Negotiating Citizenship on the Frontlines: How the Devolution of Canadian Immigration Policy Shapes Service Delivery to Women Fleeing Abuse


  • This work was generously supported by CERIS—The Ontario Metropolis Centre. I am grateful to Luin Goldring, Patricia Landholt, and fellow scholars and activists who gave support and feedback through the Research Alliance for Precarious Status. Many thanks for the support and guidance from community partners and advisory board members from Sistering, Ontario Association for Transitional and Interval Housing, Women's Health in Women's Hands Community Health Centre, Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, and METRAC. Thanks also to Daphne Jeyapal and Tracy Smith-Carrier for their research assistance.

Rupaleem Bhuyan, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, 246 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V4. Telephone: (416) 946-5085; E-mail:


This article examines how nongovernmental service providers navigate devolutionary trends in Canada, in both immigration control and integration policy, when responding to migrants who come to them for help and support. Drawing upon conceptualizations of citizenship as a “negotiated relationship” (Stasiulis and Bakan 2003), I explore how social service providers, who work amidst a complex interplay of federal, provincial, and local policies, can influence both who is deemed worthy of social membership and what rights an individual can successfully claim from the state. Empirically, this article focuses on observation of community meetings and conversational interviews with service providers in violence against women shelters in Toronto, Ontario, Canada's most populous and diverse city. While service providers navigate different levels of government to advocate for women's rights to seek safety from abuse, I argue that both individual service providers and the organizations in which they work monitor and constrain the degree to which they openly challenge state authority to restrict immigrants' “right to have rights” (Arendt 1951 [1979], 296).