by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

A trip to an organic dairy farm in Ontario was enough to inspire a former Wall Street banker to launch a global search for better ways to treat farm animals. 

“This was an organic farm, but the cows still weren’t treated well,” recalls author Sonia Faruqi. “They were indoors two-thirds of the year and outdoors only one-third of the year, and while they were indoors, they were chained to stalls, which is really unnatural for cows, who are grazing animals.” 

After volunteering for two weeks at the dairy farm, Faruqi visited other Ontario farms, but not without resistance from farmers, who she says are part of a tightly knit community. 

“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different,” explains Faruqi, who was born in Pakistan and raised in the United Arab Emirates. 

She worked at an investment bank on Wall Street in the United States before the 2008 economic crisis, after which she joined her family who had just immigrated to Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different.”[/quote]

Faruqi says she used her savings to visit and volunteer at farms in several countries, including the United States, Malaysia and Mexico. 

Her first book, Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food, documents her experiences abroad and what can be done to create a farming system that is better for farmers, animals and consumers. 

A world view on farming 

While Faruqi says she witnessed many examples of animals being mistreated, such as chickens being kept in overcrowded cages and pigs covered in their own feces, she also visited farms where animals were well treated and healthy. 

In Belize, Faruqi stayed on a farm with female Mennonite missionaries, who she says have a holistic view of the land and do not refer to raising livestock as agriculture or business, but as “animal husbandry.” 

She says the women named their cows and allowed them to graze in fields with ponds and other animals. 

“It was interesting for me to see that kind of affection for the animals and the land.”  

Faruqi also compared the farming practices between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to explore how industrialization affects the treatment of animals. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system.”[/quote]

She explains that in Malaysia, which has recently experienced rapid economic growth, the popularity of fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s has led to an increase in factory-farm practices, including artificial insemination, antibiotic use and corn-based diets. 

“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system,” she explains. “Local farms, breeds, and knowledge that people have of animals and of the land – all of it is eradicated.” 

By contrast, in Indonesia, which is less industrialized, Faruqi witnessed hens walking freely in villages that only visited their owners’ homes in the mornings for breakfast. 

“I noticed people walking their cows,” she adds. “It was interesting to see that bond that people have with animals.” 

She notes that at some of the farms she visited in Ontario, farmers didn’t visit their farms and relied on automated systems to update them on their animals. 

The many downsides to factory farming

Faruqi says that despite the downsides to factory farming, the government in Malaysia promotes fast food because it symbolizes industrialization and development. 

“The same way people wear jeans and listen to American music, they’re also eating American foods, which are hamburgers and fries and actually not good for you,” she says. 

“There’s tens of billions of farm animals in the world and most of them are being made to suffer to produce cheap food for people, who should not be eating that much meat, milk and eggs to begin with.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.”[/quote]

Faruqi says consumers have the power to promote good farming habits by eating less animal products and demanding that the animal products they do eat be produced in healthier ways. 

“There’s a misconception that you have to be white and wealthy to even think about this, which is not true, because in the end, everyone’s health is important.” 

A disproportionate impact on immigrants   

She notes that while language or income barriers might prevent newcomers from making healthy choices, many of them come to Canada practising healthy eating habits that they don’t retain. 

“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.” 

The vegetarian diet that is popular in India is an example that Western societies can learn to value, she says. 

She notes that immigrants can also be disproportionately affected on the production side, because factory farms employ many immigrants in slaughterhouses. 

“Part of the reason is that these are jobs non-immigrants don’t want, for clear reasons,” she says. “Workers have mental and physical health issues, which are not really treated.” 

Faruqi advocates for more government oversight of factory farms and regulations to protect animal rights, as well as the inclusion of more women in agriculture. 

She says that under current laws in Canada and the U.S., a pig has the same rights as a table, “which is really ridiculous when you think about it, because one is an animate being with instincts and interests and desires, at the very least, to not suffer.”


