Good morning, everyone. We'll call our meeting to order. I want to welcome all of you here today as we continue our cross-country meetings.
I would like to thank Luc Harvey and Raymonde Folco for being here with us today. I would also like to thank the Bloc Québécois members who have attended all our meetings.
Thank you. If you didn't understand that, I want to welcome Luc Harvey and Madame Folco to our meetings today.
For the benefit of our witnesses, we are the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We've been mandated to hold meetings on three items: undocumented and temporary foreign workers, immigration consultants, and Iraqi refugees.
We will be meeting in almost all provinces and will be finishing up next week in St. John's, Newfoundland. By the time we finish up, we will have heard from 52 panels of people like you, who will present their views on any one of these topics or on all of these topics. At the conclusion, of course, our clerks and analysts will do a report, which we will present to the House of Commons.
Your opinions mean a lot to us. Thank you for being here today.
I want to welcome witnesses Sylvie Gravel, professor of work injuries and safety at work at the business school at the University of Quebec at Montreal; and Félicien Ngankoy, from the Congolese Catholic community of Montreal. Welcome. I think we have one more who might be here a little bit later on, and that is Solidarity Across Borders.
You have about seven minutes to make an opening statement, if you wish, after which our committee members will engage you or ask questions. Please feel free to begin at any time.
Go ahead, Ms. Gravel.
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me. This morning, I am going to describe my work and the brief I have prepared for this committee. To stay within the time I am allowed, I am going to follow my paper closely.
As a specialist in occupational injuries and access to compensation for immigrant workers, I would like to draw the attention of committee members to occupational accidents and illnesses suffered by immigrant workers. When I talk about occupational injuries, I refer to both accidents and illnesses.
Since the 1970s, there have been many studies in Europe and North American that have documented two major problems experienced by immigrant workers: overexposure to occupational injuries and under-reporting of injuries for compensation claims.
In a number of countries that import cross-border labour, including France, Germany, Sweden, Australia and the United States, it is estimated that the risk of suffering an occupational injury is two to three times higher for immigrant workers than for national workers. These are epidemiological studies. In addition, the injuries are generally more serious and irreversible. The rates of respiratory tract cancers, burns of all kinds, to the eyes, mucus membranes and hands, amputations of extremities, that is, fingers and hands, and deaths by homicide are much higher for immigrant workers, regardless of whether they have permanent or temporary status or are undocumented, or of the length of time they have been in Canada.
There are many causes of this overexposure, and they operate in combination. There are structural causes relating to the employment market and employer companies, and there are personal causes. The structural causes include the jobs available to immigrant workers seeking jobs that will enable them to integrate economically. They are mainly in industries where jobs are precarious, turnover is high and the risk of injury is very high. They include agriculture, construction, material handling and services. For example, in market gardening, exposure to pesticides and insecticides is associated with cancers and burns. In agriculture, exposure to cutting and slicing machines results in amputations. In the services sector, night work involving handling money, for example in service stations or at rest stops, are jobs in which the risk of physical assault and homicide are elevated.
Although the risks to workers' health and safety in those industries are known, few if any training courses are systematically offered. Because these sectors are composed of small businesses, they are not necessarily subject to oversight by occupational health and safety authorities. Workers in these sectors rarely form associations or unions, although such associations could bring influence to bear to have occupational health and safety measures implemented and adhered to.
When a business has the infrastructure to systematically initiate new workers and give its workforce on the job training in new procedures or new occupational health and safety measures, exposure to risks is generally greatly reduced. However, businesses that adapt their training to the languages skills of their immigrant workers or workers who speak other languages are rare.
Generally, training and safety instructions are given in the official language or languages of Canada. However, when there is an emergency, stress, movement and confusion reduce the ability of people in general, and other language speakers in particular, to understand. The immigrant workers who are best able to understand safety instructions are the ones who were trained in their own language by people from the same background.
The other personal causes for overexposure of immigrant workers include their education level. There are two categories of workers: those who have inadequate education and come from countries where there are virtually no occupational health and safety rules, or they are simply ignored; and those who have come from very educated backgrounds and who, whether they come from developing countries or not, have been trained in a profession, such as doctors, engineers, etc., and who take manual labour jobs for economic survival. These overqualified workers are more exposed to occupational injuries because they have not developed skills for performing manual work that is demanding in terms of physical effort or repetitive movements.
