by Samantha Power in Edmonton, Alberta

As the Fort McMurray emergency passes, those without housing and citizenship status face an uncertain future.

Over 160 temporary foreign workers from Fort McMurray came together at an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss issues of status and access to services. The workers were among the close to 90,000 evacuated last Tuesday when a fire burned through the Northern Alberta town closest to the oil sands.

For a moment temporary foreign workers shared the same harrowing experience as their fellow citizens: find rest, housing and food. But in the long-term, residence and potential citizenship of foreign workers may be at risk.

“The burden they carry is their status,” says Marco Luciano, Alberta spokesperson with the Coalition for Migrant Workers Rights. “It depends on their employer. They cannot find other means of survival.”

Hitched to employers

Temporary foreign worker (TFW) status is tied to the employer that brought them over for work. And Fort McMurray’s formerly booming economy survived with temporary workers taking on service industry and caretaking jobs. Luciano says it’s evidence the TFW program needs to be changed to grant permanent residence.

“These are permanent jobs,” says Luciano. “Permanent residency should be upon arrival so that they can also access what Canadians and permanent residents can access from government.”

With the entire town and surrounding areas evacuated many foreign workers have not heard from their employers. Residents of Fort McMurray cannot return to the town for at least two weeks. Luciano says temporary workers are concerned it will mean their employers may not return to the city, leaving them without work and without status.

“They don’t know their future,” says Luciano.

Many workers many not have a fixed address or may have lost their documents to the fire.

“Many left with just the clothes on their back,” says Luciano. “A bus picked them up from work and took them to Edmonton.”

As of 2014, Alberta had 19,621 temporary foreign workers, many of whom were employed in sectors supporting the oil economy in and around Fort McMurray. Luciano says with 160 attending the first meeting only a week after the evacuation, it’s a sign many more will show up with the same concerns, and needs for housing.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Permanent residency should be [granted] upon arrival so that they can also access what Canadians and permanent residents can access from government.[/quote]

The immediate need of shelter and food has been met not only at the city’s official evacuation centre in Northlands, but through private donations of temporary housing.

Established support communities began as soon as the evacuation order was called to start finding temporary housing for those without family in the city or the province.

“Everyone was in the same boat,” says Arundeep Singh Sandhu.

Community steps up

Edmonton’s Sikh community was ready on Tuesday welcoming and finding housing for almost a hundred evacuees. The Guru Nanak Sikh Society mobilized to start finding everything from basement suites to available apartments to house evacuees.

“We wanted to fill that gap before government and insurance are able to step in,” says Sandhu.

He estimates 160 to 170 were found housing by Saturday.

But now the long-term needs have started to set in.

“We’ve actually had to start turning people away because we don’t have longer term accommodation,” says Sandu.

Carryover from welcoming refugees

Organizers at the Al Rashid mosque on Edmonton’s north side are facing a similar situation.

“People are welcome to stay as long as they need,” says Omar Najmaddine, executive director at the mosque. “But its not the perfect place for families. It’s open space.”

Najmeddine estimates the mosque housed over 120 evacuees in the immediate few days after the evacuation and continued to see people arrive as late as Sunday. Najmaddine says he quickly reached out to contacts at the mosque in Fort McMurray and across social media to let people know the centre was open in Edmonton.

Najmadinne says part of the reason donors and volunteers were able to mobilize so quickly is due to the work to welcome government sponsored Syrian refugees who arrived in the city just a few months ago. The mosque had coordinated the Edmonton Islamic Relief Centre for the arrival of Syrian refugees. And many Edmontonians who have been working to sponsor families privately have networks to help organize donations and housing.

One week after the evacuation order, he estimates 70 to 80 evacuees remain in the mosque using the two floors of cots as temporary shelter. He has seen large families, recent immigrants and four families of Syrian refugees flow through the centre over the week.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]...with residence tied to employment, Luciano says the government must act to remove restrictions to allow temporary foreign workers to work not just for their employer.[/quote]

“They moved to Fort Mac, and then moved here,” says Najmeddine.

Now longer term housing is needed.

“We’ve got a lot of people looking for two to three months of housing,” says Najmeddine.

Organizers at the mosque began to collect information about longer-term temporary housing early in the evacuation process, not knowing how long the housing may be needed. The list is being used to help find places for people who have no where else to go.

For temporary foreign workers the long-term looks even more uncertain.

Temporary foreign workers have access to the supports announced by the province. Adults are able to collect $1250 and $500 per dependent. Details on how to access that assistance will be provided starting May 11. But with residence tied to employment, Luciano says the government must act to remove restrictions to allow temporary foreign workers to work not just for their employer.

The Slave Lake fire in 2011 left 60 temporary foreign workers in a similar unstable situation. The Alberta government has set up a direct assistance line for temporary foreign workers and new immigrant nominees who have been displaced.

Luciano’s group is working to coordinate temporary foreign workers in the city and has started a petition asking for the government to ease work restrictions and create an open work permit for those who need it. 


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 28 January 2016 02:55

Fighting for Migrant Farmworkers’ Rights

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Beginning today, NCM will bring readers a summary of what is appearing in ethnic media across Canada. We begin with English-language media, but hope to expand it to include all languages over the next few months.

by Priya Ramanujam in Scarborough, Ontario

In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: putting an end to 50 years of injustice for migrant workers, individuals making a difference for Syrian refugees on the ground level, and how newcomers are finding a balance between holding onto their native cultures and embracing Canada’s.

Migrant farmworkers: advocacy and celebration

Temporary foreign workers need access to permanent residency in order to protect them on the job.

This is the primary message the advocacy group Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) delivered in a press conference Monday on Parliament Hill.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Permanent residency would grant farmworkers most social benefits.[/quote]

The event was held to launch a year-long campaign, “Harvesting Freedom,” which will “culminate in a historic pilgrimage of migrant farmworkers and allies on to the nation’s capital … on October 2 and 3 to insist that justice is 50 years overdue,” reported the Indo-Canadian Voice.