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Health

by Kelsey Johnson

The federal government will not abide temporary foreign workers going underground to avoid an April 1 deadline that will force thousands of them out of the country, the immigration minister’s office said Tuesday.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We will not tolerate people going ‘underground.’ Flouting our immigration laws is not an option, and we will deal with offenders swiftly and fairly.” - Kevin Menard, spokesperson for Immigration Minister[/quote]

“Let there be no mistake: We will not tolerate people going ‘underground.’ Flouting our immigration laws is not an option, and we will deal with offenders swiftly and fairly,” Kevin Menard, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said in an email to iPolitics.

The minister’s office was responding to an investigative report by iPolitics that revealed nine low-skilled temporary foreign workers employed in the agriculture sector had been made false promises of permanent residency from registered, and non-registered, immigration consultants who charged thousands of dollars for their services.

While the minister’s office did not comment specifically on iPolitics’ investigation, Menard admitted unscrupulous immigration consultants are still operating in Canada. This despite previous promises of a widespread crackdown on fraudulent immigration consultants by then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in 2012.

“While most immigration consultants working in Canada are legitimate and ethical, it is clear that immigration fraud remains a threat to the integrity of our immigration system,” Menard said before referencing changes made to regulate the immigration consultant industry under the government’s Cracking Down on Crooked Immigration Consultants law.

Alexander later ignored a question on the matter when speaking to reporters after question period, turning away from the scrum when the query was made. When asked about the scheme in the House, Alexander said matters involving fraudulent immigration consultants should be referred to Canadian Border Services Agency.

Complaints, his office later clarified, can also be made to local police, the RCMP or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre if the complainant is in Canada.

Under Canadian law, immigration consultants found guilty in court for fraudulent activities on summary conviction are subject to a fine of up to $20,000, or up to six months imprisonment, or both. Individuals found guilty of an indictable offence are subject to a fine of up to $100,000, two years in prison or both.

Critics: A Shoddy System

That system, Liberal citizenship and immigration critic John McCallum told iPolitics, doesn’t seem to be working.

“The moral of this is to clamp down on these fraudulent people because they take money fraudulently from people who are vulnerable and they damage our system and our reputation and individuals involved,” he said.

“It’s about time the government took strong action on this as they’ve been saying they had for years now.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Their arbitrary timeline of April 1 has created unintended consequences which is workers who are already vulnerable… are now being charged hundreds of thousands of dollars and being made fake promises of possible residency.” - Jinny Sims, NDP employment critic[/quote]

NDP employment critic Jinny Sims agreed. She said she has routinely referred names of problematic immigration consultants to the minister, with no response. Ethnic radio, she stressed, is filled with ads from immigration consultants offering their services.

“It’s been a total mess,” Sims said, adding that Wednesday’s deadline for TFWs has only compounded their vulnerability.

“Their arbitrary timeline of April 1 has created unintended consequences which is workers who are already vulnerable… are now being charged hundreds of thousands of dollars and being made fake promises of possible residency.”

“It’s a very, very sad day.”

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is a lawyer, said she has serious doubts about immigration consultants – an industry she says appears to require more oversight.

“I’m deeply concerned about the quality of advice that potential immigrants and refugees get from immigration consultants,” May said. “I don’t want to smear an entire class of professionals but in my work as an MP… quite often I find that the advice given by immigration consultants has made their [individuals] situations worse.”

Workers looking to stay in Canada, she said, should call their member of parliament for assistance, particularly given the amount of confusion around the program and Canadian immigration pathways.

Finding Solutions

A solution, MPs say, must also be found to assist employers who are feeling the impacts of the changes — especially those working the agriculture sector, NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen said. The industry has repeatedly warned the government the April 1 deadline will be devastating in terms of labour loss.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Instead of fixing the real issues with the temporary foreign worker program, they [the government] have literally torn the ag[riculture] sector apart.” - Malcolm Allen, NDP agriculture critic[/quote]

The federal government has taken “a sledgehammer” to the temporary foreign worker program, Allen said – an approach the Ontario MP stressed has had devastating consequences for the agriculture sector and time is running out.