None of the studies to which we refer here distinguished among workers based on their status. However, employment sectors where the risk of serious and irreversible injury is concentrated are those where there are chronic workforce shortages and where seasonal workers from the South, recent immigrant workers and undocumented workers are hired.
In general, these workers all have an injury in the course of a year, but only rarely do they report it.
As in the case of overexposure to occupational injury, there are structural and personal causes that explain under-reporting of injuries by immigrant workers.
Studies on access to compensation, which have mainly been done in the last 10 years, show that there is a system of barriers to access to compensation schemes. Those barriers occur at various stages in the process: when the event, that is, the accident occurs, or when the symptoms of the illness appear, the workplace does not encourage an injured worker or a worker who has an occupational illness to report the situation and claim compensation; when a worker initiates a claim, the attending physicians, the union and the administrative services at the compensation scheme are all necessary and indispensable players in the process, but through inadvertence or negligence they may hinder or block the worker's efforts; when the worker returns to work after receiving compensation, he or she can ideally be reinstated, but some may be refused reinstatement or not allowed to return to their duties, or even dismissed.
Fears of reprisals by employers prompt immigrant workers not to report injuries. In some industries, including the hotel industry in San Francisco, a very large majority of workers, 97%, had an occupational injury during the year and made no claim. Those workers, most of them of Spanish-speaking or Asian origin, were afraid of reprisals, even though in some communities there are clinic services provided for the community so that the workers can have access to consultations and report their injuries.
Immigrant workers are afraid of losing their right to citizenship, their right to sponsor family and their right of residence. Those fears are unfounded and are based on ignorance of their rights as workers and citizens.
All low-paid workers, whether or not they are immigrants, are afraid of the financial losses they suffer when they take time off work, the cost of compensation proceedings, and especially the legal fees they incur if the employer disputes their entitlement to benefits. Their fears of poverty are unfortunately well founded, because 40% of workers have a substantial loss of income as a result of the waiting period.
All of the studies done of immigrant workers did not take status into account, because of the data. In Canada, as in many other countries, it is impossible to do a study that specifies workers' status, because occupational health and safety files do not record information about workers' origin, mother tongue or status. The data are generally obtained from indirect sources. In this case, we are talking about cross-checking the injuries and the medical records.
What are we to conclude about the status of workers admitted under Canada's temporary worker programs? At present, the industries that benefit from bilateral agreements to admit temporary workers are precisely those industries that are known for their high risk of occupational injuries: agriculture, for the bilateral agreements between Quebec and Mexico, and manufacturing and handling, for the bilateral agreements between Canada and El Salvador.
Despite the strong support for temporary immigration, there are many questions that do not seem to have clear answers at present. What occupational health and safety coverage is provided for these temporary workers? Do they have the same rights as permanent workers when it comes to health care, compensation, rehabilitation and reinstatement in their jobs, during the time they are here and for the years to come? Who trains them in occupational health and safety measures?
Mr. Chair, Members of Parliament and members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, I would like to thank you for the honour and opportunity of appearing before your Committee today to discuss the issue of undocumented workers.
For your information, my name is Félicien Ngankoy Isomi and I am originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was married here and am the father of two children born here. I am one of the leaders and members of the Communauté Catholique Congolaise de Montréal and would like to share my experience as an undocumented worker in Canada.
I arrived in Canada on September 29, 1999, and my refugee claim was heard before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) a few years later, in September 2002. I personally wrote to the chairperson of the IRB to express my concerns, and he only wrote back to offer regrets. It wasn’t until July 2004 that I received a negative decision from the Board, indicating that I was excluded pursuant to section 1F of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
After many unsuccessful attempts, I applied for a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA), which was rejected in September 2005. Through the application for judicial review that was allowed by the Federal Court in November 2005, I was able to obtain a stay on removal to my country of origin, which is under a moratorium, simply because the moratorium does not apply to my case.