“Low-wage workers like myself, coming to Canada in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), the Caregiver Program – are tied to single employers – which means closed work permits,” said Bahiwal Gregorgina (Gina), a Filipina temporary worker.

“This means that we are subject to abuse, exploitation, and separation from our families. I lost my first job because I tried to speak up. I tried to fight for my rights and recruitment fees, I helped other coworkers to speak up and they were threatened (with) deportation.”

Permanent residency would grant workers most social benefits, reports iPolitics, including health care and the ability to work or study anywhere in Canada.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of SAWP in Canada, a program created in 1966 as a result of labour shortages on Canadian farms. While it does have its challenges, as Share Newsreports it also has its upside.

“The program has … helped thousands of families overseas and farm owners here,” writes Tom Godfrey, “with some workers returning to the same farms for 30 years.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A Montreal business owner plans to hire more Syrian refugees as Canada continues to accept them.[/quote]

The first group of 300 farm workers from Jamaica recently arrived in Canada under the SAWP for 2016 and more than 8,000 from the island nation are expected over the year.

According to the report, more than JMD$1.7 billion was sent back to the country in remittances in 2015, and the country’s government officials say this money is vital to the local economy.

“The overseas program must be seen as a critical part of the growth agenda for our country,” said Delroy Palmer, Jamaica’s Director of Overseas Employment Service, in the article. “It must be seen as part of the economic growth of the country.”

Canadians stepping up for Syrians

A Montreal plywood factory has become a safe haven of sorts for refugees arriving in Canada.

According to a story published in the Epoch Times, picked up from the Canadian Press, Seatply Products Inc. – owned by Levon Afeyan, himself a refugee who fled Lebanon’s civil war with his family in 1975 – is a place where refugees not only find employment but can also gain access to things like French-language lessons and life-skills development.

There are currently 12 refugees from Syria employed at the factory, but people who came to Canada as refugees from Sri Lanka and Iraq work there as well.

The Montreal business owner plans to hire more Syrian refugees as Canada continues to accept them, stating in the article that he knows the importance of a job to these individuals.

“Respect is a big thing in the Middle East,” Afeyan states in the article. “A man has to be a respectable man. Without a job he doesn’t have that.”

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, Sikh community organization Guru Nanak Free Kitchen extended its welcoming hand to Syrian children arriving in Surrey with over 300 toys.

Randeep Sarai, member of Parliament for Surrey Centre, was on hand for the festivities, the Indo-Canadian Voice reported, wishing the children a wonderful future in Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Newcomers tend to settle into neighbourhoods that have a similar culture to their homeland, which can sometimes be counterproductive.[/quote]

“It is heartwarming to see how such a small act of kindness can put a smile on the kids’ faces,” Guru Nanak’s Paul Hundle told the Voice.

The toys handed out this past week were only one-third of the donations the Guru Nanak organization collected, so organizers say the rest will be distributed to the hundreds of Syrian children expected to arrive in British Columbia before the end of February.

Canada’s winning – thanks to diversity

A new survey entitled “Best Countries” ranks Canada second in the world. Only Germany is ahead of it.

According to Canadian Immigrant magazine, the survey, which was conducted by the U.S. News & World Report, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and global brand consultants BAV Consulting, considered 75 factors including sustainability, entrepreneurship and cultural and economic influence.

“Canadians pride themselves in encouraging all of their citizens to honour their own cultures,” the study said, making mention of the country’s official multiculturalism policy put into place in 1971.  

While this may be a positive from the outside looking in, a new article published this week in The Source titled “Embracing Canadian culture through community connections” showcases the other side of the multiculturalism coin.

The article explains that newcomers tend to settle into neighbourhoods that have a similar culture to their homeland, which can sometimes be counterproductive.

Queenie Choo, CEO of immigrant-serving organization S.U.C.C.E.S.S. in British Columbia, explains in the article that newcomers need to embrace Canadian culture.

“It’s important for them to venture from what feels comfortable in their immediate surroundings so they can learn about our Canadian culture,” she says.

Published in Top Stories

by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

With Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s recent visit to Canada, the Philippines have been more widely reported on in mainstream media. Still, many of the diaspora’s stories and news go widely uncovered by major news networks. Aquino, himself, was covered quite differently by Philippine outlets than in the mainstream. In this edition of PULSE, find out about what’s been making waves in the Philippine media.

Aquino’s Visit to Canada: Not All Positive

The recent visit of Philippine President Aquino generated its fair share of coverage from the mainstream media – generally concentrating on the ‘positive’ side of the visit, trade talks, etc., while treating protesters with muted interest.

But Filipino outlets covered the negative aspects as well; in fact, even before he arrived.

Bern Jagunos (pictured to the right), a writer for the Toronto-based Philippine Reporter, wrote on May 1 that it appears Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not heard that the President’s aura has “irreversibly dimmed,” thanks to what she called Aquino’s, “atrocious human rights record, dismally inept leadership and the unbridled corruption of his administration.”

President Aquino’s popularity back home has sunk to a record low, Jagunos claimed.

Jagunos also referred to a study by Global Witness that quotes the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) saying that, “under President Aquino’s leadership, the Philippines ranks third among the most dangerous countries in the world for citizens who advocate for the protection of the environment. In 2014 alone, 15 Filipinos were killed by state agents because the Aquino government considered their opposition to large scale mining and other destructive resource extraction projects a threat to the state.”

Meanwhile, after he arrived in Canada, ethnic media continued to provide critical commentary of his visit.

The Philippine Reporter called Toronto’s event at Roy Thomson Hall welcoming Aquino to town, a “political rally”, inside its article published in partnership with New Canadian Media. Most of the invited guests cheered Aquino and Harper on, the article stated, but many others were upset the more difficult issues of rights abuse, poverty and temporary foreign workers were not raised.