“Unless they [the government] are going to do something today, these folks are going to be on planes heading out of the country and some of the industries are going to be in a heck of a lot of trouble trying to get workers, even though they’ve applied for new ones.”

The entire program, he said, “is a mess” – with farmers, businesses, and workers livelihoods caught the middle. “Instead of fixing the real issues with the temporary foreign worker program, they [the government] have literally torn the ag[riculture] sector apart.”

Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca 

Published in Policy

by Kelsey Johnson

Two days before an April 1st deadline imposed under changes to the government’s temporary foreign worker program, some foreign workers who have to go back to their home countries are doing so with empty pockets because of unscrupulous immigration consultants, iPolitics has learned.

iPolitics has confirmed nine cases in Alberta and Southwestern Ontario in which registered immigration consultants, or individuals claiming to be immigration consultants, have charged thousands of dollars to temporary foreign workers and made false promises of being able to keep them in Canada despite regulations that say they must return to their home countries for four years before coming back to Canada.

The four-year rule was implemented in 2011 by the federal Conservatives as a means to encourage employers to hire Canadians.

All nine cases involve low-skilled workers in the agriculture industry with fees paid to consultants ranging from $1,000 to $8,000. None of the workers is employed under the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program, which is exempt from the government’s four-year rule.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Most of the affected foreign workers have been promised permanent residency under the guise of the Express Entry program – for which low-skilled applicants do not qualify.[/quote]

The cases were confirmed by employers and fellow employees of the temporary foreign workers in question. None of the workers involved would speak with iPolitics for fear of creating more problems for themselves.

Cathy Kolar provides legal information on behalf of Legal Assistance Windsor. In an interview with iPolitics Monday, she said she has encountered a multitude of similar cases from across the country whereby foreign workers who are about to be sent home have spent the last of their savings on false hopes of permanent residency.

Those cases, she says, involve workers of all nationalities employed in various low-skilled jobs in the agriculture and service sectors with retainer fees ranging from $670 to $8,000.

Most of the affected foreign workers have been promised permanent residency under the guise of the Express Entry program – for which low-skilled applicants do not qualify, Kolar said. Others, she explained, are being promised open-ended work visas.

These applications, she added, risk jeopardizing the worker’s ability to apply for work visas or permanent residency in the future.

Turning to Private Sector for Help

Rampant confusion, Kolar said, is compounding the problem. The vast majority of low-skilled workers in Canada fall under the National Occupation Classification (NOC) codes C and D. There is currently no federal immigration pathway to permanent residency for workers classified under those codes.

Yet, Kolar said neither Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), nor Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) websites clearly state in either official language that there is no available route for these workers to obtain permanent residency.

Meanwhile, calls to Citizenship and Immigration’s 1-888-242‑2100 help line go unanswered, Kolar said – that’s if you can get through and can speak fluent English or French. Local immigration centres, like the one in Windsor, Ont., have been closed to the public, she explained, forcing foreign workers who are desperate to stay to turn to the private sector for help.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This individual has collected data on everything from family connections to housing, to where their current address is, past employment history, all under the guise of putting forward a permanent residency application and so they [the worker] are very afraid of coming forward.” - Cathy Kolar[/quote]

Recourse for those workers who have been falsely promised permanent residency is even more limited, Kolar said.

“This individual has collected data on everything from family connections to housing, to where their current address is, past employment history, all under the guise of putting forward a permanent residency application and so they [the worker] are very afraid of coming forward,” she explained.

While legally, workers can file official complaints with the provinces’ law societies, that process can be arduous and takes time, Kolar said. Civil challenges are even more difficult because the individual’s temporary status can lead lawyers to shy away from the case.

