Toronto Star

Suspension of foreign workers puts them at risk of deportatio­n

- 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.
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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