On the other hand Vancouver’s Philippine Canadian Inquirer reported that Aquino had a “rousing welcome” from the Fil-Can community, but failed to mention the protests outside.

Filipinos Want to Stop Deportations

According to the Pilipino Express, activists from across Canada stepped up their fight efforts to stop the deportations of thousands of temporary foreign workers caught in the federal government’s “4-in-4-out” rule that came into effect April 1.

Migrant workers who have been in Canada for four years will be barred from returning to Canada under the same program for another four years.

It is estimated that as many as 70,000 workers will be forced to leave, according to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual temporary foreign workers, because, quite simply, they’ve done nothing wrong.” - Gil McGowan, head of Alberta Federation of Labour[/quote]

Workers in managerial and professional occupations, or under international agreements such as NAFTA, and those who have already received approval letters for their permanent residence applications, are exempt.

Critics have condemned the April 1 implementation as an April Fool’s joke for the thousands who expected to be deported.

Veteran immigration consultant Michael Scott, writing for the Pilipino Express in Winnipeg, praised Gil McGowan — the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour — and quotes him speaking about the basic compassion held by Canadians: “It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual temporary foreign workers, because, quite simply, they’ve done nothing wrong,” McGowan said.

McGowan pointed out that the expansion and abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is a result of the Harper government’s approach to the shortage of skilled workers inside Canada.

He added that the Conservatives created a “two-tier labour market in which unscrupulous employers are allowed to use a vulnerable underclass of workers to drive down wages, displace Canadians and avoid their responsibilities related to training.”

International Outcry Wins Reprieve for Mary Jane Veloso

Canada was caught in the international outcry surrounding Indonesia’s aborted execution of Mary Jane Veloso, who a firing squad was scheduled to execute on April 28. 

The mother of two won a reprieve from the Indonesian government after Philippine President Aquino reportedly broke protocol by speaking directly to the Indonesian Foreign Minister on the sidelines of an Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.

The migrant’s rights group Migrante Canada, which has organizations in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., spearheaded the Canadian effort to lobby for Veloso’s release, alongside organizations like Migrante International, the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), Bayan Canada and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS).

According to the Philippine Asian Chronicle, members of Migrante B.C. (pictured above) rallied outside the Indonesian consulate in Vancouver on April 24.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Migrante B.C.] held Aquino’s government accountable for Veloso’s near-execution and criticized him for his continued inaction towards other cases involving Filipinos on death row abroad.[/quote]

In a press release, Migrante B.C. coordinator Jane Ordinario said that although Veloso had already been transferred to ‘Execution Island,’ the group would not give up hope, adding that many individuals and organizations were calling on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to grant her clemency.

The group held Aquino’s government accountable for Veloso’s near-execution and criticized him for his continued inaction towards other cases involving Filipinos on death row abroad. 

Ordinario added that the group had met with the Philippine Consul General, Neil Ferrer, to submit its demands.

Migrante held a noon vigil on April 28 in front of the Indonesian consulate followed by a community prayer at the Multicultural Helping House Society to celebrate that Veloso’s execution had been cancelled.

Michael Davantes Voted Most Beautiful Filipino-Canadian

Mabuhay Montreal TV (MMTV) anchor, Michael Davantes, has been named the ‘Most Beautiful Filipino-Canadian’ in Canada.

The Montreal-based North American Filipino Star’s Fely Rosales Carino writes, “The word beautiful can be defined in many different ways. It commonly describes those with physical attributes; however, it can also describe someone who has demonstrated an extraordinary achievement or success.”

The International Professional Entertainment Network chose Davantes, because as Carino reports, the network honours those who have made an “impact in the community, or even in somebody else’s life.” The Network has made it clear that it believes Davantes to be a beautiful person inside and out.

The fifth annual Most Beautiful Filipinos in Canada Awards ceremony was held in Toronto on January 31, 2015. There, Davantes received an award of recognition.

In the past, the anchor has been a recipient of Vanier College’s “Life Award” for scholastic achievement and tremendous community service. He has also held the “Outstanding Graduate of the Year” title by the Philippine Benevolent and the Scholarship Society of Quebec (PBSSQ) and been recognized as one of the “Most Outstanding Filipino-Canadians” by the Bb. Pilipinas World Pageant for helping build a positive image for Filipinos in Canada.

Calling him “dynamic” Carino’s article also lists all of Davantes’ many talents as he has worked as a medical lab technician, model trainer and agent, international pageant director, public relations and marketing consultant, musical theatre actor and an environmental columnist in the past.

Manila: A Dangerous Place for Lawyers

Just as Philippine President Aquino left Canada last week, The Law Society of Upper Canada said it is deeply concerned about the ongoing human rights violations faced by lawyers and judges in the Philippines, reported the Filipino Post.

The Post article speaks to an incident last summer when an unidentified motorcycle gunmen killed lawyer Rodolfo Felicio (pictured to the left) on August 24, making him the fifth member of the Filipino activist group, National Union of People’s Lawyers, to have been killed in the past 10 years.

Reports indicate that at least 41 lawyers and 18 judges have been murdered in the Philippines since 2001. An increasing number of lawyers and judges have been harassed and attacked.

The Law Society urged the government of the Philippines to put an end to all acts of violence and harassment against human rights lawyer and defenders in the nation, and guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological safety and integrity of all human rights lawyers and defenders, according to the article.

According to the Basic Report on the Human Rights Lawyers under Continuing Threat in the Philippines, in these cases “only very scarcely a perpetrator is arrested and nearly never prosecuted or punished by the courts.”

The Post makes note that in its World Report 2015 Human Rights Watch stated that Aquino continues to send “mixed signals” about his administration’s commitment to improving human rights in the Philippines.

“While human rights was a key agenda for Aquino when he took office in 2010, he has failed to make good on many of his commitments, chiefly his expressed intent to end killings of activists and journalists and bring those responsible to justice,” stated the report.