Civil cases also cost money, she explained, which most of these workers don’t have – given they’ve spent the last of their savings on the earlier promise of permanent residency.

And most of these workers’ legal status in the country expires in two days. “If they don’t have status in the country, even though they’ve paid a significant amount of money, it’s really not going to result in status,” Kolar explained.

The Labour Crunch

iPolitics asked CIC about the available avenues to permanent residency for workers classified under NOC codes C and D. In an email, a spokesperson for the department responded with a list of federal programs designed to bridge skilled workers who are classified under NOC codes O, A, and B.

When asked, again, about low-skilled workers the department referred to provincial nominee programs. Only Alberta (whose program is currently overwhelmed with applications) and Saskatchewan’s provincial nominee programs are open to applications from low-skilled workers.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]hile the department’s minister has acknowledged the shortage of workers in the agriculture industry is a “problem” Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre has not proposed any solutions to the ongoing labour crunch.[/quote]

Saskatchewan’s program was only streamlined to accept low-skilled workers within the past two weeks.

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada told iPolitics the affected industries had four years to prepare for the fast-approaching deadline, adding that employers can still apply for new foreign workers under the temporary foreign worker program.

And, while the department’s minister has acknowledged the shortage of workers in the agriculture industry is a “problem” Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre has not proposed any solutions to the ongoing labour crunch.

Effects on Employers

Kolar, meanwhile, isn’t the only one who is witnessing the despair of these affected foreign workers first-hand.

Joe Le is the operations manager for two of three All Seasons Mushrooms farms, located in Langley and Abbotsford, B.C. The third farm is located in Airdrie, Alta – near Calgary, where Le told iPolitics labour is in dire supply.

Within the next month, the farm operator said he is about to lose 20 workers because of the April 1 deadline, with another 35 forced to leave within the year. Those workers are originally from Thailand, the Philippines, Guatemala, Mexico and Ukraine.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“One hundred per cent of my staff who have to leave do not want to go home.” - Joe Le[/quote]

All of those staff, he said when reached by telephone at the Abbotsford farm, are desperate to stay. “One hundred per cent of my staff who have to leave do not want to go home.”

One worker on the farm, who’s from Thailand, is “worried sick” because he will not be able to support his family if he is sent home, harvesting supervisor Alycia Lavergn said, because back home he only makes $10/day.

“He says ‘I can’t afford my life, my children can’t go to school if I’m home. At least when I’m here [in Canada] my children have a better opportunity back in Thailand,” she recalls. Other workers, Le said, have told him they will starve if they are sent home.

At the Airdrie farm, Le said, some foreign workers who are about to be sent home have stopped showing up up to work and have simply “disappeared over night.”

All Seasons’ owner approached a lawyer a year ago to enquire about ways the three farms could keep their 75 temporary foreign workers permanently. The lawyer determined it wasn’t possible under the current programs, Le said. If it had been an option, he said the owner would have immediately sponsored workers through the process.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“They’re waiting until the ninth hour, we’re nervous as hell, and then they say ‘fine, we’ll give it to you,” Le said about past applications, adding the farm’s contact at ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada) has asked him to stop calling her for updates.[/quote]

Meanwhile, applications for new temporary foreign workers put forward six months ago are stalled. With the April 1 deadline less than 48 hours away, Le said the farm still hasn’t heard whether those workers have been approved.

“They’re waiting until the ninth hour, we’re nervous as hell, and then they say ‘fine, we’ll give it to you,” Le said about past applications, adding the farm’s contact at ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada) has asked him to stop calling her for updates.

The farm, Le said, is scrambling to reorganize itself. He’s shifting workers around, while Lavergn is speed-reading resumes and fast-tracking interviews all in an effort to fill the pending voids – holes both say will be hard to fill because of lasting mark the departing workers have left on the farm.

“I can tell morale is going to be down because they’re [the fellow workers] losing part of their family,” Le said.

Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

Published in Policy

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved