CBC Ombudsperson: Investigate documentary on “birth tourism”

The following is a letter sent to CBC Ombudsperson. You can send a complaint also through: https://cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/ombudsman/contact

CBC 5th Estate Documentary – Passport babies: The growing shadow industry of birth tourism is inaccurate, unfair, imbalanced and puts migrants at risk

We are writing to you regarding the recent CBC 5th Estate’s documentary titled Passport babies: The growing shadow industry of birth tourism broadcast on January 5, 2020, and accompanying CBC web articles. This letter is co-signed by 30 immigrant rights, labour, research and indigenous rights organizations. 

The documentary and the accompanying articles fail to meet even the most minimal standards for fairness and accuracy in reporting. The program provides a biased version of events, and does not include any immigration rights expert voices. In the current climate of rising xenophobia and racism, this kind of misinformation only increases the  risk of violence and hatred toward migrants and their families.

(1) Accuracy

The program repeatedly reiterates that there are 5,000 non-resident births per year in Canada, and directly links that number to births by tourists. This number has only been cited in one report by Policy Options from November 22, 2018. However, in that study, the report author Mr. Griffith highlights that the 5,000 figure includes all migrants in Canada that do not have health coverage – not just tourists. This fact is not mentioned in the 5th Estate’s report at all. Over 780,000 temporary permits were issued during the period of Mr. Griffith’s study. In addition, there are an estimated  500,000 undocumented residents in Canada. Births by any migrants who did not have medical coverage are counted in the 5,000 figure. Thus, births by tourists are likely dramatically lower than what 5th Estate states them to be.

(2) Fairness

The 5th Estate episode, as well as the accompanying CBC piece titled ‘All about the money’: How women travelling to Canada to give birth could strain the health-care system, posit that lack of fee payment by tourist mothers is hurting the integrity of the healthcare system. The statistics provided, as outlined above, are not limited to tourists but include all non-payment of health fees by migrants. Many migrants are excluded from health coverage because of their temporary permits. Many are unable to pay up front the high fees necessary for life-saving care, putting their lives at risk. In July of 2019, the United Nations urged Canada to change legislation to ensure access to healthcare to all residents. This is critical context about the systemic denial of healthcare to migrants which, when left out, negatively biases viewers towards the reality of healthcare access for migrants. 

The show highlights that hospitals and doctors are collecting high fees from patients – $18 million invoiced, and only $2 million not paid. Considering non-payment of fees here includes all migrants, it is important to clarify that 42.9% of non-permanent residents in Canada are low-income, and thus are unable to afford such high fees. And yet the CBC reports the numbers as if they are simply rich tourists accessing services and refusing to pay. 

At the same time, front line nurses in the show itself point out how increased profit by hospitals is not resulting in increased staffing. But the production and editing of the show, including corresponding questions to hospital authorities and government officials, lays the blame for the strains on the health care system on fee non-payment by migrants, instead of inadequate staffing support and low government funding for front line workers, particularly nurses. 

(3) Balance

The show features several voices, including US President Donald Trump and Canadian parliamentarians, all speaking out against “birth tourism”. No immigration rights organizations, experts or lawyers are featured that could provide nuance or alternative interpretations of the statistics cited, , or shed light on the impact that high healthcare fees have on migrants, or to outline policy alternatives  developed by migration policy experts, for example, on the regulation of international recruiters – a subject of extensive policy and legislative work by immigrant rights organizations. 

(4) Impact on migrants

Police-reported hate crimes in Canada have been surging, a fact highlighted in the accompanying 5th Estate documentary aired on the same date. This rise in hate crimes is a direct result of growing anti-immigrant sentiment, analyses and rhetoric. In such an environment, producing inaccurate, unfair, and unbalanced media reports serves only to fan these flames of xenophobia and racism by redirecting concerns about lack of funding for healthcare towards immigrants.  This is dog-whistle politics, and it has a direct and harmful effect on hundreds of thousands individuals and families, and biases policy makers. 

We urge you to investigate the documentary, and accompanying web-stories closely, and to issue retractions and clarifications, and to ensure such inaccurate and biased reports on immigration policy are not aired in the future. 

