‘Canada the Good’ myth exposed: Migrant workers resist debt-bondage

This film premiered (I think) at the 2015 Mexico Metropolis conference. Worth watching for a different take:

Here in Canada, some like to think of the country as “tolerant of diversity,” a champion of human rights and a land of opportunity for those willing to work hard and play by the rules, which are presumed equal and fair. This is the myth of Canada the Good, one that still prevails despite repeated truths to the contrary.

The reality of Canada’s unfair labour system enters the world stage with the international broadcast of Migrant Dreams on Al Jazeera’s Witness which will, throughout the month of May, stream the documentary for free.

Canada maintains its pristine international reputation partly by silencing the people who live the lie. Migrant Dreams asks questions about what Canadian values really look like — by highlighting the voices of those who have long been ignored, marginalized or erased.

At the centre of the documentary are migrant workers in farms across Canada. The film opens a conversation about the relationship between labour, gender, sexuality, race, class and settlement — otherwise known as immigration to Canada.

I use the word settlement to draw our attention to the colonial history and ongoing colonial reality of the Canadian state. This is Indigenous land, much of it remains unceded and stolen. Immigration has become the coded word for settlement — a tactic to erase settler tracks in colonial structures.

via ‘Canada the Good’ myth exposed: Migrant workers resist debt-bondage

Canada’s uncomfortable reliance on migrant workers

The dark side of temporary foreign workers (the film maker introduced her latest film – not sure if it was shown – at the Metropolis Conference in Mexico City last year):

Min Sook Lee read all those headlines in February and March. A documentary filmmaker, she had been busy chronicling another side of the ketchup frenzy, an angle nobody bothered to mention: the migrant, temporary labourers—thousands of them—who toil in the vast greenhouses of Leamington, picking and packaging the vegetables we eat every day, tomatoes included. “I am keenly aware of how Leamington has been drumming up a lot of nationalist fervour,” Lee says. “I think that myopia has to be interrupted.”

Her latest project, Migrant Dreams, will do just that. Premiering at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival on May 1, the film explores the dark side of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), a controversial federal initiative that allows companies—from hotels to fast-food restaurants to slaughterhouses—to hire out-of-country employees when they can’t find willing Canadians to do the work. A story of abuse and exploitation in the heart of tomato country, the documentary evokes anything but national pride.

“When people talk about buying organic, buying local, I think it’s a really shortsighted viewpoint because it doesn’t factor in who is doing the work,” Lee says. “Yes, it’s important to buy local, but also to think about labour issues. Are the people in the local farms and local work sites being treated properly?”

The film raises many other uncomfortable questions, at a time when Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have promised to launch a review of the TFWP. Why are most of these employees denied the chance to pursue permanent residency in a country defined by immigration? Why are they tied to one company while they’re here, barred from switching jobs? Who is checking to make sure their workplaces are safe and their accommodations humane? “This is a very critical, necessary public dialogue that we need to have,” Lee says. “There has been almost no political will or national interest in the situation of migrant workers. This isn’t new.”

In existence (in one form or another) for more than four decades, the TFWP was created to address critical labour shortages in particular sectors. Simply put, if an employer cannot find a Canadian to do a certain job, it can ask Ottawa’s permission to contract a provisional worker from abroad, for a maximum stint of four years. The government will then conduct a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to confirm that a Canadian can’t be found to fill the opening. At this moment, more than 60,000 foreigners are working in Canada under the TFWP.

When the program does make news, the theme is usually the same: Are these foreign workers stealing paycheques from hard-working Canadians? In 2012, Vancouver-based HD Mining came under fire for hiring 200 people from China for a coal mine project, triggering a court challenge by organized labour groups. A few months later, RBC was forced into full damage-control mode amid allegations that the bank was replacing some IT staff with temporary foreign workers. Although the original story was slightly torqued, perception became reality. (An internal government document, leaked to a newspaper at the time, confirmed people’s worst fears. Some employers may be using migrant workers to address “long-term structural labour gaps” instead of short-term needs, it said.)

In 2013, Stephen Harper’s government announced major changes, giving the feds more power to suspend work permits if employers abuse the program, and requiring companies to have a “firm plan” to eventually transition to a Canadian workforce. Further reforms followed, including fines ranging from $500 to $1 million for “misuse” of the TFWP. “Our government is committed to ensuring that Canadians are always considered first for available jobs,” the Tories proclaimed.

But so often lost in the debate are the foreign workers themselves—and how the system treats them. “They perform what I sometimes think of as invisible work,” says Jody Brown, a Toronto lawyer who represents some TFWs. “It is not good to paint the entire industry with the same brush, because I know there are some employers out there who recruit temporary foreign workers and do treat them appropriately. But there is definitely a dark side to it.”

Lee’s film follows a group of Indonesian women who are essentially prisoners to their greenhouse employers in the Leamington area, constantly afraid of losing their jobs and being deported before their contracts expire. It also reveals the shady world of international recruiters, some of whom charge foreign workers thousands of dollars in illegal fees—and show up every week to collect their payments. (In December 2014, the Ontario Provincial Police laid extortion charges against three alleged recruiters in the region, saying they charged illicit fees ranging from $1,400 to $11,500. The trio’s next court date, in Windsor, is scheduled for Aug. 3.)

Source: Canada’s uncomfortable reliance on migrant workers