Immigration has been a significant contributor to Canada's labour force. Recent census data show that from 2001 to 2006, Canada's labour force grew by 1.3 million, of which roughly 40% is directly attributable to immigration. Seasonal and temporary immigration programs have been part of Canada's overall immigration plan since the late 1960s, but have grown significantly in recent years. Under the temporary foreign worker program, workers help fill skill and labour shortages in Canada and contribute to overall economic growth.
Large levels of immigration and shifting policies have led to a variety of concerns. Most often mentioned is the dubious claim that increased immigration has taken away jobs from native-born Canadians. Further, immigration policies have sometimes been emphasized for the wrong reasons. It is not true, for example, that a numerous and more youthful distribution of immigrants could easily cure the challenges of an aging population.
Yet, tight labour markets have begun to pose a strain on the growth of certain sectors and regions. Canada's aging workforce, a rapidly expanding economy, and technological change have resulted in a shortage of qualified employees, predominantly in western Canada. Job vacancy rates have risen, forcing both private and public sectors to look for immediate relief, driving employers to tap into the pool of temporary foreign workers. Meanwhile, the federal government may have a useful role in helping employers and potential employees match up. The temporary foreign worker program helps fit the ambition of foreign workers with Canada's domestic needs.
That said, we should not look to the temporary foreign worker program to deliver more than it can. Canada has a number of policy tools that can do more to increase the performance of our labour market than can a dramatically expanded temporary foreign worker program. Similarly, improvements in other areas of Canada's immigration program may produce larger and more lasting benefits.
For the purposes of this brief, the temporary foreign worker program is seen to potentially target three distinct shortages in our labour force. The first is to meet the need for work that few domestic residents will do, such as seasonal farm workers and live-in caregivers. The second is to meet the need for skilled employees who are not present in our labour force, such as specialized nuclear technicians or professionals with precise and extremely rare skills. The third looks to fill jobs that workers in our labour force may undertake but who face barriers in moving to meet employment demand.
Ultimately, the temporary foreign worker program serves as a good tool for the first two conditions, but we should resist extending the program to address shortages when they are symptomatic of other problems in our labour market.
Markets generate wage and price signals, and often policy distorts them. As an example, high global energy prices highlight the demand for western Canada's resources, causing investment to rise, which in turn places further demands for a large flow of capital and labour. This drives wages up and sends other price signals through the market.
Notwithstanding a low national unemployment rate, unemployment is high in certain geographic pockets. As of March 2008, unemployment ranged from a low of 2.9% in central Alberta to 19.1% in southern Newfoundland and Labrador. These statistics suggest rigidity in our labour market.
As of March 2008, unemployment ranged from a low of 2.9% in central Alberta to 19.1% in southern Newfoundland and Labrador, suggesting rigidity in our labour market. Jobs are available in some areas, but only a trickle of unemployed workers move in response. Notably, labour market rigidity is confined mostly to central and eastern regions.
Although the temporary foreign worker program acts as a stopgap measure for labour needs, some of the forces behind the growing use of foreign workers are prime examples of an interprovincial mobility problem. The need to meet short-term labour demand is a concern, for the temporary foreign worker program cannot be comprehensive if larger underlying problems go unaddressed.
Although meeting the immediate concerns of business is important, foreign workers are not the only policy route. Some of the objectives of the temporary foreign worker program could be achieved by policies that encourage a greater level of labour mobility. In this vein, one would be to modernize the employment insurance program.
The role of temporary foreign workers in meeting acute and persistent labour market shortages should not distract attention from long-term policy goals. For example, does increasing the level of temporary foreign workers harm the existing immigration program by filling jobs that could be more beneficially filled by new permanent immigrants? If so, how large is the trade-off? Finally, to what extent do the goals of the two programs overlap?
Where job shortages appear to be more permanent, the temporary foreign worker program should identify areas for a streamlined application process. This is true for the seasonal agricultural worker program and the live-in caregiver program, which address jobs for which there is no willing domestic labour force, nor will there be in the medium term.
The same should apply to labour shortages in areas in which Canada lacks specific and ongoing domestic expertise, areas where shifting economic fundamentals would not likely impact the flow into these positions. Specifying areas where more permanent labour shortages exist would expedite judgments about whether foreign workers are needed in regions or sectors. Streamlining applications for permanent areas of concern would be beneficial to businesses and free resources for use in more ambiguous cases.
The expansion of the temporary foreign worker program should not divert resources or attention from measures that would speed up and facilitate the permanent immigration of foreign students in Canada. Many of our visiting students have much to offer and are eager to take up residence. A relatively untapped source for skilled workers is in our universities.
Further, our system of colleges could look to expand access to foreign students. At present, it's rare that students come to Canada to study trades. However, our post-secondary education system could serve a much greater role to facilitate our immigration needs.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee.
Some of my colleagues today are going to be making submissions arguing for a moratorium on deportation or for regularization programs for people without immigration status. I support these positions, but my comments today cover other aspects of the issue. I want to talk about terminology, about how people end up with various forms of precarious status, about the role of policy in creating precarious status, and about some of the implications for Canadians.
Let me start with terminology. The term “undocumented” has gained currency because of the large number of people entering and living without state authorization in the United States, Europe, and other regions. It's also a response to such terms as “illegal alien”, which have the effect of dehumanizing and criminalizing people.
The main way that people become undocumented in the U.S. is through unauthorized border crossing. The term “undocumented” makes sense in this context, because there is no record of entry. The U.S. undocumented population is currently estimated to be approximately 12 million people.
In Canada the situation is quite different, as I think we all know, and this calls for different terminology. Undocumented entry is not the main pathway to living or working without authorization. On the contrary, many people enter with some form of documentation and then fall out of status. Thus, people whom we might be tempted to call undocumented are often documented in that they are known to authorities, having entered with some form of legal immigration status.
I argue that precarious immigration status is a better way of describing the situation of people often referred to as undocumented. The reason for this becomes clearer if we consider pathways to precarious immigration status. There are many, but let me just highlight four.
One is through sponsorship breakdown. When people enter as sponsored relatives and so forth, and there's a breakdown in the relationship, there's also a breakdown in the sponsorship. This is particularly problematic for affected spouses and children. A second pathway is through rejected refugee and asylum claims. A third pathway is through the overstaying of temporary visas, whether they're foreign worker visas or student visas. A fourth way is through unauthorized entry.
In the first three of these cases, people arrive with some form of documentation, and then, through various processes, end with precarious status of one form or another. There may be movement between different forms of precarious status. Thus, “precarious status” covers a range of situations.
