work permit expires on July 14. He said the province's move is unfair because the new restrictions should not apply to immigrants who already live and work on the Island.

The provincial government did not respond to requests for comment.

The protesters, however, have won support from local Liberal MP Sean Casey, who called the sudden change "manifestly unfair and callous."

"The workers rightly feel that they have had the rug pulled out from under them with ... a policy change that will have a dramatic impact on them," Casey says in an a letter to the premier.

Casey's letter goes on to suggest King has underestimated the contributions these workers are making to the businesses that employ them, as well as the difficulty the tourism sector will face when it comes time to replace them.

The best option is to limit the changes to immigrants who have yet to arrive in the province, he said.

Karla Bernard, interim leader of the P.E.I. Green Party, said when the province changed the rules, it was assumed they would only apply to new applicants.

"We never dreamt they would resort to this," Bernard said, though she acknowledged the province had to do something about a population boom that has led to a housing crisis and overwhelming pressure on the health-care system. "We have too many people and our infrastructure is not ready for it .... We didn't prepare for this aggressive population growth."

Bernard said she has received a great deal of correspondence about the issue, virtually all of it supporting the protesters.

"People are outraged about this because of the fact that they're here now .... It feels like we're blaming them for mismanagement of the immigration file. And it's so concerning that they're taking these drastic measures."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2024.

For more Prince Edward Island news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

Stay Connected