Sus­pen­sion of for­eign work­ers puts them at risk of de­por­ta­tion

Toronto Star - - OPINION - COREY RAN­FORD-ROBIN­SON Corey Ran­ford-Robin­son is a PhD Can­di­date in the Depart­ment of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence at York Univer­sity.

Over the past week, a scan­dal has emerged around McDon­ald’s and its al­leged ex­ploita­tion of the tem­po­rary for­eign worker pro­gram. In re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tions and the pub­lic back­lash that soon fol­lowed, the federal govern­ment and Em­ploy­ment and So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Ja­son Ken­ney sus­pended the food ser­vices in­dus­try’s ac­cess to the pro­gram. The mora­to­rium, which will re­main in place pend­ing a re­view of the lat­est ac­cu­sa­tions of abuse, is cause for con­cern.

Since the rise of the Con­ser­va­tive federal govern­ment in 2006, im­mi­gra­tion has been re­designed with the prin­ci­pal goal of fa­cil­i­tat­ing easy ac­cess for em­ploy­ers to mi­grants ea­ger to come to Canada — what the Con­ser­va­tives have called “just-in-time mi­gra­tion.” Al­though most tem­po­rary mi­gra­tion schemes pre­ceded the rise of the federal Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity, pro­grams such as the live-in care­giver pro­gram, the sea­sonal agri­cul­tural work­ers pro­gram, the lowskilled stream and other provin­cial nom­i­nee pro­grams have ex­panded with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion’s over­haul of federal im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

More re­cently, af­ter news that the Royal Bank of Canada and coal min­ing com­pa­nies abused the tem­po­rary for­eign worker pro­gram, it has come un­der fire from politi­cians, ac­tivists and aca­demics. While the tide of pub­lic opin­ion seems to be turn­ing against the pro­gram, most Cana­di­ans ap­pear to be up­set for the wrong rea­sons. In­deed, much of the pub­lic re­sponse re­flects mis­guided and mis­lead­ing as­sump­tions about the his­tor­i­cal legacy of mi­grant work­ers in Canada.

At first, the mora­to­rium on the food ser­vice in­dus­try’s ac­cess to tem­po­rary mi­grant work­ers might seem like an ap­pro­pri­ate course of ac­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, this move ac­tu­ally pun­ishes work­ers and puts them at a height­ened risk of de­por­ta­tion. Im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy groups such as Jus­tice for Mi­grant Work­ers rec­og­nize that these short­sighted mea­sures will fail un­less mi­grant work­ers are given ac­cess to the same range of rights granted to cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents, in­clud­ing a path­way to per­ma­nent res­i­dence.

Tem­po­rary mi­grant work­ers em­ployed within a lower-skilled cat­e­gory are not per­mit­ted to ap­ply for per­ma­nent res­i­dency in Canada, thereby en­sur­ing their dis­pos­abil­ity and “per­ma­nent tem­po­rari­ness.” What’s more, the TFWP op­er­ates ac­cord­ing to a com­plaint-based sys­tem, which fails to ac­count for the fear of reprisal and pre­ma­ture de­por­ta­tion faced by many mi­grant work­ers.

While the detri­men­tal ef­fect of the pro­gram on Cana­dian work­ers has re­ceived sig­nif­i­cant at­ten­tion, very few are ask­ing what the mora­to­rium means for mi­grants them­selves, in­clud­ing those abroad with pend­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, the ex­ten­sive costs of which will likely never be re­cu­per­ated.

The sys­tem of in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized pre­car­i­ous­ness in Canada must be changed. How­ever, the mora­to­rium is not the so­lu­tion to the prob­lems posed by the TFWP. “Open work per­mits, strength­ened anti-reprisal mea­sures, proac­tive en­force­ment of workplace rights are the im­me­di­ate start­ing points of nec­es­sary re­forms, not deny­ing people the abil­ity to work,” writes Jus­tice for Mi­grant Work­ers in a re­cent press re­lease.

Yet, the pub­lic dis­cus­sion of this most re­cent in a se­ries of con­tro­ver­sies around this pro­gram has ma­jor blind spots. It ap­peals to a xeno­pho­bic sen­ti­ment, and fans the flames of anti-im­mi­grant na­tion­al­ism. The slo­gan might as well be: “They took our jobs!” Cana­di­ans should be used to fill os­ten­si­ble “labour short­ages,” or so the story goes.

If tem­po­rary mi­gra­tion has be­come per­ma­nent, then we need to shift the pub­lic dis­cus­sion around mi­grant labour. Restric­tion­ism is not the an­swer to the de­mo­graphic chal­lenges and so-called labour short­ages fac­ing many tra­di­tion­ally im­mi­grant-re­ceiv­ing coun­tries through­out the global north, in­clud­ing Canada.

De­spite Cana­dian myths to the con­trary, the ex­ploita­tion of new­com­ers is a con­tin­u­ing thread in this coun­try’s his­tory. Canada, in the words of Don­ald Avery, has al­ways been a “re­luc­tant host.” Prob­lems fac­ing mi­grant work­ers to­day are part of a much longer his­tory of ex­clu­sion to­wards those con­sid­ered “for­eign” oth­ers.

The Cana­dian federal govern­ment needs to pro­vide long-term so­lu­tions to the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with labour short­ages, an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and the chang­ing land­scape of work and labour mar­kets in a postin­dus­trial econ­omy. First and fore­most, how­ever, im­mi­gra­tion should be viewed as a tool to of­fer hos­pi­tal­ity to those in need of as­sis­tance and to wel­come prospec­tive cit­i­zens from around the globe.

Rather than ex­ac­er­bat­ing the en­trenched rift be­tween mi­grant and Cana­dian work­ers, Cana­di­ans should live up to their pro­fessed ideals of hos­pi­tal­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity. To even be­gin to do so, how­ever, Cana­di­ans must first ac­knowl­edge our set­tler sta­tus. Only then will the hypocrisy of our at­ti­tude to­ward mi­grants be laid bare. We are, af­ter all, be­ing in­hos­pitable guests in a land that is not ours.

Much of the pub­lic re­sponse re­flects mis­guided as­sump­tions

GENE J. PUSKAR/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

McDon­ald’s is in hot wa­ter for its use of the tem­po­rary for­eign worker pro­gram.

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