With this in mind, I'd like to turn to the question of how immigration policy and other related policies are related to precarious status. One way policy contributes to the creation of precarious status is through the reduction in admissions for permanent residence. As opportunities for permanent entry and settlement decrease, people may search for other avenues to enter Canada.
A second way is through humanitarian or refugee policy and the refugee determination system. Difficulties in filling IRB positions, together with the enormous refugee backlog, mean that many people are caught in a lengthy limbo-like situation. They may have authorization to work, they may have authorization to reside--maybe not both--and they may have access to some services, but their situation is less than secure or stable.
A third mechanism is through the expansion of the temporary worker program; we heard about this from the previous speaker. The number of temporary workers in Canada, or the stock of temporary foreign workers, grew by four times between 1980 and 2006, starting at around 39,000 in 1980 and growing to about 172,000 in 2006.
The expansion of the temporary worker and guest worker programs in other countries suggests that temporariness can become permanent, and it appears that the same thing is happening in Canada. Temporary workers come year after year after year. They spend eight to ten months of the year here. This becomes permanent for them and for the employers who fill jobs through these kinds of programs.
Another way in which policy contributes to precarious status is through periodic deportations. Deportations assure the public that something is being done about the problem. But there aren't enough resources, and this is not an effective means to solve the problem completely. It does more to criminalize.
A fifth way is through limited recourse. There are limited options for regaining or gaining secure immigration status in the event of falling out of status.
Now, let's think about some of the implications here. We know from case studies and anecdotal evidence that people with precarious immigration status are disadvantaged in many ways: lower pay for comparable work, fear of reporting problems associated with dangerous work, lack of payment, poor housing conditions, and so forth. As a result, people may not report criminal activity, violation of labour standards, illnesses, and so forth.
If we want people with precarious status to come out of the shadows, we need to fully implement “Don't ask, don't tell” policies so that people are not afraid to report abuse at work, not afraid to report criminal activity, so that they can enrol their children in school and seek medical care, and so that they can live with less fear. We also need to begin a debate around regularization and conduct research on a variety of aspects of precarious status.
I could go on about research needs, but I think there's a deeper question that needs to be addressed, and that has to do with what kind of a Canada we want.
We stand at a moment when we have to make decisions such as whether we want to build a nation in which people with precarious status continue to live in the shadows and in fear. In this model, citizens and permanent residents occupy the top tier of society, while those with precarious immigration status occupy the bottom tier. Even if there are pathways to permanent residence and citizenship, the presence of a segment of people with precarious status raises questions about the value and scope of citizenship and democracy in Canada. Are these to be enjoyed by one segment of society? In this model, immigration status becomes a legitimate basis for discrimination, and communities become divided through fear.
Alternatively, do we want to live in a society that addresses these issues by bringing precarious immigration status out of the shadows and into public discussions through debate, research, and advocacy? In this model, the presence of a segment of society with most of the rights that the rest of us take for granted is considered a problem. The question becomes how to reduce the insecurities of precarious status while also reducing the number of people in situations of precarious status through positive policies, rather than criminalization.
In order to begin to develop meaningful responses, and build healthier communities that are not divided by fear, we need to conduct informed debates.
I'm going to start with the temporary foreign workers issue, and then I will address the issue of so-called undocumented workers.
I've prepared a few notes, and I'm going to go step by step. I'm not going to go into a lot of details, because everybody knows what is required and what has to be done. I'll make suggestions on behalf of our association.
In our view, the CIC should compile a list of the professions and trades that are meeting the demands of the labour market. There's no need to bring here, under the point system....
In the last three or four weeks, I had two people come to my office. One of them was a lady who has a master's degree in psychology, and the other one has a PhD, I think, in agriculture or some profession. The lady is working in a factory, and the guy with the PhD retrained himself as a car mechanic. I'm not saying that a car mechanic is not a good profession, but the fact remains that this person who has done a doctorate, Dr. So-and-so, is now a car mechanic. What is the use of bringing in these people who cannot find jobs in Canada in their own professions?
I would recommend that CIC should, from time to time--maybe every six months--compile a list of the professions that are in high demand and that the selection of immigrants should be geared towards that list. That will also help the employers. If we want 1,200 carpenters or 700 nurses or 450 doctors, those are the people we want to bring here.
Also, when they are being brought here on temporary work permits, of course we need cooperation from the human resources department. HRSDC should consider exempting certain caregivers, for example. I've rarely heard that a caregiver request for LMO is denied. Most of them are approved. It's a recognized fact that we are short of caregivers in Canada.
Similarly, maybe the human resources department should give consideration to making a list of the professions that are in high, high demand. Then the potential immigrant doesn't have to go to the long waiting line to get the LMO, labour market opinions. This is how it should be done, in our view.
In our view, the temporary workers who come to Canada should be allowed to become permanent residents. If we bring somebody here and they work for two or three years and they contribute to the economy of this country--they are employable, able, their qualifications are recognized--there is no need to send them home. If we need them, then they should be allowed to stay. With the situation of permanent residence, there will be certain criteria, that they already have a job and the employer likes them and all that. Obviously they are not going to take a Canadian's job, because they were initially brought in to fill that vacancy because there was no Canadian available.
Concerning the fear that Canadians will lose jobs to these foreign workers, I don't think it is justified to say it like that, because this is why we have a human resources department here. They issue labour market opinions, and of course they have the idea of who to give one to or not.
I'm going quickly so that we can get through all these points I have.
We also suggest that CIC should publish a negative list of professions and trades. If we do not need PhDs in agriculture, then that should be listed in the negative list of professions. This will only help people overseas, because then they will know that if they go there, they're not going to get a job.
Also, regarding credentials, CIC should have some kind of guidance mechanism in overseas posts, and the potential immigrants should be advised, if they're engineers, that they have to come and do the papers again here, so that they don't complain that they had to drive a cab for three years before they got the papers.
I do respect professionals from overseas, and also, of course, the tradespeople, but again, CIC should advise them overseas.
I personally came to Canada 36 years ago. I worked for a Canadian company in Kenya, east Africa. I worked for Falconbridge, and they helped me come to Canada. My boss was the chairman of the board of directors. I went to see him, this old man—of course, at that time I was a young boy coming to Canada—and I asked him, “Sir, I'm going to Canada and I need your advice and guidance.” I remember his words. He said, “Ramesh, if you are not ashamed to work with your two hands, you will be successful in Canada.” I remember his words, after 36 years. And when I came to Canada, I was just lucky and I got a job in my profession. I was very lucky, but I know it doesn't happen to everybody. It's luck from God.
But what I'm saying here is that in this country there is a lot of dignity of labour. The people who claim, “I was a big shot back home, and now I'm doing this here,” I tell them, “With all due respect, if you were a big shot back home, then what are you doing here?” That's number one. But at the same time, I do understand their dilemma, so I think CIC should have some kind of mechanism back home, in the overseas post, to give people the right kind of advice regarding their credentials and their recognition.
I don't know if it's true--I read a lot of things in the newspaper—but the Minister of Immigration may be given some kind of discretionary powers to be able to cancel or whatever some of the people who may have been approved by your visa officers overseas. But I also have some information—I cannot disclose any names and all that—that this may not be true. I hope it is not true. Our humble request is that the minister not be given this kind of power, because it is contrary to our democratic rules in this country. I hope our request will be listened to.
The other thing is—
Oh, it was temporary foreign workers. I was thinking about undocumented workers.
In 2002 we changed the point system at the urging of the bureaucrats. I have learned, having been on this committee for 10 years and having seen seven ministers come and go, that when you talk about the minister having this power or that power, the bureaucracy has this power or that power. The ministers don't do a whole lot. It's done by the bureaucracy.
I go back to the issue of people in precarious status, undocumented workers. I've used those words interchangeably for a while. The numbers really got driven up because in 2002 the point system was changed when the bureaucracy persuaded the minister to sign off on it, notwithstanding the fact that the citizenship and immigration committee warned the minister that this would not work.
The bureaucracy at that point in time lied to the committee. It's a matter of public record that they lied to the committee. It also went on to a court case in which it was part of a decision. They misinformed the committee, and I really think we should have had them in for contempt. What that has done is driven up the number of people who are undocumented, because the people who were allowed in legally as landed immigrants were no longer capable of fulfilling the jobs that the economy wanted, mostly trades jobs.
We actually have more skilled people, and I could say to you--I've been using this as an example--Frank Stronach of Magna International would not get in. Frank Hasenfratz, chairman of Linamar, would not get in. Mike Lazaridis, the inventor of the BlackBerry, wouldn't get in. I dare say that 95% of the people who came in as immigrants wouldn't get in, and what I find curious is, when the bureaucrats grab for power, given the track record they have, what we need is transparency and accountability within the department.
I'm going to throw it over to you, Mr. Dheer, because you wanted to talk about undocumented workers, or should I say precarious immigration status. Would you agree with me that this is a problem?
The other problem we have is that by bringing in more temporary foreign workers, we're creating the kind of society that.... Germany had problems with it, and other countries have had problems with it. I want people coming in here whose kids are going to get up and make inventions such as the BlackBerry, which is made by a world-class company.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. Dheer, you made some very valid points, and they are well taken. We also thank you for giving credit to the government of 16 or 17 years ago for the amnesty. That was a Conservative government.
You also made a good point about bringing people in quickly and the economy of any province. It is not only Alberta, Quebec, or any other province. British Columbia's economy is going pretty strong, along with Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and even in the Newfoundland economy—offshore oil is there—and I foresee in the long term we will be looking at almost 100% net labour market requirement based on immigration. We do need to expedite those things.
Thank you for your comments.
I also want to show you that the minister does not—and I categorically tell you that—have the arbitrary power to overrule the visa officer's decision, so you can sleep easy and let people know that is the case. Thank you, sir.
On the other thing, I would like to go to Mr. Busby.
I want to talk a little more about labour flexibility. Some comments were made that people do not want to move from Newfoundland or Quebec, and you answered “Well....”. But at the same time we have to realize that people have come to this country from four corners of the world. They are going to continue to come from the four corners of the world. Why are people coming here? We are a compassionate country. We have the best real estate in the world, we have a good job market requirement, and we have great social programs built over the years.
If they can come from India, China, Pakistan, or wherever, I don't think they will have a whole lot of problem moving from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Quebec, or anywhere else. That's if they wish to move; the decision on whether they wish to move or not should rest with the people, not with politicians like me or anybody else in this room.
How would you see the labour market flexibility, and how can we bring it about?
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. My name is Silvia Bendo. I'm the executive director of CREWS, Construction Recruitment External Workers Services.
CREWS is a service offered through the Building Industry and Land Development Association, formerly known as the Greater Toronto Home Builders' Association and the Urban Development Institute. With more than 1,500 members, BILD is the voice of the residential land development, home building, and professional renovation industry in the Greater Toronto Area. We are proudly affiliated with the Ontario and the Canadian Home Builders' Association.
I am pleased to be afforded the opportunity to present the residential construction industry's views with respect to temporary foreign workers and undocumented workers. Both BILD and CREWS have had some hands-on experience with the temporary foreign worker program through our involvement with the construction industry memorandum of understanding between the GTHBA and the federal government.
CREWS was established in 2001 to assist employers with their labour supply needs by facilitating the foreign worker application process. Although the MOU formally ended in September 2007, CREWS is continuing to operate to support our members' needs by again helping them with their application processing.
In addition, we continue to support any and all efforts to increase the supply of skilled labour in our industry, including training and apprenticeship programs. Unfortunately, this does not meet all our industry's needs. With an aging workforce in several of the trades and in management positions, our industry requires action on all fronts to assure a healthy and stable supply of labour.
Within the temporary foreign worker program, one of the recommendations I would suggest is that the process for transferring foreign workers from one employer to another within Canada be streamlined. Currently the paperwork takes, at best, two months to process. During this time, workers can be left unemployed, and employers are prevented from using the skills and experience of these foreign workers.
Traditionally, the objective of the temporary foreign worker program was to meet temporary labour demands in the country. The reality is that most temporary foreign workers within our jurisdiction see the temporary foreign worker program as a stepping stone to permanent residency, although they don't even qualify for that. But that's another topic.
With respect to undocumented workers, we all know that they are here, and the plight of these workers must be addressed. Some of the undocumented workers have been lucky enough to regularize their status through the temporary foreign worker program. However, there are still many more out there who are discouraged from pursuing this route because they are not from visa-exempt countries or because of negative decisions from similarly positioned people at their visa posts abroad.
To ensure some fairness in our system, a regularization initiative needs to be devised that will ensure that our skill and labour supply remains in Canada. An inland regularization program that would result in the issuance of a temporary work permit for a period of at least two years could be one solution. During this time, these foreign nationals could then pursue permanent residency.
It should be noted, too, that many of our members are not knowingly employing undocumented workers. Our builder members secure their labour through labour agreements and through trade contractor agreements. The contractors, in turn, hire subcontractors to meet their labour needs.
The undocumented worker is sometimes a failed refugee claimant who, in the eyes of the employer, is suddenly deported.
I thank you for your attention. Overall, we request that this committee support immigration initiatives that will address the labour supply needs of the residential construction industry.
Thank you very much for inviting me here today.
Let me start by saying that what I plan to say to you today is based on my extensive research on this topic for the last six years. This includes interviews with migrant workers, growers, other employers, members of the foreign worker program, as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and others. I began publishing based on this material, and some of it you can find: I have a report with the Public Health Agency of Canada, and publication forthcoming in the journal, Canadian Studies in Population.
I recently received funding from the Public Health Agency to do a quantitative survey of migrant workers' health issues, as well as received some support through CERIS, the Ontario Metropolis Centre's immigration research group.
I know there are a number of areas worth pointing out with respect to this, but in the interests of time, I want to focus on some of the most prevalent issues. I've grouped them into five areas, and I'm going to concentrate on the last three.
First, I want to point to the vulnerability or potential vulnerability of foreign workers under this system, both in terms of the foreign worker program, but also the other programs like the seasonal agricultural worker program, and health and safety issues, regulations, monitoring and statistics, workplace cohesion, and I'll make some comments about immigration policy.
With respect to the vulnerability of foreign workers, I think it's important—and I'm sure others have already started to point this out—to recognize that because foreign workers are tied to the employers contractually and typically do not have open work permits, they are tied to their employer. The bilateral agreements in place—for example, in the seasonal agricultural worker program—with sending countries like Mexico have allowed for direct protection from the workers' country of citizenship. However, the recent program initiatives and the expansion of the foreign worker program do not operate through these bilateral agreements.
I'm also concerned about third party recruiters and employment agencies, who have played a significant role for employers in locating workers and setting up contracts. These groups are not regulated, particularly in Ontario. They are regulated in Manitoba, and I would urge Ontario and other provinces to adopt a similar framework.
Foreign workers are not eligible for most settlement services, because those are geared towards permanent migrants, and if they have many needs, they're not being addressed. This causes problems for funding and also for estimating the kinds of services these areas can provide.
With regard to health and safety, a number of things have emerged here. Let me just say that with the expansion into the NOC C and D categories of the low-skill pilot program, we have increased foreign workers not just in agriculture, but also in other areas of the economy, as we've seen in construction and manufacturing. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's annual report for 2006 estimated that most of these sectors are where the higher rates of workplace injury are taking place. There are some statistics in your notes with respect to this.
The other point I want to make is with respect to monitoring and evaluation, and inadequate guidelines, regulations and provisions, not just for workers but also for employers, who are finding they are struggling to handle a changing workforce and set of relationships with different employees.
With respect to community health, through my work with the Public Health Agency of Canada, I know they are very concerned about the potential dissemination of health problems. I would argue that poor health and safety on farms, and among the more than 20,000 agricultural foreign workers we have, may translate into higher risks for Canadian food production and Canadian food. It's also good that we show this for those involved in other areas of the food sector in different sectors of the economy.
With respect to the Canadian health care system, we have an already overburdened health care system and there's insufficient funding and training to address the myriad health care needs of temporary migrant populations, particularly in the long run.
With respect to regulation and monitoring statistics, this is something that really concerns me, because there's insufficient monitoring of the foreign worker program at a federal level, at provincial levels, and at municipal levels. There's very little direct government involvement. There's no independent body charged with monitoring and evaluating the program. Only in the seasonal agricultural worker program do we have a group, called FARMS, and that group represents mostly the interests of growers and farmers.
It's difficult to obtain quantitative data and statistics on abuse, complaints, return migrants, contract violations, lengths of stay, refugee and permanent residency applicants, rates of attrition, numbers of workers who go AWOL, or overstay work permits. I feel it's a really difficult situation to be in for either a researcher or a service-level or health care practitioner in terms of trying to estimate the kinds of service demands that temporary populations will put on our social and health systems.
With respect to workplace cohesion, there are a number of issues. The lack of information, language training, and cross-cultural sensitivity training for both employers and workers can lead to conditions that are ripe for racism, discrimination, and violence.
I would like to end on a few reflections with respect to the Canadian immigration policy. First of all, I think a foreign worker program encourages a more hierarchical system, one that's based on country of origin, particularly for the seasonal agricultural worker program, where employers basically select their workers based on their country of origin.
I also think that with respect to status transitioning, using the provincial nominee program in conjunction with the temporary foreign worker program is good on the one hand, because it's a channel for permanent status and it allows workers to get a regular status and get access to settlement services. This is working in Brandon, Manitoba, where approximately 538 Maple Leaf Foods employees have applied for permanent status through their provincial nominee program. Most of them are receiving it. However, this still is binding migrants to employers, so I'd be hesitant to use that as the only avenue for permanent residency for that group.
With respect to the private interests that I see driving policy here, I was just at the Metropolis Conference in Halifax. It was contended there that the farm worker program is not expanding, it is employer-driven. This is what keeps being said. What concerns me is that this means there's no cap on foreign workers, and it means we have an employer-driven immigration system, putting nation building in the hands of the private sector--not to mention the role of the third party recruiters in this process.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The labour shortage is the number one issue facing Canada's $58 billion, one-million-employee food service industry, so I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today about the temporary foreign worker program. Canada's labour shortage is a long-term demographic trend that is challenging all developed countries and industries. The outlook for the food service industry is particularly serious. Over the next 10 years, Canada's food service industry will need to add 190,000 new workers. Youth between the ages of 15 and 24 account for 44% of all food service workers in Canada today, yet between now and 2025, the number of youth in Canada will decrease by 345,000.
There are restaurant operators in western Canada, where the labour shortage is already a crisis, who would have been forced to close their doors if not for the temporary foreign worker program.
I want to say that improvements to the temporary foreign worker program over the last couple of years have been very welcome, but challenges remain.
Prevailing wage rates--and the methodology used to set them--is a pressing issue for my industry. Our members are frustrated by their inability to access the temporary foreign worker program due to artificially high wage rate demands. Service Canada officials dismiss the Statistics Canada wage rate data and other comprehensive third party compensation surveys, and in each region within each province, different and arbitrary methodologies are used to determine prevailing wage rates.
Prevailing wage rates are often significantly higher than the wages food service employers pay to their experienced domestic employees. There have been ongoing meetings between CRFA, HRDSC, and Service Canada officials about inaccurate data sources, lack of transparency, and lack of consistency in the prevailing wage-setting process. HRDSC officials acknowledge that there are problems and are currently undertaking a comprehensive review.
Our recommendations to this committee are, first, to accelerate the process of developing new methodology and criteria for determining prevailing wage rates that better reflect actual industry wages and, second, to ensure that the underlying policy on determining prevailing wage rates is market rate neutral and does not have the effect of putting upward pressure on wage rates.
I next want to touch on the importance on ensuring the long-term integrity of the temporary foreign worker program.
CRFA supports increased monitoring and compliance mechanisms for this program, and better communications between provincial governments and the federal government in this regard. We support the recommendation in the Federal Labour Standards Review Commission report to deny access to the temporary foreign worker program to employers who repeatedly or systematically violate provincial labour standards or the terms of their employment agreement. There has to be due process, of course, but the program is too important to let a few bad employers unfairly tarnish it.
CRFA also supports recent actions by provincial governments to regulate immigration representatives or consultants or recruiters to prevent the exploitation of workers. We would welcome more federal government involvement in this area as well.
I want to refute the notion that temporary foreign workers are not free to find work, and I also want to express concerns about the ease with which employers can hire temporary foreign workers brought to Canada by other employers without having to share in the significant recruitment and return airfare costs. Employers bringing in lower-skilled workers to Canada--i.e., NOC codes C and D--are required to pay for return airfare. In addition, they pay recruitment fees in the range of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee. They provide training, orientation to Canada, on-ground transportation, accommodation, and in many cases home furnishings, TV sets, boots, winter clothing, and so on.
A second employer can get a temporary foreign worker permit for the same worker and avoid the recruitment and start-up costs. There's no way to ensure the responsibility for return airfare and recruitment costs is transferred to the second employer if the worker leaves before the end of the contracted period.
As a result, CRFA's recommendations are to continue efforts to educate employers and temporary foreign workers about their rights and responsibilities under the temporary foreign worker program, to invest in additional monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to protect workers and the integrity of the program, and to ensure that the cost of initial airfare and recruitment for lower-skilled temporary foreign workers is transferred to the second employer and the third employer and the fourth employer on a pro-rated basis if a temporary foreign worker moves from one employer to another during his or her permit period in Canada.
Our operators are also concerned about the high percentage of application rejections for LMOs in some regions compared to others, inconsistencies in how the program is administered, and anomalies in how the occupations-under-pressure lists are developed--in particular the omission of cooks, since this is the most in-demand food service occupation.
CRFA recommends that government provide appropriate training, transparent guidelines, and incentives to foreign worker staff to reflect modernized objectives and to ensure consistent application of regulations; in conjunction with industry, re-evaluate the methodology and criteria used to establish occupation-under-pressure lists and E-LMO eligibility lists, particularly with regard to cooks; and allocate the necessary resources to regional Service Canada offices for the efficient processing of labour market opinions and temporary foreign worker applications.
I'd also like to speak about Canada's immigration system in relation to the temporary foreign worker program. We believe the immigration system needs to be overhauled and that the philosophy and culture of immigration policy has to change. The competition among developed countries for workers has already begun, and Canada needs to better establish itself as a country of choice.
Our immigration laws were established when labour market conditions were very different, and these laws need to be updated to reflect the new reality of labour shortage both in Canada and globally. Our current system is biased against low-skilled and semi-skilled workers, and there is no bridge between temporary foreign workers and permanent residency for low-skilled workers.
We were pleased to see a new immigration class established for temporary foreign workers who want to apply for permanent residence status without having to leave Canada. However, this new immigration stream is available only to workers in NOC codes A, B and O, and therefore not applicable to the majority of foreign workers in the food service industry.
Our recommendations are to revise the point system to better match labour market needs and to expand the Canadian-experience class of immigration to include NOC codes C and D so that Canadian job experience acquired by lower-skilled temporary foreign workers is recognized and will be weighted in their application for permanent residency.
To conclude, I want to emphasize that the labour shortage is the greatest single issue facing operators in the food service industry. It is not unique to our industry or country. It is not simply a skill shortage, it's a people shortage that is crippling our efforts to attract skilled, semi-skilled, and low-skilled workers. We need a long-term vision in Canada for attracting workers.
I'd like to thank the presenters.
Unfortunately, Mr. Telegdi wasn't here when we were talking about some of the grave labour shortages that are experienced across the country, certainly by your organization, Ms. Reynolds. There is no doubt our country needs a lot of people to fill a lot of positions that we can't fill from within our country.
I've been from hearing a number of witnesses that they're looking for some type of bridge from temporary status to permanent status. The examples of that are the Canadian experience class. When you've been in Canada for a number of years, you can then apply for permanent residence. The provinces have been invited to uptake on the provincial nominee program--i.e., you can actually set out the categories you would like to nominate and the federal government will allow you to meet the regional-provincial needs that you might have. I know in Saskatchewan, for instance, if you're a temporary resident and you've been in the province for six months, you can apply through the provincial nominee program, which eventually gives you landed status.
It seems to me that notwithstanding your having temporary workers come in, the idea that a lot of people expressed is to bring them into a permanent resident status.
The other aspect is that if you have a job and you can bring your family, you are likely to stay. There's been a suggestion that the spouses of the people who come should be given open work permits so they too can work and their children can come with them. Many of them are quite able and qualified, and there's a demand for labour. You can find yourself in an awkward situation when the child or the spouse is able to work but doesn't have that ability. So there's been some suggestion that we ought to expand that and find a means to offer them permanent residence.
I'd like to ask you for a comment about that aspect that we heard from Joyce and also from Ms. Hennebry.
I'll conclude with a question to Silvia with respect to CREWS. I'm wondering if the provinces really have a good uptake with CREWS, which I understand caters to the construction industry. Or is not working as it's meant to? There are a number of undocumented workers, if you want to call them that, who are working in the industry without going through that process. Has there been any intention of looking at the provincial nominee program, which gives the province a whole new type of jurisdiction to deal with workers who may be needed in construction and other industries?
Perhaps Joyce could start.
I want to thank the committee for inviting us.
As Debbie mentioned, we're going to talk about temporary work permits. I'm going to do one part in French and the other in English later.
I'd like to raise three points: first, our concerns about these programs; second, our proposals for change; and, third, a final comment on how to view the connections between the various Canadian policy areas and immigration, the labour market and human rights.
I have two main concerns. First, there are all the human rights abuses and violations to which temporary workers are subjected, particularly in the seasonal agricultural industry. As they have already been very well documented by workers' organizations, such as the Travailleurs et travailleuses unis de l'alimentation et du commerce, I won't repeat them. And yet the program and commitments of the Canadian and local governments and host countries of the workers and employers, as well as the agreements and formal declarations, tend in the direction of rights protection and labour rights legislation.
I would like to question the common idea expressed in the media and certain circles of political thought that temporary work permits are an adequate solution to meet current labour market needs. These permits do make it possible to obtain workers very quickly for economic areas where there are obvious labour shortages. However, are the workers who come here on a temporary basis, without their rights being respected, without being able to settle in a stable setting and have a life that can be considered normal, without being able to make a proper contribution to the objectives of private businesses? We don't think so. We think this unstable and undeveloped living situation does not enable workers to perform at an optimum level, even in the businesses that have hired them.