Photos sourced from the original stories that were summarized from ethnic media outlets cited.


Ted Alcuitas is former senior editor of the Philippine Asian News Today and currently publisher and editor of philippinecanadiannews.com.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in The Philippines
Sunday, 10 May 2015 16:01

Protests Follow Aquino Across Canada

by Veronica C. Silva (@VSilvaCusi) in Toronto

From Ottawa to Toronto to Vancouver, protest actions met Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III wherever he went on his three-day state visit to Canada.

In Toronto, protesters gathered earlier than the scheduled opening of doors at 3 p.m. At around the same time, some Filipino guests invited to the ‘by-invitation-only’ event also started to line up to enter the venue.

Groups of Filipino-Canadian protestors, joined by their Canadian supporters, numbered at about 200 by their estimate, turned up to advocate against some policies of both Aquino and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Among the issues that the protesters brought to the fore were Aquino’s alleged human rights violations, the Mamasapano deadly encounter, Mary Jane Veloso’s death row case in Indonesia and the plight of other Filipinos overseas on death row and the policies affecting Filipino temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Canada, including live-in caregivers.

“Migrant rights, human rights under attack, what do you do? Stand up! Fight back!” chanted the protesters.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We urge you to look deeper in the root causes of our community’s issues. It is poverty, lack of decent jobs and landlessness in the countryside in the Philippines that continue to hold us back as a nation.” - Jesson Reyes, Migrante Canada[/quote]

Dan Harris, New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament in Scarborough Southwest, joined protesters outside the venue as he reiterated the NDP’s opposition to the Conservatives’ immigration policies and the C-51 anti-terrorism bill.

“Good enough to work, good enough to stay!” Harris said, joining in the chant.

“Just this week, both the Liberals and the Conservatives voted in favour of C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation that allows them to infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that’s a disgrace,” said Harris, as the crowd answered with, “Shame!” 

Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne also met with Aquino as shown in the picture to the right. (Photo Credit: Wynne's official Twitter account.)

Migrante Canada, one of the groups protesting, said it was reaching out to the Kababayans (Filipino countrymen) who attended the Toronto event also.

“We urge you to look deeper in the root causes of our community’s issues,” said Jesson Reyes, regional coordinator for Migrante Canada in Ontario. “It is poverty, lack of decent jobs and landlessness in the countryside in the Philippines that continue to hold us back as a nation.”

He also noted that the two state leaders talked about nothing new in their speeches, and he took aim at the objective behind the state visit.

“It is without a doubt that certainly one of the few agendas of PNoy’s visit to Canada is for the Conservatives to secure the votes of Filipino-Canadian voters in the upcoming federal elections,” said Reyes. “By listening to the tone of the Prime Minister, he ensured people yesterday that his government’s ‘promises’ will be kept for so long as he is seated in Ottawa.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This government is not going to have a policy – for as long as I’m Prime Minister – where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary people who are here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility.” - Stephen Harper[/quote]

In a press conference in Ottawa, earlier in the day, Harper defended the controversial TFW program, which affects thousands of Filipinos.

“This government is not going to have a policy – for as long as I’m Prime Minister – where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary people who are here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility,” said Harper in Ottawa.

And Aquino responded: “I think that policy should be held proud, not criticized.”

Reacting to this, Reyes said: “It shows that PNoy and his government do not have a clear understanding of the plight of TFWs in Canada and the abuses many of our Kababayans face by not having a permanent status.”

Migrante Canada joins other migrant groups in calling for landed status for foreign workers. The organization also deplores the Philippines’ labour export policy, which is driving many Filipinos to seek employment elsewhere.

The Conservative Campaign

In the weeks leading up to Aquino’s visit media reports reiterated Reyes’ sentiment that the state visit could be a strategy of the Conservatives to try to win over the Filipino community in Canada – estimated to number from half a million to 700,000 – in time for federal elections scheduled in fall. In recent years, the Philippines has been one of the top source countries for immigrants to Canada, next to China and India.

In Toronto, the state leaders spoke to a crowd of some thousands of members of the Filipino-Canadian community at Roy Thomson Hall. While Aquino’s speech was the highlight of the community gathering, Harper brought in his campaign team to cheer for him.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The event, at times, sounded more like an election campaign, with each leader taking turns speaking of each other’s accomplishments while highlighting bilateral ties and trumpeting the Pinoys’ good qualities.[/quote]

National Defence and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney (MP, Calgary Southeast), who was formerly Citizenship and Immigration Minister, wore a Barong Tagalog and gamely posed for photographs with some Filipinos in the lobby after the event.

Kenney has been credited for winning the so-called ethnic votes for the Tories in the 2011 elections.

Not to be outdone, federal Finance Minister and Torontonian Joe Oliver told the crowd: “Jason Kenney may be wearing a barong, but I’ve reached the third level in the Knights of Rizal,” something which drew applause from the crowd.

But it was Harper who got the loudest applause for revealing: “I’m also going to note – with some pride – that on my wife’s side, I now also personally have some Filipino relatives.” He didn’t elaborate though.

The event, at times, sounded more like an election campaign, with each leader taking turns speaking of each other’s accomplishments while highlighting bilateral ties and trumpeting the Pinoys’ good qualities.

Filipinos Integral Part of Canada: Harper

“The President’s visit gives our government, gives Canadians, the chance to recognize and celebrate the success and contributions of Canada’s Filipino community,” said Harper.

As an example of this Filipino success, the Prime Minister proudly recognized the Filipino-Canadian designer who created the logo of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, which will be in 2017, Ariana Mari Cuvin of Toronto.

Harper went on to enumerate Filipino qualities that have become world famous – work ethic, loyalty, and deep faith: “Filipino-Canadians have now become an integral part of every single aspect of Canadian society.”  

Then, there was the reminder of Canada’s multi-million dollar aid to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan struck in late 2013.

“During those dark days, Canada was there for our friends in the Philippines,” said Harper. “Canada was, in fact, the third largest humanitarian donor in the world to the relief efforts, a drive led by Filipino-Canadians that our government was proud to match dollar for dollar right across this country.”

In early 2014, it was announced that individual Canadians contributed over $85 million in eligible donations.

Canada also sent relief teams to the Philippines to help out and has committed more assistance in the reconstruction of areas affected by the typhoon.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Unfortunately for the Filipino Torontonians, Aquino hardly offered the crowd something new. His speech in Toronto was almost identical to the one he gave in Chicago, Illinois a few days prior.[/quote]

When it was his turn to address the audience, Aquino spoke in Tagalog and focused on his administration’s accomplishments during a speech interlaced with jokes.

Unfortunately for the Filipino Torontonians, Aquino hardly offered the crowd something new. His speech in Toronto was almost identical to the one he gave in Chicago, Illinois a few days prior.

For example, in boasting of his administration’s infrastructure projects, Aquino told the Toronto crowd the same joke about the new Lullutan Bridge in Isabela.

Ang tawag kaya, ang buong pangalan kaya nito ay Lullutang at Lulubog Bridge? (Do they call this bridge Lullutang (floating) and Lulubog (sinking) Bridge?),” Aquino asked the audience in Toronto. And like in Chicago, this part of the speech elicited the same response of laughter.

Also like in Chicago, Aquino boasted about his administration’s job programs and economic gains, adding that the numbers he presented were actual statistics.

But there were other projects Aquino mentioned to the Toronto crowd like achievements in the coconut industry and in the Philippines’ weather forecasting capabilities.

Amidst the mix of cheers, standing ovations and protests, both state leaders outlined the gains earned from the state visit.

Canada announced more aid and assistance to the Philippines, which has been identified as a country of focus for Canada’s international development efforts, and initiatives were announced in the areas of free trade, occupational health and safety, development assistance, police and security, and counter terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region.


Published in partnership with The Philippine Reporter.

Published in Top Stories

by Rachelle Cruz (@rachellecruz_) in Toronto

If Friday’s state visit of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III was any indication of the Harper government’s political orchestration in obtaining votes from the Filipino-Canadian community, then it’s safe to say that winning over Filipinos in the upcoming federal elections won’t be an easy feat.

Kababayans (Filipino word for countrymen) across the Greater Toronto Area flocked to Roy Thomson Hall to show their support and excitement to meet the Filipino leader. Some men donned the traditional barong, and some women were dressed in Filipiniana iconic butterfly-sleeved gowns. It was the first visit of Aquino and the first by a Filipino president since 2002 with the visit of then president Gloria Arroyo.

But in the periphery, there was also a group of other Filipino organizations that rallied outside. Jesson Reyes, a spokesperson from Migrante Canada said that they are ultimately calling for Aquino’s resignation because of his dismal record in protecting Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) like Mary Jane Veloso and failing to address the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances rampant in the country, among other issues. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As the two national anthems were sung one after the other, Filipino-Canadians experienced that feeling of duality – of loving both their motherland and now their adopted country Canada.[/quote]

Though the three-day state visit of Aquino was clearly divisive, it was still a rare occasion to celebrate and witness. He arrived in Toronto, home to Canada’s largest Filipino community, on the second of his three-day visit.

Philippines-born Senator Tobias Enverga Jr. (pictured to the right) was the evening’s emcee; he introduced Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the stage, shortly followed by President Aquino. Both leaders received standing ovations, applause and cheers from the crowd, as waves of small Philippine flags broke out from the audience.

“I’m excited to hear his speech,” Art Viola, the nostalgic former Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake expressed. “When his mother came to visit Toronto, I was also invited. A couple of people from Niagara Falls attended the dinner. So it was double excitement. I was really surprised to see him here; I just got the invitation last night. It was very informative and positive.”

An electric mix of excitement, nationalism, pride and unity hung in the air, as both leaders took to the expansive stage that was adorned with Canadian and Philippine flags.   

As the two national anthems were sung one after the other, Filipino-Canadians experienced that feeling of duality – of loving both their motherland and now their adopted country Canada.   

Other dignitaries and officials were present; Harper was backed up by some of his Cabinet officials including Finance Minister Joe Oliver, and barong-clad Defence Minister Jason Kenney. Toronto Mayor, John Tory, was also in attendance.

Positives in Bilateral Relationship

In his speech, President Aquino respectfully told the Prime Minister that in this rare occasion to meet with fellow Filipinos, he’d like to deliver his remarks in Tagalog, to which Harper then intermittently put headphones into his ears for translation. 

President Aquino humbly boasted about the reforms and progress made under his administration, from infrastructure/road projects, boom in coconut water exports, updates on procuring second-hand fighter jets, and his steady fight against corruption. Mostly, his remarks highlighted economic growth in the country.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]t’s wonderful that a Philippine leader can actually come and visit Filipinos who are overseas and give some good, positive report in what’s happening in our country. It is wonderful that the people-to-people relationship is already there. Now we can mutually develop the trade relationship.” - Julius Tiangson, Member of Parliament candidate[/quote]

Bigyan mo lang nang isang pagkakataon, ay talagang magpapakitang gilas ang Pilipino,” Aquino said, which translates to, “Just give him one chance, and the Filipino will surely show his prowess.”

He continued stating that what the Philippines had accomplished economically was “no joke”. “Let’s peek at the economy, formerly Sick Man of Asia, now tagged Darling of Asia. We achieved the all-time high foreign direct investments of $6.2 billion in 2014. From 2010 to 2014, we had an average GDP growth of 6.3 per cent,” he noted, garnering applause from the audience.

The President added that this year’s target would be seven to eight per cent GDP growth.

“This is a very significant visit here, one of the largest Filipino populations is here in Canada,” said Julius Tiangson, officially nominated Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) candidate for Mississauga Centre riding. 

“It’s a good report and it’s wonderful that a Philippine leader can actually come and visit Filipinos who are overseas and give some good, positive report in what’s happening in our country. It is wonderful that the people-to-people relationship is already there. Now we can mutually develop the trade relationship.”

The visit is not only a reciprocal gesture from Harper’s official trip to the Philippines back in November 2012. This time around, the two countries engaged in discussions over free trade agreements, regional and global security challenges, and Canada’s foreign aid, in a move to further strengthen bilateral ties.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Filipinos are smart, they’re intelligent people, we know what the story is, it’s going to be difficult to pull a fast one over us.” - Rafael Fabregas, immigration lawyer[/quote]

We are starting negotiations on a FIPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) and we are going to start on a preliminary basis having a free-trade agreement,” said Finance Minister Oliver. “We already have a FIPA, we need to modernize it. We just want to broaden trade in all areas.” 

Important Issues Overlooked

It wasn’t all pride and glory though. While those present could appreciate the moment, some were critical.

“You know what, if it walks like a duck, it talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” immigration lawyer and advocate for the live-in caregivers program, Rafael Fabregas, commented. “There were definitely elements of a political rally, but the people who are sitting around me, who didn’t know who I am and what my background is, they were cognizant of that, they picked up on it.”

Fabregas said he heard comments like, ‘Ano ba to? (What is this?) Rally ba ito or speech ni PNoy? (Is this a rally or speech of PNoy (Aquino)?)’ from audience members. “Filipinos are smart, they’re intelligent people, we know what the story is, it’s going to be difficult to pull a fast one over us,” he added.

Still, he had some positive observations.

I think it was a very engaging speech, a lot of information,” Fabregas added. “I was looking forward to hear more about what’s going on in the Philippines. It was nice to hear him acknowledge the contributions made by the Filipino-Canadians, through the betterment of our country. At yun naman yung talaga ang gusto natin right? (Isn’t that what we want?) We always want to give back to our motherland.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I was a bit disappointed because I thought that he came here for that purpose. You know to bail out our TFWs from going home and applying again in four years, which is unnecessary. And most of the jobs of TFWs, the Canadians don’t even want to take it.” - Ladies of the Knights of Rizal member[/quote]

Others showed some disappointment.

The more contentious issues, like the plight of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW), were left out, or simply contained. Reports have stated that Aquino and Harper made a deal on the TFW program, but details of that have not been released.

A member of the Ladies of the Knights of Rizal voiced out, “I was a bit disappointed because I thought that he came here for that purpose. You know to bail out our TFWs from going home and applying again in four years, which is unnecessary. And most of the jobs of TFWs, the Canadians don’t even want to take it. That’s why they were hired in the first place, from the Philippines. They don’t want to do the jobs that the Filipinos are willing to do,” she said.

When The Philippine Reporter broached the subject with Minister Kenney, and asked if the TFW subject was raised between the two leaders, he replied: “It was only raised briefly, and I think both Prime Minister and President Aquino agreed that we want to protect the rights of contract workers, of temporary foreign workers.”

“Of course, we Canadians have to ensure that Canadians, immigrants, and citizens, have the first available access to available jobs,” he continued. “We don’t want to end up with permanent people who are on temporary status, which is why we have increased pathways to permanent residency and citizenship for TFWs and also put in a limit to how long those who don’t get permanent residency stay in Canada.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The number of Filipinos [immigrating] to Canada with permanent residency has doubled since our government came to office. It has increased by over 100 per cent.” - Defence Minister Jason Kenney[/quote]

When further pressed about the negative implications for migrant workers in relation to the Four-in/Four-Out rule that took effect early this year, he said: “The number of Filipinos [immigrating] to Canada with permanent residency has doubled since our government came to office. It has increased by over 100 per cent. It has gone from annual average of about 16,000 Filipino permanent residents' immigration to Canada prior to 2006 to about 28,000 on average now."

He continued: "So that’s largely because of the huge increase in the number of temporary foreign workers who can now access permanent residency through the Canadian experience class and, of course, the expanded live-in caregiver program, as well as the new Express Entry program. Obviously we are much more generous than before, but there are obviously going to be limits and anyone who comes here on a work permit knows full well that there’s no guarantee they’ll get permanent residency. So there’s got to be a balance.”

Filipinos are Philippines Greatest Resource

Yet like it or not, Filipinos are creating a niche for themselves beyond the common stereotype as caregivers or health-care professionals. There’s a surge in the community where Filipinos are now working to serve as political leaders, entrepreneurs, creative designers, activists, journalists and so forth.

Harper eloquently greeted the masses with “Bonsoir, Good evening, Magandang Gabi,” but it was his remarks later on that were foretelling: “Ladies and gentlemen, I think the President Aquino put it well when he said, and I quote, ‘The Philippines is blessed with the greatest resource. It’s people, who are hardworking, very loyal, and very adaptable . . .’ and I would add, love for family and commitment to faith. Filipino-Canadians have become an integral part of every single aspect of Canadians today,” he said.

And he’s right. Kababayans are no longer just sitting there waiting on the sidelines. 


Published in partnership with The Philippine Reporter.

Published in Top Stories

by Kareem El-Assal (@immigrationCBoC) in Ottawa

Immigration has always played a crucial role in Canada’s social vitality and economic prosperity. Since Confederation, Canada has welcomed immigrants into communities throughout the country, and in return, immigrants have helped foster growth and build the nation.

However, as Canadians, we know that improvements can be made to our immigration system.

Immigration can be, understandably, an emotive topic. Social issues figure prominently in the immigration discourse of the day.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With a rapidly aging population and one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, immigration plays a leading role in Canada’s population growth.[/quote]

The suggested abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program by some employers has not supported the notion that immigrants are here to supplement, and not supplant, Canadian workers.

With a rapidly aging population and one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, immigration plays a leading role in Canada’s population growth, accounting for about 65 per cent of annual net growth. By 2035, immigration is set to account for nearly all of it.

According to The Conference Board of Canada’s long-term economic outlook, Canada will need immigration levels of around 350,000 annually by 2035 to sustain our current standard of living and maintain a healthy economy.

As Canada continues to rely upon immigrants, we as a nation, must take a step back, become more introspective, and determine how to improve our immigration system.

Tailored Approach

Due to our rigorous entry requirements for economic-class immigrants, Canada admits some of the best and brightest immigrants the world has to offer.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 34 per cent of immigrants hold university degrees compared to 24 per cent of the Canadian-born population.

Conference Board research has shown that immigrants tend to be entrepreneurial, motivated, experienced and enhance business and trade ties between Canada and international markets.

At a time when xenophobia is rising in some quarters of the globe, multiculturalism remains one of Canada’s eminent institutions.

In comparison to peer nations, Canada maintains a relatively generous immigration system, as each year, about 10 per cent of newcomers are granted permanent residence status on humanitarian grounds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In the absence of formal jurisdiction over immigration matters, municipalities and communities nationwide are seeking greater roles in attracting and integrating immigrants.[/quote]

On the other hand, research shows that on average, immigrants today do not make up the wage-gap with their Canadian-born counterparts. This is due to a combination of factors including challenges in our settlement services, credential recognition issues, language limitations, and, in some cases, discrimination.

Many employers and governments across Canada argue for a tailored approach to immigration that meets workforce and regional needs.

In the absence of formal jurisdiction over immigration matters, municipalities and communities nationwide are seeking greater roles in attracting and integrating immigrants.

Identifying the best ways to attract immigrants who are able to integrate into the workforce and meet our labour market needs is another issue currently debated.

While the new Express Entry system aims to address this matter, concerns are being voiced that it may unintentionally exclude some outstanding immigration candidates, such as international students, entrepreneurs, and other skilled workers already here on temporary visas.

Improvement a Must

On the world scene, other countries with demographic challenges similar to Canada’s are re-evaluating their existing policies to better attract skilled immigrants.

Canada is already in competition for top-tier international talent with countries such as Australia, Germany, Japan, Sweden and the U.S., and this will only increase in the near future.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Indeed, in the absence of high immigration levels, Canada’s population will shrink, our economy will suffer and our standard of living will decline.[/quote]

Immigration will continue to be crucial to Canada’s prosperity. Without immigrants, Canada faces labour shortages, a smaller tax base and increased strain on our medical system and pension funds.

Indeed, in the absence of high immigration levels, Canada’s population will shrink, our economy will suffer and our standard of living will decline.

In 1967, when Canada introduced the world’s first immigration points system, we were world leaders. However, times have changed.

Faced with pressing demographic challenges and globalization, Canada should consider improvements.

A multi-faceted approach to change that incorporates all three levels of government, employers, communities, immigrants and other stakeholders, is needed to modernize our national immigration program and blaze a new trail.

The Conference Board of Canada’s new National Immigration Centre, a five-year research-intensive initiative, has been launched to develop a National Immigration Action Plan based on evidence and non-partisan analysis.

From April 13 to 15, the Conference Board will host a major, three-day Canadian Immigration Summit in Ottawa to explore the future of Canada’s immigration system.


Kareem El-Assal is a Research Associate for The Conference Board of Canada. He plays a key role in the Conference Boards National Immigration Centre. 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Policy

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

by Kelsey Johnson

Conservative MP and former PMO director of communications John Williamson is apologizing for controversial comments he made Saturday about Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program.

Williamson’s apology comes after he told delegates at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa that it makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while companies “bring in brown people” as temporary foreign workers.

“Today I used offensive and inappropriate language regarding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. For this I apologize unreservedly,” the New Brunswick MP said later in a series of tweets.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"This is an incredible statement in Canadian politics in 2015,” ... “I think that language is 100 per cent inappropriate for any issue.”[/quote]

“I believe different parts of Canada have different labour needs. With respect to my region, I believe employers in my district need to work to fill job vacancies by prioritizing Canadians for available jobs.”

Responding to a question about the shortage of workers in meat packing and processing plants, Williamson said the Temporary Foreign Worker program has different impacts in various regions of the country.

“I know this has been a bigger issue in Western Canada than it has been in my part of the country,” he said.

“My part of the country, I deal with temporary foreign workers and the interaction with employment insurance, and it makes no sense from my point of view, I’m going to put this in terms of colours but it’s not meant to be about race, it makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while we bring in brown people to work in these jobs.

“When I have 10 to 12 per cent unemployment rates in my province, I’m not going to abide by a policy that encourages people to stay home and collect an EI cheque and bring people from overseas to fill these jobs. I know it is different in Western Canada, but I’ve also seen cases in Western Canada where companies were putting in Mandarin as a requirement for a job requirement, thereby bringing in Chinese workers.

“That is unacceptable.”

Companies, he said, should not be allowed to use the program to bring in foreign workers who “have fewer rights than Canadian-born workers and then drive down wages on working families,” he said.

Businesses like the cattle industry, Williamson said, should air their grievances to their respective members of parliament who are better “in tune with [the industry’s] labour needs.”

Williamson was named Harper’s director of communications — one of nine over the past nine years — in 2009. He resigned in 2010 after deciding to seek elected office. He has represented New Brunswick Southwest for the Tories since 2011.

That communications experience should have prevented comments of this nature, said John McCallum, Liberal critic for citizenship and immigration, multiculturalism, and seniors.

“Someone holding that job should know something about choosing words to communicate and I think that was a preposterous choice of words,” McCallum said.

“This is an incredible statement in Canadian politics in 2015,” he said, adding “I think that language is 100 per cent inappropriate for any issue.”

Meanwhile, NDP Employment and Social Development Critic Jinny Sims said she was “shocked that this was being said in our Canada.”