On behalf of:

  1. Migrant Workers Alliance for Change*
  2. OCASI-Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
  3. Idle No More
  4. Association for the Rights of Household and Farm Workers (ADDPD-ARHW)
  5. Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network
  6. BC Health Coalition
  7. Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization
  8. Caring for Social Justice collective
  9. Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter
  10. Collaborative Network to End Exploitation
  11. CUPE 1571
  12. Durham Region Labour Council 
  13. Faraday Law
  14. Idle No More Ontario
  15. Institut universitaire SHERPA: migration, diversité, santé
  16. Migrant Worker Solidarity Network, Manitoba
  17. Migrant Workers Centre – BC
  18. Migrante Alberta
  19. Migrante BC
  20. Montréal Antifasciste
  21. No One is Illegal – Halifax: K’jipuktuk
  22. No One Is Illegal Toronto
  23. No One Is Illegal – Fredericton
  24. Northumberland Labour Council
  25. Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
  26. Sanctuary Health
  27. Toronto Seed Library
  28. Unifor Local 222
  29. Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights (CDWCR)
  30. Workers Action Centre

* The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) includes individuals as well as Asian Community Aids Services, Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support), Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization, Caregivers Action Centre, Chinese Canadian National Council – Toronto, Durham Region Migrant Solidarity Network, FCJ Refugee House, GABRIELA Ontario, IAVGO Community Legal Clinic, Income Security Advocacy Centre, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Northumberland Community Legal Centre, OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, OHIP For All, PCLS Community Legal Clinic, SALCO Community Legal Clinic, Students Against Migrant Exploitation, UFCW, UNIFOR, Workers’ Action Centre and Workers United.

JOIN US: Migrant Students United!

We are organizing for decent jobs, open work permits, full access to social services, and permanent status upon arrival for migrant students. 

Migrant Worker Policy Priorities – May 2019

DOWNLOAD OUR POLICY POSITION HERE.

There are a number of issues of key concern to migrant workers and their support organizations across Canada at this moment. These include:

  1. Employment and Social Development Canada proposals for an occupation specific work permit;
  2. Interim Pathway for Caregivers, set to expire on June 4th, 2019;
  3. Proposal for the creation of permanent residency pilot program for non-seasonal agricultural workers and a permanent residency program for Caregivers; and
  4. Regulations for the creation of an Open Work Permit Program for temporary foreign workers at risk of abuse.

For migrant workers at the receiving end of these programs and proposals, these issues are interconnected. To engage in separate consultations on each matter, and only speak to a part of an issue rather than the whole further fragments the ability of migrant workers to give meaningful input. For these reasons, we are submitting one document that addresses all four issues.

As elaborated below, migrant workers in Canada continue to demand:

  1. Permanent resident status on arrival for all migrant workers in Canada through the creation of a Federal Workers Program for care workers, and in consultation with migrant workers in other streams;
  2. In the interim, creation of open or occupation specific work permits that are not reliant on employers that would allow workers to move freely between jobs and workplaces and work for any employer in a sector;
  3. The extension and then grandparenting of the Interim Pathway for care workers to ensure that no worker is left behind;
  4. Immediate implementation of an Open Work Permit Program for workers facing risk of abuse or being abused.

In this policy memo, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change*, Association for the Rights of Household & Farm Workers (ARHW)- Montreal, Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization (CCESO) – Toronto, Caregivers Action Centre – Toronto, Cooper Institute – PEI, FCJ Refugee Centre – Toronto, Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC) Montreal, Income Security Advocacy Centre – Toronto, Migrant Worker Solidarity Network – Manitoba, Migrant Workers Centre (BC), Migrante Alberta, Migrante BC, Migrante Canada, Migrante Manitoba, Migrante Ontario, Migrante Ottawa, Migrante Quebec, Migrants Resource Centre Canada – Toronto, PINAY – Quebec, RAMA – Okanagan, Sanctuary Health – Vancouver and Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights (CDWCR) propose a joint position on all these matters.

* The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change includes individuals as well as Asian Community Aids Services, Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support), Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization, Caregivers Action Centre, Durham Region Migrant Solidarity Network, FCJ Refugee House, GABRIELA Ontario, IAVGO Community Legal Clinic, Income Security Advocacy Centre, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Northumberland Community Legal Centre, OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, OHIP For All, PCLS Community Legal Clinic, SALCO Community Legal Clinic, Students Against Migrant Exploitation, UFCW, UNIFOR, Workers Action Centre and Workers United.  