Lastly, the main concern, as Ms. Douglas said, is that the program marks a departure in terms of immigration policy in Canada: we are switching from the notion of immigrants as co-builders of a country to the notion of workers born outside the country, as though they were economic units that could be easily disposed of.
In conclusion, we are creating a highly vulnerable subclass of workers instead of bringing in new members of healthy local communities to create a healthy labour market in a country that is building itself in a healthy manner.
Given the current policy of increased recourse to temporary work permits, what we would like to propose is threefold. On the one hand, we would like to propose that access to services and to real enjoyment of rights in all Canadian and international legislation be given to temporary workers.
We are seeing the fact that they are being brought here quickly, that there's an increased use of the program. There's no way to deny that reality. We do think the Government of Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada should provide eligibility for these workers to receive services like anyone else. Again, even for the purposes of satisfying the labour market needs, we are able to enable them to live under better conditions while they are here.
That said, of course, as our second proposal, we are suggesting that they be given the opportunity to apply for permanent residence status early on--that is, as early as they apply for their temporary work permit. This is in line, again, with the objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, in terms of having new members of Canadian society being able to contribute to building Canadian society.
We would propose equally to extend already existing measures that are currently granted to specific categories, like live-in caregivers, for instance, or skilled immigrants, to all categories of temporary workers. We would give the example of the Canadian experience class, which is now limited to international students and certain categories of temporary workers. We want that generalized, as well, to people without status who do already have a Canadian experience. If they become employees in a regular manner, they wouldn't have so much of a steep curve to learn and to be able to integrate businesses.
To end with, we would like to raise the concern about the linkages that are being made between several Canadian pieces of policy. We are seeing that labour market policy in Canada is informing immigration, so the link between the two areas of policy is there, but we are concerned that this might amount to a devolution to businesses of this responsibility, the responsibility of building the country through immigration.
Now, the other way around, we are not sure that this is happening, whether immigration policy is informing labour market policy. Again, the use of immigration to build a country is not being taken into account when we try to give solutions to labour market issues.
Finally, as the piece that we are most concerned about, if the current government or any government in Canada is able to make those linkages between labour market and immigration policy, what is the role of Canada's human rights policy to make sure the all these linkages are done in an adequate way?
Thank you very much.
Our deputation is going to address predominantly the issue of undocumented workers, but we're going to make a few references to temporary foreign workers as well.
I'm here on behalf of Status Now! Campaign in Defense of Undocumented Immigrants. Our campaign includes various national, regional, and local immigrant refugee organizations, trade unions, and agencies.
We strongly believe an immediate moratorium on deportation of all non-status people living in Canada must be implemented. Until then, we ask that a full, inclusive, and acceptable regularization program be put into place.
I would like to begin by making a couple of references to the motion for a moratorium on deportations for undocumented workers under family, which was discussed in June 2007. The success of the motion spoke to the growing support for a national regularization program in Canada. In fact, the motion itself was a response to significant demonstrations and public protests demanding an end to the unjust deportations that an increasing number of Canadians see as cruel and unnecessary.
We're encouraged that such a motion has recently been debated and supported by members of our Parliament. Regularization programs have been a significant part of Canada's history. In fact, the first regularization or amnesty program was introduced by MP Douglas Jung about 50 years ago.
Many such programs have followed, including the administrative review program and many others. I won't waste your time reading through those.
While the previous motion put forward by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for a moratorium on deportation was a tremendous step forward, we believe that in the future a more comprehensive strategy needs to be set forth. We're speaking in particular to the wording around non-status workers and their families.
While we support the spirit of the motion, in order for the moratorium to adequately address the multiple barriers faced by the individuals without status, we ask that this category be expanded to include all members of non-status communities, not only those who are working. In this way we can ensure that individuals are not lost in the translation of such terms as “family”.
When examining the definition of “family”, we want to guarantee that definitions used take into account the various formations of families, which could include multiple types of extended families and same-sex couples.
We're making a lot of references to the previous motion because we're optimistic that you will include such recommendations.
In addition, limiting regularization to those who are working is problematic, as individuals without status or with precarious immigration status face many barriers while attempting to hold stable and continuous employment. Establishing proof of such employment is difficult, as many employers are unwilling to provide proof of employment to individuals without work permits.
Oftentimes workers without status are forced to accept precarious terms of employment and precarious jobs with no guarantee that their position will be available the next working day, week, or month. These workers have no recourse if they are not paid or if employment standards are violated.
Workers without immigration documentation are often forced to move from one job to the next, with inevitable lags between employment. These realities must be addressed in any future initiative.
The reality is that while regularization programs are designed and implemented, the hundreds and thousands of people without status will continue to live in deplorable conditions with little to no access to basic services. Individuals initially arrive in Canada able and willing to participate fully in Canadian society; however, many newcomers fall out of immigration status or enter various forms of less-than-full status.
Unfortunately, precarious immigration status also means a lack of access to medical care, the legal system, education, employment, and housing. Currently we have a two-tiered system in which individuals without status struggle to access the basic resources needed to ensure full membership in Canadian society.
This has serious negative consequences on their mental and physical health and on family stability. This also reinforces the emerging two-tiered society, a model of society that most Canadians would consider unjust and undesirable.
As we wait for a positive decision on a moratorium on deportation and an inclusive regularization program, we need to ensure that these vulnerable populations are extended access to the most essential services and are offered the same employment standards and recourse to justice that other Canadians rely on.
We also believe universal access to health care is essential amongst these services for the overall health of all of our communities. This is a public health issue. We live in communities where our schools, hospitals, workplaces, public transit systems, and community centres are all interconnected. It is crucial that all members living in these communities and participating in these systems have good health through access to public primary health care.
Although illness is a normal life event that can be addressed through access to health care and social benefits, individuals without status are greatly penalized if they become sick. Non-status individuals are uninsured and cannot access comprehensive medical care. They are forced to pay for medicine, doctors' visits, and hospital stays; however, they are not eligible for disability or sick benefits.
The impact of illness results in a severe crisis, as individuals without status will simultaneously lose their employment, shelter, and health. In addition, illness presents a profound barrier to regularization because of the medical inadmissibility category. The medical inadmissibility category unfairly targets individuals with disabilities and fails to acknowledge that society is composed of individuals with varying abilities.
Canadian immigration policies that exclude individuals with disabilities from obtaining permanent resident status actively contribute to systematic discrimination and contradict the Human Rights Act.