I applied a second time for a PRRA and a visa waiver on humanitarian grounds based on the fact that I was married here and am the father of two children born here, that I had submitted proof of income, and that I had the support of my employer, the Archbishop of Montreal and several organizations, including the Red Cross, where I am a volunteer. I even submitted a decision made by an English judge deferring any removal to the DRC because of torture and instability. But in spite of all this evidence, my application was rejected in December 2007. I could be removed to my country at any time.
I am here before you today as a result of a stay I obtained as a result of the intervention by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which believes that my removal to the DRC is risky, and because Canada recognizes the widespread insecurity there by maintaining the moratorium on deportation to that country. As well, the Department of Foreign Affairs advises Canadians against travel to the DRC on its website because of that widespread insecurity.
I am now going to talk about my experience as an undocumented worker. I went to university and hold a law degree from my country, but my degree is not recognized here. Therefore, I can neither study or work given that I am unable to obtain equivalencies simply because I do not have the resources to study as a foreign student.
Let me point out that I started working three months after arriving in Canada in 1999, in manufacturing, telemarketing, and so on. Since I am limited by a lack of status, I must renew my work permit every year and there are no guarantees. I am skilled and able to do better for my family, but since my hands are tied, I must work so I can take care of my small family. Although my children were born here, they do not enjoy all the rights, benefits and privileges that are extended to other children, simply because I have no status. My children are undeniably second-class Canadians.
There is no way out. I have no future and no plans, and I cannot allow myself to make plans because I don’t know if I’ll still be here tomorrow. There is no way to describe how I feel; I am but one of many survivors who cross their fingers, hoping that one day the Canadian government will realize that our situation is inhumane, and that we may finally see the light at the end of the tunnel after so many years of despair.
We worry about getting sick because our temporary health card does not cover all types of care. We are stressed because we are undocumented and end up getting sick, as I did. I was hospitalized for two months, April and May 2007, which included two weeks in intensive care while in a coma at the Maisonneuve Rosemont hospital. I was dying and about to leave my wife and children to fend for themselves. I thank God that I am still alive today.
I have just highlighted what many undocumented workers in Canada, including me, are going through. Their lives are on hold and they have no real prospects of becoming permanent residents. As for me, I have only two options: agree to return home to be arrested and killed, or stay here without status and die a slow death. Those who find themselves in a legal void like me suffer painful and tragic consequences: their job prospects are uncertain and limited; they cannot go to school and continue their education; they are ineligible for the Canada Child Tax Benefit, even though they work and pay taxes like all Canadians; they can only access emergency health care; they cannot travel outside Canada; and they struggle with intense feelings of injustice, despair and hopelessness. All these cases underscore the urgent need for a comprehensive solution.
The following are a few recommendations: call upon the Government of Canada to create a prescribed class that would grant permanent residence to all undocumented workers who have lived in Canada for at least three years, by stipulating specific criteria such as no criminal record and the degree of integration into the host community; improve training for Immigration Canada and border services officers so they can gain a better understanding of international and refugee issues as well as international migration in order to avoid making decisions that are very often questionable; provide the resources to implement the Refugee Appeal Division as set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; although the Government of Canada funds many programs to bring in workers and immigrants from abroad, many such people are already here and working, contributing to Canada’s socio-economic development by paying taxes and ask only to be recognized; allow Canadian children, if possible, to sponsor their parents who are undocumented workers who have been working here for at least three years, because Canadian law recognizes that it is in the children’s best interests to live and grow up with their parents.
Thank you for your attention.
I would first like to note that a majority of the studies I refer to and the studies I have done myself relate to documented workers. We are not talking about undocumented workers. Our sample included very few undocumented workers. The workers are very reluctant and suspicious about the idea of participating in studies dealing with occupational injuries, because even with papers they are in a precarious situation.
The last study I did talked about only one of those workers, and we lost him over the course of the study because he went back home as a result of an injury that was not recognized and for which he was not compensated, when ordinarily occupational health and safety boards recognize all workers, regardless of their status. Some temporary and permanent workers have been here for 10 or 12 or 15 years. Their occupational health and safety status over-exposes them to injuries and they under-report those injuries.
I think the problem is much wider than undocumented workers. By allowing massive temporary immigration, what we are still doing, and doing more, is putting the health and safety of immigrant workers at risk. Those workers have no leverage and no association to enforce their rights. They work in industries that are not necessarily monitored by occupational health and safety inspectors. The health of workers in general is being put at risk because what we are doing is introducing a work force that, because of its turnover, can't demand stability and compliance with the standards. That is what is of concern.
The problems of immigrant workers in the United States relate especially to the Spanish-speaking community in that country. The cancer rate, including respiratory tract cancer, is 20 times higher among agricultural workers than in the general population. Those workers come back year after year. They may have no status, but they are a relatively stable workforce in that industry. That is what our bilateral agreements are creating. We have a temporary workforce that comes back year after year and that is fine for the agricultural businesses. But what is the situation for these people? No one is doing epidemiological surveillance of their health. This is a concern because those people are overexposed.
This country, with its demographic and economic growth relying in part on foreign workers, is facing a serious ethical problem. We are also doing to be facing a problem of this nature involving all the other workers who stay in those industries and who are not temporary immigrants, or immigrants at all. In some regions of Canada, that phenomenon is expanding at such a rate that this is becoming a serious concern, even in social terms.
Thank you for your question, Ms. Chow. It's true, I thought that if I had had an opportunity to be heard by two or three board members, the result would have been different.
My story is clear. I noticed that there were things in the board member's decision that I had never said at the hearing myself. Because the decision was made two years after the hearing, I wondered whether he still remembered what had actually happened. On appeal, I was going to have an opportunity to correct what was in the decision.
For those who may not know, Congo has been at war since 1994, since the Rwandan genocide. The war in Congo is a consequence of what happened in Rwanda, even though nobody talks much about Congo. Since 1998, since Kabila came to power, the war has gone on to this day. We are talking about more than 4.5 million people dead in Congo. That is several times the number of people who died in the Rwandan genocide, several times the number of people who died in the tsunami and several times the number of people who died in disasters people often talk about. Today, again, I read that practically every day there are more than 45,000 people die in Congo, for various reasons: disease or the war in the east. The war in the east is still going on today. It is recognized that there is no security in Congo today. In fact, it is documented.
I talked about training the officers who make decisions for immigration and border services. It would be important for them to be informed about what is going on in these countries before making decisions. In my case, on the decision, it said “Dominican Republic of Congo”. When I saw that, I said there was a problem right there. “Dominican Republic of Congo” was written on the first page.
I would first like to thank you for being with us today.
I know that ordinarily when issues arise involving cultural communities they are sensitive and generate very emotional responses. I am aware of that situation, particularly because my wife is an immigrant herself. She was given to a Canadian family when she was 11 years old. I am therefore in a position to know what she may have gone through and how sensitive this kind of situation is, because it affects the family. I have been a member of Parliament for two years.
My question is for Mr. Ngankoy.
We are talking about political refugees, and I understand very well, from having visited your country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and personally met with Mr. Kabila, that things are not necessarily as they should be there. As you said, you have been here since 1999. Your claim has therefore been considered and reconsidered, and there have been challenges, and so on for nine years.
Recently, a young woman, 21 years old, from St. Lucia, in the Caribbean, came to my office. She said she was a political refugee. Well, she was anything but a political refugee, and she admitted it herself. She was pregnant by a Quebec man. She stated she was not living with that person. As of now, she has already had her child. She is now living in Quebec City and has a health insurance card and a social insurance card, among other things.
How do you think her case should be handled?
In fact, there have been abuses in relation to political refugee status. I know that this may not be true in your case, but there are many people claiming that status, in large numbers, because it is the easy way of applying for permanent residence in Canada.
Honourable members of Parliament, bonjour , mesdames et messieurs
After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, people around the world were expecting Iraq to become a democratic and prosperous country in the Middle East. After five years, the reality is simply the opposite. The country is almost divided; lawlessness, anarchy, and chaos are everywhere. All the people of the country were affected by this situation, most of all the Christian minorities.
Somebody might ask, who are the Christians of Iraq? Christians of Iraq trace their ancestry to the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians. They are known by various names, such as Assyrians; Chaldeans, for those who belong to the Chaldean church; and Syriacs, for those who are members of the Syrian Orthodox church.