DOWNLOAD OUR POLICY POSITION HERE. 

Time to respond: Proposed Open Work Permits for Workers Facing Abuse or Risk of Abuse

On Friday, December 15th, the Federal Government proposed in the Canada Gazette the creation of an Open Work Permit Program for Workers Facing Abuse or Risk of Abuse. This Open Permit is in line with our proposed permits and are a step in the right direction. Click here to see our original submissions calling for this permit in December 2017.

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has made specific submissions on ways to ensure that the proposed Open Work Permits actually ensure migrant worker protections – Read them here

The rproposed egulatory changes are promising in terms of interim protections for migrant workers as we continue our call for a system of permanent resident status on landing for low-waged migrants. However, they can and must be strengthened. Current gaps include:

  • Wide range of discretionary powers for the officers to define abuse, determine the length of permits or to issue the permit at all, and lack of a robust appeals process to maintain a check on these powers;
  • Lack of specific provisions for Care Workers who need to complete 24 months of service within 48 months and need the work experience on these permits to be counted; and lack of protections from blacklisting for Seasonal Agricultural Workers;
  • Lack of guaranteed access to healthcare; and
  • Lack of specific investigative mechanisms to ensure workers are compensated for harms.

Take Action Now! Send a letter to the Federal Government right now calling for changes. Use this template letter to draft your own submissions Please share this with your colleagues.

This Thanksgiving, remember migrant farmworkers

This Thanksgiving, remember migrant farmworkers

As you sit down with your family and friends for a Thanksgiving meal this weekend, take a moment to think about who grew your food, who caught the turkey, who picked the grapes.

The migrant farmworkers who did have a message for you. They too want to be with their families. And they are asking you to help spread their story on Facebook and Twitter.


Featured in these photos are three of the over 40,000 migrant agricultural workers that come to Canada year after year, working in fields, greenhouses and factories. These jobs are dangerous, low-waged and necessary. Without them, our food system would simply not work. Yet, the law excludes them from basic protections, or the ability to reunite with their families. While they are afraid of reprisals from bosses if they show their faces, they are organizing and resisting. This Thanksgiving, they are asking people across Canada to remember them.

Share their story on Facebook and Twitter this weekend and urge your friends and family to sign this petition: http://migrantrights.ca/en/take-action/#email.

Read their stories below. Their names have been changed to protect workers against employer reprisals.

This is Mario. He is 29. His sign reads, “Agricultural workers give our hands and our years of youth to the Canadian economy.” He also says,  “I gave my hands and labour to this country. And I have suffered injuries while working here. And because I’m not a permanent resident,  I will be one more number that will be replaced when my contract ends! We do the heavy work Canadians won’t do, but we don’t have the same rights as permanent residents. That’s not fair.”

 

 

 

This is Chris. His sign reads, “If you drink wine this Thanksgiving, thank a migrant worker.” 41 year old Chris is a Caribbean father of two and has been coming to Canada for 10 years to grow and harvest peaches, pears, and grapes. He works up to 13 hours a day, 7 days a week. The income he earns here provides food, clothing, and school expenses for his children back home. Chris adds, “One day I want to bring my family to Canada so we can all be together.”

 

 

 

This is Mario. He is 29. His sign reads, “Agricultural workers give our hands and our years of youth to the Canadian economy.” He also says,  “I gave my hands and labour to this country. And I have suffered injuries while working here. And because I’m not a permanent resident,  I will be one more number that will be replaced when my contract ends! We do the heavy work Canadians won’t do, but we don’t have the same rights as permanent residents. That’s not fair.”

Policy Submission: Permanent Status on Landing – Real reform for Caregivers

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A century of experience has demonstrated that caregiving labour is an ongoing permanent need in the economy. More than 60 years of caregivers’ experience with temporary labour migration to Canada has demonstrated consistent, well-documented, widespread problems of exploitation and abuse by employers and recruiters. Repeated reviews by Parliamentary Committees (most recently the 2016 HUMA Committee hearings), as well as academic and community-based research have demonstrated that this exploitation is rooted in the vulnerability that is created by the terms of Canada’s temporary labour migration program itself.