Living without status is marked by instability and uncertainty. Individuals and families without status or with mixed status live with the fear that the lives they have worked so hard to build can be ruptured and dissolved at any time through deportation. Working and surviving without social benefits is an additional stressor. Anxiety, worry, and mental exhaustion accompany the non-status experience. This is a population that is at risk for depression. This clearly has a negative impact on an individual's mental health as well as the health of the overall community. A regularization program could play a critical role in responding to the significant mental health problem.
Access to education is another barrier faced by non-status families in communities. Although the right to education is guaranteed under Canadian immigration laws as well as under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory, many barriers continue to deny non-status children unrestricted access. Parents without status attempting to enrol their children in Canadian schools continue to be confronted with staff who are not familiar with the rights of all children to education. As a result, Canadian-born children of parents without status may also encounter barriers to education. School boards across the country still disseminate registration information and registration forms that demand information regarding children's immigration status and immigration documents.
To compound the situation, in the past few years we have witnessed multiple cases where CBSA enforcement agents have used schools as a place to arrest families without status. In one case, children were used as bait to entrap their mother.
When it comes to access to post-secondary education, there are no options for non-status students. Students who have been raised in Canada and have received the bulk of their primary and secondary schooling in Canadian schools have the right to continue to college and university. As such, students without status are treated as a second-class population and relegated to the same precarious areas of employment as their parents.
Access to emergency services for the non-status community is also a public safety issue. We see this clearly in domestic violence situations in which women are afraid to call the police because of the lack of immigration status. We have seen unfortunate cases of undocumented women reporting incidents of rape, only to end up in detention and facing deportation without ever having their day in court. Similarly, witnesses of crimes continue to be afraid to report to the police services across the country, as their immigration status or that of their family members may be revealed.
No one should be afraid to call the police for immigration reasons. There needs to be a strict division of duties between police services and immigration enforcement. The police need to serve and protect our communities and not act as attachés of the CBSA, enforcing immigration policies.
We have had some progress with the Toronto Police Services Board in adopting an “access without fear” policy that provides limited protection for victims and witnesses of a crime. A great deal more work has to be done across the country to ensure safe communities.
Any regularization program implemented must not include any requirements regarding criminal records or backgrounds.
The use of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as a clumsy tool for punishment of crime makes for a situation of double jeopardy for non-status people and immigrants, a system where they are doubly punished for the same crime, which stands against the very principles of our criminal justice system. It also creates a two-tiered criminal justice system, one where citizens are punished once and all others twice.
As we work towards implementing a regularization program that meets the multiple needs of non-status people, families, and communities working and living in Canada, it is important to work closely with affected communities, agencies, as well as academics to ensure that the implementation of this program is relevant and effective.
Academic research and advocacy has identified barriers to accessing services without fear. It has also outlined some of the negative effects of living without status on individuals, on public health, on mental health, and on the well-being of women, families, and children.
Finally, the solution to the crisis of undocumented workers cannot be an expansion of temporary work programs, the increase of temporary work permits, and work visas. Canadian immigration cannot become a glorified temporary work agency where immigrants are treated as cheap and exploitable commodities.
In the past month we have seen the government pushing through changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in the House of Commons, via the Budget Implementation Act. Despite the government's insistent denials, these drastic changes will give vast powers for the minister to decide which categories of immigrant applications will be processed, ignored, or discarded. It will also limit several kinds of applicants, based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds that sponsors can use to bring their relatives into Canada.
If the current amendments are implemented, the minister will have the power to refuse to examine agency applications filed for refugees and immigrants outside of Canada. The government has oftentimes pointed to the agency application as the recourse for the gaps in our immigration laws. With these amendments in place, this recourse will no longer be available.
We close by noting that in order for regularization to be effective, it must be inclusive in terms of who qualifies and also with regard to cost. While we are not opposed to cost recovery, we also know that high fees could pose a barrier, particularly to families in general, single parent families, and youth. Mounting a regularization program is an investment that must be planned in order to maximize its reach so that as many qualified applicants apply as possible.
Thank you. And I'm sorry for the length of my presentation, but many organizations are part of our campaign.
I have an oral statement only, as I didn't find out about the standing committee until last week.
In the short time I have, I am planning to speak to two issues--temporary foreign workers, specifically the seasonal agricultural workers program, and also immigration consultants. I'm not sure how these issues have been bifurcated, but I can't be split in two, and I'm here today, so I'll talk about both things.
I will be speaking from the experience of my work as a staff lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic. We are a specialized Legal Aid Ontario clinic. We have a test case mandate to address issues of systemic racism impacting on the African Canadian community in Ontario. We litigate and advocate on behalf of African Canadians to protect their human rights. In our advocacy work we receive calls from African Canadians on a daily basis regarding immigration-related issues. I'll be speaking from that experience.
I'll start with the immigration consultants issue. At the African Canadian Legal Clinic, we've seen our fair share of clients who have been taken advantage of or exploited by immigration consultants to whom they have gone for help. We've seen people who have paid huge sums of money, but the work was not done or it was done badly. We've seen people whose chances of being accepted were dashed by the incompetence of the consultants they hired. We've seen people's chances of a future ruined. We've seen people who have been given false hopes when they really do not have a viable case, yet they have forked out huge amounts of money.
These stories are commonplace in many immigrant communities. It's not an issue that these incidents happen; the issue is what the Canadian government should be doing about it. What is truly needed is a system of accountability that works. The fact is that the current self-regulating system by the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants does not work. It is weak, has numerous loopholes, and in fact there is no accountability. Immigration consultants act with impunity.
In terms of our proposal as to what can be done, with respect to the provinces where the law societies are currently regulating paralegals, we propose that the federal government work with their provincial counterparts to ensure that these law societies also regulate immigration consultants. Immigration consultants do work that's akin to paralegals. There is absolutely no reason why the law societies that already regulate paralegals should not be regulating immigration consultants.
The problem is that not all law societies regulate paralegals. In Ontario we have paralegal regulations, but it's not consistent across Canada. Alternatively, our proposal is that the federal government look into setting up a licensing scheme with respect to immigration consultants, whereby standards of competence are set and there are regulation mechanisms.
As part of that regulatory mechanism, there needs to be an arm's-length complaints system through which victims of exploitation can seek recourse and can file complaints without fear. That's why we're proposing an arm's-length system, because many people have no status, and if you have a government agency, they're not going to come forward. There will be no hope of people coming forward from the get-go. It has to be an arm's-length system.
Also, to make sure that complainants do come forward and they're not excluded by fear, you should allow for third party complaints. Organizations, councils, or people who have come in contact with victims can file those complaints.
