Hunger strikers on Prince Edward Island hope for small meals and a government meeting


Protesters ended a 10-day hunger strike outside Prince Edward Island's legislature on Friday, but said they would not end their demonstration until the provincial government met their immigration demands.

Jaspreet Singh is one of around 25 people who have been camping next to the building since May 23, protesting the Progressive Conservative government's decision to slow the island's population growth by reducing the number of immigrants granted permanent residency.

Singh said Saturday he was confident after officers finally met with the protesters, but his voice sounded low and hollow after the ordeal he put that body through to get their attention.

“I had a different life in mind when I chose Canada as a country to immigrate to,” he said in an interview. “But when I came here, I saw a completely different side. It was hard for me since I experienced all these unfair changes.”

When Singh arrived in Prince Edward Island in January 2023, the island's immigration rules were very different from today. Under the old rules, he could have obtained permanent residency if he worked on a temporary work permit and had a job lined up after his work permit expired, he said.

But the new rule, introduced in February, reduces the number of foreign workers who can obtain permanent residency and imposes a particularly tight cap on those entering the province with a work permit in the sales and services sector.

Applicants would also be assigned numerical points based on factors such as age and education and would have to achieve a minimum score to be successful, he said.

Singh, 23, works in technical sales at a call center. He came to the island with the dream of one day starting his own business after receiving his permanent residency permit. Now his work permit is expiring and he doesn't know if he can stay.

He and his fellow demonstrators are demanding that they be granted the protection of the old regime's rights.

“We are demanding our rights,” he said. “We came here with the hope of a better future, we came here with the old permanent residency policies, and they changed the rules overnight. And that is totally unfair and unjust.”

Singh said he lost about 15 pounds and fainted during the strike, especially after the group stopped drinking water on Tuesday. The hunger strike was a last resort, he said; they felt there was no other way to get people to listen.

He said when government officials met with protesters on Friday, they took a list of all foreign workers in the province they knew of whose immigration plans had been upended by the policy changes. Officials at the meeting called on protesters to end their hunger strike.

Singh ate a small portion of roti on Friday and took it easy while his body adjusted to the food again.

But even though the hunger strike is over, Singh said he and those around him would not leave on Saturday until they get what they demanded.

“Enough time has passed now, we have been screwed enough,” he said. “We all have hope that something will be done.”

Prime Minister Dennis King's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2024.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press