In addition, caregivers over the past four decades of the program have suffered from the ‘two-step’ immigration system that requires them to finish their employment contracts before being allowed to apply for permanent residency. This has led to profoundly damaging and lasting impacts on the physical and mental health of caregivers and their families. Years of family separation can cause intergenerational conflicts between caregivers and their children as well as family breakdown.

The time has come to make real, meaningful reforms that ensure decent work and security in this core area of the labour market. Caregivers are united in demanding:

  1.  A comprehensive and transparent consultation process to reform the Caregiver Program.
  2.  A new Federal Workers Program – Caregiver Stream that provides caregivers with permanent status on entry and family unity.
  3. Reforms to protect caregivers who are already in Canada and in the backlog to ensure that no one is left behind.

These interim reforms will involve allowing caregivers to come to Canada with their families; eliminating the backlog in caregivers’ permanent residency applications; removing the ‘excessive demand’ provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA); regularizing the status of caregivers who have become undocumented; developing immigration criteria that are consistent with what is needed to do the job; and putting an end to the second medical and to excessive educational and language requirements re-introduced in 2014. We particularly urge the creation of an open work permit program as an interim measure.

What’s happening with the Caregiver Program?

What's happening with the Caregiver Program?

Download this flyer, and share with other Caregivers.

The current “Pathways” Caregiver Program was created in November 2014 for five years. It is is set to expire on November 29, 2019. Unless the program changes – no applications for permanent residency will be received after November 29, 2019. 

This is a crisis AND and an opportunity.

The government has promised to review the Caregiver program and make changes before November 29, 2019. If we do nothing – then the Caregiver program could disappear. But if we work together – we may be able to create a better program.

Caregivers: Don’t be afraid. You deserve to be treated with dignity! You deserve permanent resident status!

Right now we need to bring together issues of low-wages, employer abuse, tied work permits, permanent residency backlog and family reunification. We want a new program with permanent status for all migrant workers.

We need to tell the government that we want a new program that gives us permanent status, the ability to move between jobs, and to be reunited with our families. Caregiving is real work, it’s useful, it’s important and Caregivers deserve real worker rights.

Educate yourself on what the government is planning, and get in touch with your local Caregiver organizations to talk about what a new Caregiver program should look like.

Download this flyer, and share with other Caregivers.

Policy Submission: Labour exemptions for Domestic Workers, Homemakers and Residential Care Workers

Policy Submission: Labour exemptions for Domestic Workers, Homemakers and Residential Care Workers

In this phase of Ontario’s exemption review, only eight occupations are being considered: architects, homemakers, domestic workers, residential care workers, IT professionals, managers and supervisors, pharmacists, and superintendents. Migrant Workers Alliance for Change endorses the submissions made by the Workers’ Action Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services. These submissions will focus on Domestic Workers, Homemakers and Residential Care Workers, as these sectors impact most upon migrant worker labour.

Domestic Workers do the critical work of caring for children, persons with disabilities and older persons. The caregiving sector is reliant on the work of migrant workers, primarily women, who risk their jobs and their hopes of permanent residence in Canada if they complain about violations of their rights. This workforce is overwhelmingly female, racialized, poorly paid and highly precarious. Domestic workers include people with and without regularized immigration status and migrant workers employed through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The caregiving sector is rife with abuses ranging from unpaid overtime to sexual abuse and racial discrimination. Often working alone in their employer’s home, caregivers need robust employment standards protections, support for collective action to improve their conditions of work, and effective rights enforcement. Ontario’s employment and labour law regimes currently accomplish none of these things.

Domestic Workers are subject to a special minimum wage rule that allows employers to deduct room and board from wages for the purposes of determining whether minimum wage has been paid. This special minimum wage rule is inconsistent with the federal Caregiver Program policies that prohibit employers from charging room and board to live-in caregivers.

When it comes to protections for unionization, Domestic Workers working in private homes are explicitly excluded from the Labour Relations Act and collective bargaining units made up of one person are not permitted.