The majority of the Assyrians converted to Christianity during the second century, giving the Assyrians a legitimate claim to being the first Christian nation in history. For centuries they have been persecuted and victims of terrorism. The situation for the original inhabitants of the land, the Christians, is very difficult indeed today in Iraq.
There are no specific statistics about the total population of Christians in Iraq. There are estimated to be about one million.
Saddam Hussein gave the Christians some sort of protection for a very simple reason--the Christians are hard-working, peace-loving, and law-abiding, and they have never been a threat. Their contribution to the well-being of Iraqi society far exceeds their number.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Christians have been targets of numerous attacks by extremists. For the many Sunni and Shiite militia living in Iraq, Christians are the enemy within. In the last five years, more than half of their very historic churches all over the country have been destroyed or heavily damaged. Thousands of children, women, and men were killed as a result of those bombings, and in addition, thousands were injured.
Militants see an automatic link between Iraqi Christians and the Christians of the west, so they hold them responsible for the invasion and for the subsequent hardships Iraq is going through.
After the Danish cartoon, as you may remember, ladies and gentlemen, car bombs exploded outside churches on January 29 in what appears to have been a coordinated attack. Two churches in Kirkuk and three others in the capital of Baghdad were targeted. More than five people, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed and more than 20 people were injured.
Militant gangs target Christians from all walks of life. Whatever the motive--financial, religious, territorial--the militants have one thing in common: they want the Christians either to convert to Islam or to leave the country.
Because of religious affiliation, economic status, and profession, many people who are doctors, teachers, and even hairdressers are viewed as being anti-Islamic.
The anonymous notes posted to Christian families in the city of Mosul in the north last December say it all: “Leave, crusaders, or we will cut off your heads.”
In the Shiite-dominated south there have been many accounts of Christian businessmen being shot dead on the streets for crimes such as running a liquor store or selling goods prohibited by Islamic law.
In Dora, a part of Baghdad, the Christians are living in very bad circumstances. All their churches were bombed. They have to pay a special local tax to live in their own homes and give their sisters or daughters to Muslims to convert to Islam. If they do not, they have to move their homes or they will be killed.
Last year, America's Catholic bishop said Christian persecution in Iraq had reached a crisis point and cited the crucifixion of a teenager in Basra, among several atrocities. Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, in July, condemned atrocities and said that nobody can deny that a real persecution of Christians in Iraq is taking place.
On February 29 this year, after celebrating the way of the cross at the Church of the Holy Spirit near the city of Mosul, Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped. Gunmen shot his driver and two companions. His body was found after a few days. This is just one more example of the threat the Christian minority is under in Iraq now. Everybody agrees that the Christians face a different danger than the majority Muslim population of the country.
The support of our beloved country, Canada, for this humanitarian issue is crucial. Victims of torture and detention, individuals at risk of deportation from Jordan, Syria, or Lebanon, and orphaned children are all in urgent need of resettlement and protection. Delays can have devastating consequences for their lives.
It has been proven that Iraqis arriving in Canada have assimilated into Canadian society while sharing their colourful culture. Therefore, Canadians of Iraqi origin should be allowed, through the immigration office and their local churches in Canada, to sponsor their relatives and loved ones to immigrate to Canada. The leading role of Canada in alleviating suffering and providing safety to hundreds of thousands of refugees all over the world is greatly advanced and well recognized worldwide. Please know that the Christians of Iraq feel that they have been abandoned and forgotten by the world community. Those who are unable to flee the country are now waiting for their turn to die.
The Iraqi refugees, and Christians in particular, displaced in Iraq and around the neighbouring countries are calling upon the conscience of this great nation of Canada for your kind attention, support, and advocacy to help in resolving this humanitarian issue.
Thank you very much indeed for your kind attention, and may God bless Canada.
Thank you very much. I have given copies of my presentation for everybody.
I want to give you an idea about what the Iraqi Community Centre is and what we do.
The Iraqi Community Centre was started in 1986. With the coming of the first group of Iraqi immigrants in the 1980s, we saw that there was no organization to take care of them, so a group of Iraqi families grouped together to start this community centre. The objective of the centre is to try to help Iraqis settle down in Canada. Iraqis are not used to immigration; we were not an immigrant society. Coming here, they were a bit lost, and we found that they needed somebody to support them, especially in Montreal. Most Iraqis speak English and don't speak French, so it was a challenge for them.
