“I Am Here in Canada and I Am Treated like a Dog”

First published on the Huffington Post on November 13, 2012

The Canada Border Services Agency just announced that it had deported 16,511 people in 2011-2012, dubbing it a “milestone year.”

“It is really chilling,” said Mary Foster from Montreal’s People’s Commission which successfully advocated to have Adil Charkaoui’s security certificate struck down and get Abousfian Abdelrazikback in to Canada. “It’s the moral equivalent of a mob killing someone and then jumping on their bodies in triumph.”

Deportation to death is not just an analogy. The case of Veronica Castro and Grise have made national headlines in the past years, women who were denied refugee status, were told that they were making up their refugee claims and deported. Both of them were murdered upon their return just as they feared.

These numbers, however, are only part of the forced removals story.

Every year tens of thousands of migrant workers are coerced to leave after getting hurt on the job or because their work permits are revoked or have been completed. This is euphemistically called “repatriations.”

According to government statistics, 3,709 migrant farm workers were deemed AWOL in the program between 1996 and 2011. A further 1,198 were sent home for medical reasons during that period, and 2,923 were flown back due to “breach of contract.” These are, in essence, deportations.

Winston Morrison is one such worker. In his own words:

“I was injured while working on a farm in Ontario on June 25, 2011. I had an operation on my knee on the 14th of September, 2011. They put a plate in. I was sent home to Jamaica and I went to the doctor there because something was wrong with my knee. The doctor gave me antibiotics. Then I went to another doctor and I kept telling him I wanted to go back to Canada to get treated, but my doctor wouldn’t give me a letter saying that I should go to Canada. In February, the second doctor opened my leg to see what was wrong. He said I had a tumour and I should go back to Canada to have it operated on.I got to Canada in May for a surgery and the doctor cut off my whole eg. The doctor told me that if I had been back in Canada a few months earlier, they could have saved my leg. The doctor in Canada could not tell me if my leg had a tumour or not. He cut off my leg because of the infection that I had because of the plate in my leg.

WSIB cut me off my compensation because they say that my leg was cut off because of the tumour and not because of my first injury. The Jamaican government has also cut me off benefits.

I am here in Canada and I am treated like a dog. We pay into the system, so why do we not get the same rights? I worked every day for eight months. This country gets so much from us and then they throw us under the bus. “

Though Winston was able to come back, many other workers that leave the country after being injured don’t. Most never see a penny of compensation for their workplace injuries.

Injured workers are one egregious part of the missing picture. Other migrant workers or people in other immigration streams that want to stay but leave because of the terms of their contract or permits should be counted as forced removals. Including those would significantly increase the numbers from the 16,511 that CBSA has currently announced.

“State designed immigration policies make it impossible for migrant workers to stay in Canada,” says Chris Ramsaroop from Justice for Migrant Workers, one of 13 member organizations of theMigrant Workers Alliance for Change. “There are significant amount of workers that are repatriated who want to stay in Canada. That’s part of the human face behind these partial deportation numbers.”

Canada is implementing a revolving door immigration policy, with high deportations and a shift to migrant work. It is clear to see who is paying the cost of these policies. Are we okay with this? It’s time we slow this down.


Worker Exploitation Is Not Just a Chinese Problem

First published on the Huffington Post on November 2nd, 2012

Stuck as we are in the midst of a U.S. Presidential campaign that has consistently framed China as the “boogey man,” the homogenizing outrage against the Canada-China Investment Agreement focused, it is as if China- and Chinese-bashing is all the rage right now.

If you’ve been following all the flare-up in British Columbia in the last few weeks about migrant workers from China coming to work in B.C.’s coal mines you’d think that migrant workers being charged recruitment fees is something that’s never been done before.

Even the B.C. Federation of Labour listed Chinese migrant workers being charged recruitment feesup to C$ 12,500 as the number one reason to suspend temporary work permits for the B.C. coal mine.

Fact of the matter is that charging recruitment fees is not just a “Chinese” problem; it is a home grown Canadian one.

Fay Faraday wrote recently:

“As labour migration has increased, private recruiters have emerged to facilitate the flow of workers from one country to another. Exploitation in this relationship is able to flourish precisely because of the structural and income inequalities addressed above (i.e. the actual migrant worker laws themselves that deny people immigration status) and migrant workers’ location in that power imbalance.”

Here, in Ontario, member organizations of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) like Justicia for Migrant Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Caregivers Action Centre have repeatedly highlighted stories of migrant workers being charged enormous sums of money yet too little has been done by the provincial labour ministry.

We’ve heard of “Angela” who was charged $5,000, or the 19 workers in Windsor who typically paid between $9,000 to $ 12,000 or the workers in Regina who paid over $5,000 dollars to recruiters. These are just some of the stories that made the mainstream press — countless others never will.

In Ontario, charging recruitment fees from migrant workers is legal unless it is investigated as human trafficking which it rarely is. This needs to change.

In March of 2010, MWAC groups managed to get the Ontario Ministry of Labour to pass the Employment Protection for Foreign National Act (EPFNA). Unfortunately, the bill only covered migrant workers coming in as live-in caregivers, leaving out many other workers coming in on other programs who were also being charged recruitment fees. Many of the provisions of the bill, such as an anonymous enforcement line aren’t active. Since then, migrant workers and their allies have called on Ontario repeatedly to act to amend the EPFNA to ensure real protections for workers.

One model to consider is the Manitoba’s Worker Recruitment and Protection Act (“WRAPA”). WRAPA provides greater protection because it applies to all migrant workers, puts the onus on employers and recruiters to be accountable at the front end, and involves both federal and provincial governments in proactive oversight and enforcement. No employer can recruit a foreign worker without registering with the Ministry of Labour which includes details of the duties, location and time period of the migrant worker’s employment.

In contrast, Ontario’s recruitment protection requires no monitoring by the Ministry and no licensing of recruiters, or registration of employers. It is difficult for the Ministry to enforce the law when they have no idea where recruiters are operating, or where migrant workers are working.

As Canada shifts towards a permanent system of temporary immigration, it’s become critical to change provincial laws so that they protect migrant workers rather than employers and recruiters. The answer is not to shut down temporary work programs as some argue, it is to ensure full immigration status on landing for migrant workers. And alongside this struggle at the Federal level, we need to ensure that provincial and municipal laws and policies change so that migrant workers get access to full protections and services.

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