“I think the kind of inflammatory comments made by Mr. Williamson give me rise for great concern,” she said when reached by phone, noting Saturday’s development does not “reflect well on the person who made the statement or the party that that person is associated with.”

Canada is a multicultural nation, she said, one that is built by immigrants. Given this, comments like the ones made by Williamson, she said, were “distressful.”

“It’s good that he’s apologized,” Sims said, but cautioned “this is a big, big thing to have said and just saying sorry doesn’t eradicate it.”

Williamson’s comments come after the federal government, led by then Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, introduced major, sweeping reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in June 2014 after a series of abuse scandals put the Conservatives on the defensive.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I believe different parts of Canada have different labour needs. With respect to my region, I believe employers in my district need to work to fill job vacancies by prioritizing Canadians for available jobs.”[/quote]

Those changes, Williamson said, were warranted despite concerns from industries, particularly in Western Canada, who have now been left scrambling to find workers.

“There was a public perception where business was seen, I think rightly so, given the cases involving companies big and small, as taking advantage of this program,” Williamson said.

Sims, though, insisted the Temporary Foreign Worker program was “broken” and the fact the government is now trying to “assign blame is simply outrageous.”


Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca

Published in Politics
Sunday, 31 August 2014 17:29

Pulse: Latin America (July - Aug. 2014)

by Aurora Tejeida (@AuroBots) in Vancouver

The following is a compilation of the most important news stories reported by Latin American media in Canada, during July and August.

A columnist for La Portada believes Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program is going wind down soon

According to Angélica González Blanco, a columnist for La Portada, the recent changes made by Citizenship and Immigration Canada represent a threat to the Temporary Foreign Workers program, which she believes is soon going to soon become extinct.

She also believes the new regulations will have a negative impact on Canada’s economy, as companies won’t be able to obtain the labour force they need through the “rigorous” new process that is aimed at making things harder for temporary foreign workers. She goes on to say that the new regulations reflect the way the current administration has created a hostile environment for immigrants through xenophobic agendas.

González Blanco stressed that some of the new “drastic” regulations included raising the application fees companies have to pay from $275 to $1,000.

Mexican union leader who fled charges of corruption is now a Canadian citizen

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the former leader of Mexico's 280,000-member Los Mineros union, has lived in Vancouver since 2006, the year he fled Mexico to avoid charges of corruption for bilking $61 million from the miner’s union trust. Mexican media is reporting that there is an arrest warrant for him that's pending deportation, and that the charges won’t change now that Gómez is a Canadian citizen.

Many controversies surround this case. The Mexican Justice Department has stated that there is an international warrant for Gómez from Interpol, while Gómez has maintained that the charges are false and politically motivated. Vancouver media has tended to side with the former union leader, claiming there is no Interpol warrant for his arrest and that he is being wrongfully charged because he protected mine workers which made him an enemy of the Fox administration.  

Gómez’s lawyer recently stated that the Mexican government doesn’t have grounds to extradite him, and that his whereabouts have always been known. On the other hand, the current leader of the miner’s union says Gómez should prove his innocence in Mexico by handing himself in to Mexican authorities.

Undocumented migrants targeted in ‘vehicle safety blitz’ in Toronto

Canada’s border enforcement agency has arrested 21 people on immigration violations during a joint “commercial vehicle safety blitz” with other government authorities. Most of the men that were taken into custody are originally from Latin America. According to several sources, the men were gathering for their morning pickups to job sites.

La Portada reported that the detained were deported less than 48 hours after their arrests. Among the people who were deported is a man who is leaving behind his wife and two children. According to La Portada, one of his children has Down's syndrome and requires special care that would not be available in their country of origin. The man refused to disclose his family’s location in fear they might be deported too. Both parents had an outstanding deportation order after they failed their refugee claim hearing.

According to witnesses, officials with Canada Border Services Agency began the raids in the early hours. Some were detained after they failed to provide appropriate ID’s when the vehicles they were riding in were stopped by unmarked SUV's for what appeared to be routine vehicle inspection. Others said they were arrested at the parking lots of coffee shops in the vicinity. Most of them were construction workers.

In a statement, No One is Illegal denounced the raid claiming it had been a deliberate attack on Hispanic immigrants. As such, one of the lawyers that represented two now deported detainees petitioned Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to take a stance against raids of this nature.

Toronto City Hall grants $1.7 million to its Latin American community for Pan American Games inspired community projects

The Hispanic Canadian Heritage Council (HCHC) of Toronto commended City Hall for their approval of the “Community Projects for the 2015 Pan American Games Initiative.” The HCHC-lobbied project is going to receive $1.7 million that will be destined for Pan American Games inspired community projects. Both parties hope that the funding will provide opportunities for further integration of the Hispanic community into the sporting event that is to be held in the city of Toronto in July of next year.

According to Latinos Magazine, The funding is part of Toronto’s “Showcase” program for the Pan American Games and is supposed to be split into three different areas: activities and projects inspired by the Pan American Games anywhere in the city of Toronto, projects that provide long-term economical or structural benefits for the Latino, South American and Caribean community, and lastly, the money is supposed to be used to support arts and culture during the games.

Canadian Companies participated in 36 per cent of oil and gas projects in Colombia

The Canadian Minister for International Trade, Ed Fast, announced that Canadian Companies participated in 36 per cent of oil and gas projects in Colombia last year. During a visit in Bogota, he also expressed Canada's growing interest in the oil, gas and precious metals industries of the South American country.

According to CBN Noticias, Fast pointed out that Canada promotes sustainable practices when it comes to resource extraction in all of the countries where they have ongoing operations. The meeting Fast attended in Bogota was part of a six-day tour that included Colombia and Peru.

Canada has had a strong presence in the oil, gas and mining sectors of Colombia since a Free Trade Agreement was signed between the two countries in 2011. Over 51 Canadian companies are currently operating in the South American country.

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