Caregiver work is in practice very fluid, with movement between residential care homes and live-in caregiving situations. Some are recruited into other types of care work when they experience problems in the federal Caregiver Program, for example when they fall out of status for leaving an abusive workplace and must find a way to support themselves and their families. Because of this fluidity, migrant caregivers are also impacted by two other sectors under review: homemakers and residential care workers.

Caregivers who are considered “homemakers” are exempt from a litany of employment standards including daily and weekly hours of work limits, overtime, daily rest periods, eating periods and time off between shifts or work weeks. They are entitled to wages to a maximum of 12 hours per day of pay, even when they work more. A residential care worker, who cares for children or disabled persons in family-type residential dwellings, does not enjoy minimum protections for hours of work and eating periods (daily and weekly limits on hours of work, mandatory rest periods and eating periods), overtime, and the right to payment for hours worked after 12 hours per day.

None of these exemptions can be justified and we urge Ontario to eliminate them. Instead, Ontario must take the necessary steps to ensure that caregiving work is free of exploitation and abuse, including by implementing the kinds of “broader based bargaining” strategies that would make collective action and worker power a reality for caregivers.

In the next phases of this exemption review, Ontario must prioritize those industries where workers are most vulnerable, including sectors that rely heavily on migrant labour. In particular, we urge Ontario to ensure that the agricultural sector is included in the next phase of the review.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL SUBMISSION HERE: MWAC Exemption Review Phase One – December 2017

Policy Submissions: Open Work Permit Program for Migrant Workers Facing Risk

Policy Submissions: Open Work Permit Program for Migrant Workers Facing Risk

Migrant workers and their support organizations across Canada call on the Federal Government to ensure permanent resident status upon arrival for all migrant workers. The current system of temporary, employer specific work permits leaves labour and human rights beyond the reach of migrant workers in Canada. As an interim step to permanent resident status, we are calling on the Federal Government to create open work permits for all workers.

The Federal Government, however, has begun discussions about creating an open work permit program for workers facing abuse only. Here are submissions on how to make this program effective and responsive.

Click to download: Open Work Permit Program for Migrant Workers Facing Risk

 

Policy Submission: Repeal Section 38(1)(c) of IRPA

Policy Submission: Repeal Section 38(1)(c) of IRPA

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and Caregivers Action Centre made the following policy submission to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. DOWNLOAD HERE

Our key recommendations on Medical Inadmissibility:

  • Immediately repeal Section 38(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
  • Immediately grant permanent residency to everyone who was denied permanent residency on the basis of Section 38(1)(c)  in the last 10 years.

FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MIGRANT WORKER RIGHTS

We also urge the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to develop legislation that:

1) Ensures permanent immigration status for all migrant workers

Status for All, Status on Arrival: All migrant workers must be able to immigrate to Canada as permanent residents immediately, independently and permanently without depending or relying on the sponsorship or good will of their employers or third party agencies. This program should include migrant workers already in Canada, those that have worked here and left and those arriving in the future. Migrant workers who have been granted permanent residency should get comprehensive settlement services that will ensure their success.

  • This recommendation is distinctly separate from a provision of ‘pathway to permanent residency’. A ‘pathway’ is a two-step process that Caregivers had until November 2014 — the current two-streamed program contains a more restrictive pathway — and even then was shown to have the same forms of abuse and vulnerability that are found in other parts of the program.
  • Permanent residency ensures services: Many labour rights and basic services in Canada like healthcare and post-secondary education are tied to permanent immigration status. Migrant workers pay for all these services through taxes and deserve access to them.
  • Permanent residency is the norm: Most immigrants – refugees, spouses, high-waged immigrants – arrive to Canada with permanent resident immigration status, which gives them peace of mind, the ability to re-unite with their families and the tools they need to lay deeper roots and build our society further as soon as they arrive.
  • Permanent residency re-unites families: Landed status on arrival would also allow caregivers to enter Canada with their families, thus eradicating family separation (which averages 6-8 years) while caregivers complete the program and wait for their permanent residence applications to be processed.

2) Ensures access to all social services and benefits

Ensure access to Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance and other federal entitlements to migrant workers already in Canada and portable benefits to migrant workers who are no longer here.