With respect to the temporary foreign workers, the seasonal agricultural workers program, I am going to be talking specifically about it. I will touch on some of the problems that are faced by the workers. I would also speak to some proposals to address those problems that the federal government can implement.
I would also like to draw attention to the racialized aspect of this program. The history of the program is rooted in the Caribbean. It was started in 1966 with workers from Jamaica. Since that time, it has drawn workers mostly from the Caribbean.
Currently all workers in the program are racialized. They're from the south. We have workers from Mexico and the Caribbean mainly. Approximately 40% of the 20,000 workers are now from the Caribbean, from countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. About 80% of these workers work in Ontario.
Because of their status, migrant farm workers are highly vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. Their vulnerable situation also allows for abuses to go unchecked. As racialized people, they experience racism not just from the employers but also from the communities, the people in the communities they work in. These workers are mostly placed in rural, predominantly white communities.
We've also heard of workers complaining about the poor working conditions they have to work in. Caribbean workers, for example, have compared their working conditions to modern-day slavery. They experience extreme social isolation. A lot of these workers come here for extended periods of time, up to eight months. A lot of them come up year after year. They are separated from their communities and their families for extended periods of time. This is extreme social dislocation. There's no opportunity to be reunited with their families while they're in Canada.
They also can be sent back very easily, repatriated. If they stand up for their rights, they can be repatriated. They live under this constant threat. They have no choice but to remain silent and endure unfavourable work conditions and treatment, if they are victims of that.
What can we do about this? What can the federal government do about this?
Let me be clear right from the get-go. These migrant farm workers provide much-needed labour. They are a benefit to Canada. They fill a labour gap and contribute to Canada's economy. They do the long hours and the long days, the hard back-breaking work that Canadian workers do not want to do.
On average, migrant workers work 6.7 days per week, 9.5 hours per day. There's no question that Canada has benefited and profited from this program. Indeed, it's part of our history that Canada has benefited from migrant labour, from the Chinese railway workers who built the railways to the manual farm workers who cleared and settled the west.
But with benefit comes responsibility to protect the human rights of the workers we bring in and we profit from, to provide the rights and protections that are due to them under Canadian law.
The federal government should work with its provincial counterparts to ensure that these rights are protected. For a start, it should work to provide accountability for employers who mistreat workers and it should create avenues of redress and recourse for workers who have been mistreated. In this respect, we support the UFCW's call for the creation of an appeals process for repatriation cases.
The federal government can provide funding and support for advocacy services to these workers—for example, advocacy services and help for workers who are being repatriated or who have worker's compensation claims or appeals.
The federal government can also work to improve the living and working conditions of these migrants by helping to set minimum standards of living conditions and setting up regular inspection and monitoring mechanisms.
The federal government can allow these workers to apply for permanent residence status, by setting up a special program such as the one for domestic workers, whereby workers can apply for permanent residence after having worked in Canada for a certain period of time and shown an ability to successfully live and work in Canada permanently. Currently workers experience indefinite temporary work. Year after year, they're here temporarily with no chance of success of applying for permanent residence.
Canada should also sign on to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, the migration workers convention in short, which contains protections and rights to prevent workers from being exploited. Currently Canada is not a signatory.
We have heard that the reason for Canada not signing is that we have a superior immigration system, where people can come in and apply for permanent residence and citizenship. This does not apply to migrant farm workers, who live here on a temporary basis. They're completely temporary, and the avenue of applying for permanent residence doesn't apply to them.
I would like to close by saying that it would be remiss of me not to mention , because it does fundamentally affect everything we're talking about today. I know that the committee has set down the work in these categories, but it really does affect what we're talking about fundamentally.
I agree with the concerns that others have raised about the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the sweeping powers that will be given to the minister, and the cutting out of humanitarian and compassionate applications. I won't speak to the substance of those concerns, but I would like to speak to the process.
These changes are sweeping and fundamental. In a democracy like ours, we should be debating this, truly, just as we are doing here. It needs to be worked through the legislative process, and not through the back door by a budget bill. So we would ask that a full and open public debate, with a full consultation process, be held to discuss this issue.
Also, I would like to comment that this hearkens back to the good old days where, you know, who decides whom is good for Canada or which immigrants are desirable? The history of Canada is replete with examples of groups—to which many of us here belong—that were considered undesirable. The change from an objective system, which the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act has with respect to checks and balances between subjectivity and objectivity, to an arbitrary system is going to affect fundamentally the way that immigration is dealt with in Canada, and it deserves full and public consultation.
I'm really glad to see all you folks here.
Sima, I remember we were battling under the Sossa family. I think it's an opportunity to let my colleagues know and let the record show that the Sossa family came from Costa Rica. Their children were doing exceptionally well in school. Immigration officials went into the school and held the children hostage to try to lure in their parents so they could pick them up and deport them. It was just reprehensible. I took that back to the House at the time; I raised it in the House. Anyway, the minister said that no more of this will be happening.
I point this out because here we have again a bureaucracy in action that tends not to be accountable and really points to the need of having good political accountability, transparency, and oversight. We spent a lot of money and effort in getting the Sossa family out. Their kids were doing great. They were established in the community. The father was a foreman on a construction site in this city and the wife was working very hard at another job, I think. It was cleaning or something like that that other people didn't want to do.
It seems to me that here we have the perfect candidate to come to Canada. So what do we do? We ended up sending him out of the country and then we ended up bringing him back. So a lot of money, time, and effort was wasted going through this exercise. There are undocumented workers like this all over the place. It would have been so much simpler to go through a regularization process. As mentioned before, we have people living in the shadows. Do a regularization, which the previous government was on the verge of doing but they got defeated. Then you know what happened: the bureaucrat said, oh, here's our opportunity to put this off again, because we're against it; essentially, these people are the result of the mistakes we made by changing the point system on the Immigration Act in 2002.
I mention it to committee members because it's a perfect example of how we could have saved a lot of money. We could have saved a lot of effort. We could have saved a lot of heartache. We could have dealt with some more of the backlog but instead we chose to expend our moneys in this way.
Ms. Chen, I agree with you in terms of what you're talking about in , because what we end up doing is giving more control to the bureaucracy, taking away even oversight from the courts as well as from the politicians, from this committee, from the minister, which makes the whole thing very dangerous. So when you say that, yes, we racialize our migrant farm workers, it's certainly the same thing we did with the Chinese. We brought them in, they built the railway, and we got rid of them under the Chinese exclusion act and put on the Chinese head tax.
You guys are doing a remarkable job on probably not a very popular topic. How do you keep going? I really want to know. I commend you for what you're doing, but how do you keep yourselves going, as advocates?