We don't have funding and we don't have employees. It's a group of volunteers who work together to try to help as many Iraqis as we can. We receive them from airports. Everybody has cars and can go there. You know that when they come here, they cannot find housing, so we try to find housing. We give them our names so that they can find housing to live in. Sometimes we open mosques for families when they come. They call us to say they are coming. The last time, they called for 16 members and they wanted something immediately, so we gave them the mosque. We don't have any way of supporting them other than that: our houses or the religious places.
We also provide them with lawyers and with translation. Every time we have more challenges, because it's a new thing. The immigrants who are coming—not only the refugees, but the immigrants—have different kinds of needs, and we have to adapt to that. This is what the Iraqi centre has been doing, and we try to organize different activities to receive these people.
We tried to get some statistics about the people who are coming to Canada. It's very difficult. I went to Statistics Canada and looked at the numbers. They don't represent the reality of Iraqi Canadians, because there are many more than they show; we know that. But this is what I found in Statistics Canada.
There is the problem also, when they come here, of the changing perception Canadians have of them, because of the image of them that people are seeing on TV. Arriving in Canada is already difficult, but the challenge when they arrive is facing the problem of Canadians' perception. This image will make their lives difficult in finding housing and jobs. We are not a violent nation, but you know how media picture things. This is a challenge we are trying to change. It's why we are trying to organize different kinds of activities with artists from Iraq, to show the community that we are not that bad.
Among the challenges regarding refugee status is that many countries are trying to receive people from different countries, especially Jordan and Syria. I go often to Jordan, and friends of mine who work for the UN in Syria told me that it's really a challenge for them there; millions of people are there. Everybody is coming to me as if I'm responsible for Canadian refugees, asking, “How can we come there? What can we do?”
Often they are doctors, and they cannot practise in Jordan, but they are living there. The standard of living has really gone down; you should see their houses. It hurts when you see people like that. The minimum was done; now they can have a card saying they can stay in Jordan. What was happening is that they were kicking them out. Most of them, if they go back, are threatened. That's why they left. Why would anybody want to suffer and leave the country they are in if they are safe?
With the card the UN gives them saying they are refugees, they have to wait. Sometimes Jordan and Syria respect these cards, but not always, and they're also difficult to get. Information is not available, and people don't understand what's going on.
The problem we are having is that there are many families with people stuck in Iraq. You cannot understand what's happening with the borders of Jordan, especially—about Syria, I'm not sure. You arrive—you take the airplane now—and either they send you back or they take you in. So they don't know what's happening; they have to take their chances.
Some people don't even have the means to leave; they don't have passports, they don't have papers, and they don't have the money to leave. But all the governments are looking at the refugees in Syria and Jordan and outside. I don't know who would think about the people who are stuck there. I have no idea.
Then the people who manage to leave face another problem, which is financial. What they do is apply as refugees and then go back to Iraq, but then when they come to the interview, they are told, “Oh, you went back to Iraq, so you're not really in need.” And they say, “But I don't have money. What do I do?” They are stuck in these procedures and regulations and don't know how to do deal with them.
We met with someone from the coalition for refugees. She told us to tell the people not to go back, but they don't have a choice; they have to go back. This is the only alternative, without money. That's why you see that in Syria there are horrible stories about people using their daughters in prostitution and things like that, and living without schools and without any means to survive.
We have been told many times that the process is very long. They ask for many papers that the people are unable to obtain, especially if they ask for some papers that exist in Iraq but not in Syria. And who would go around in Iraq now to get these papers? The father, normally, or the son will go back to Iraq to try to obtain these papers, and then they will lose their chance of obtaining refugee papers.
You have my paper about the challenges. I'm going to jump to what the Iraqi Community Centre would like to see.
We'd like to see higher numbers of refugees accepted. You see that the statistic given is 29,000 people, and I understand it is only 2,000 refugees that they are accepting. Each of us has family there, and everybody wants to bring their family. Many of us are willing to sponsor our families to come here. Just give us the chance to support them.
We'd like to have more speed in the process and also more support for the Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria.
Thank you very much, Andrew.
What can I say? Thank you, Madame Alobaidi and Mr. Thomas.
As you know, I've been involved with the Iraqi community here—the Iraqi Christian community, particularly—and of course, please accept my regrets on the assassination of the monsignor. I know we'll see one another at the church in a few days.
Some time ago—I think it was two or maybe three years ago—we talked seriously about the possibility of church sponsorship of Iraqi refugees, both in Iraq and in Syria and Jordan. It came to nothing. I bring this up because I would like it to go into the record that I think this is something we as a committee should look into very seriously: private sponsorship, in the sense that you have mentioned, Madame Alobaidi, but also church sponsorship.
My understanding, at the time I went to see the Minister of Immigration, was that the Christian churches themselves were not too keen on sponsoring the Christians out of Iraq and out of Iran. I include Iran because in fact the thousands of years of presence of Iraqi Christians and Iranian Christians and the whole Christian culture in the Middle East stand the chance of disappearing.
Do you know whether the upper echelons of the churches have changed their minds on this and whether they are willing to move forward on it with the help of various governments?
That's the first question I'll ask, and I'll ask it to anyone who wishes to answer.
Sir, let me explain to you and to the members present.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Christians in Iraq didn't have a problem. In fact, they were part of society, well accepted, and treated like everybody else. I am an example of that. I had a scholarship from the Iraqi government to study in the United States and then go back. I was like every other citizen of Iraq. I never left Iraq until I came here to Canada in 1996 because the situation had deteriorated.
Now, it's not only Saddam Hussein; I just brought an example of Saddam Hussein. In terms of the situation in Iraq, it's said now that the United States is there that it's high politics. It has something to do with Iraq, something to do with the region, something to do with geopolitics behind our talk here. It's far more complicated than I think.
But for the Christians, there are so many factors involved now. Militants are coming not only from Iraq itself, but from all over. These executions and atrocities are not really done by Iraqis; they're done by people from the outside, people who are coming from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and perhaps Syria. It's all the neighbouring countries. It's Afghanistan as well, working within certain communities there and creating that chaos in the country. It's political. Everybody is involved, and the neighbouring countries.
The victim is the minority. Because of the association with the west.... The Christians are associated with the west, and consequently they are treated as such. They try to inflict as much harm as possible, indicating to the west, “These are your people.” In reality, they are not their people simply because they are Christians.
You mentioned assimilation, bringing these people and assimilating them into the country. This country has a very long history of knowing how to assimilate immigrants from all over the world, whether they are Vietnamese, or from eastern European countries, or even Latin American countries. This country has the experience, the know-how, and--
I have a slightly different line. I first got involved in politics in 1979 during the time of the so-called boat people, the Vietnamese refugees. I lobbied the Canadian government to allow private sponsorship to establish a big program to bring in as many refugees as possible. I was working with churches and community groups at that time.
In 1980-81 and in the next few years, massive numbers--tens of thousands--of Vietnamese boat people came to Canada. I worked on a very successful campaign with Howard Adelman of Operation Lifeline, etc.
Just a bit of history.
Of course they settled in Canada very well. It's a great success story, and I have no doubt the Iraqi refugees, if we have such a program again, will settle well, because they're well educated and they would have the drive to do well in Canada. I have no doubt about that.
Having said that, I know how it worked very well before. There was a tremendous amount of political will at that time to make it happen, and the community and the government came together.
What numbers do you think would be appropriate? In the last few years it's been 300, 400, 800--it has been pathetically small. The recent announcements say 2,000--still very small. One percent, I think, of the 2.2 million people who are there would be 20,000. That's my math.
Do you have a ballpark figure on how it would work? Certainly there is the sponsoring of relatives, expanding the family class so that uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters can come. How would you envision this? First, perhaps you can give me a number, a ballpark figure of what you think would be appropriate.
Second, how do you think such a program would work? Is it mirroring what we did at the time of the Vietnamese boat people or something different? How do you envision it happening? If you were this committee, what would you recommend in a concrete way?
In terms of exact numbers, that's why I went to Statistics Canada--to give you numbers--but I couldn't, because when I saw the numbers, they were not good numbers.
But if we look at Statistics Canada and talk about Montreal only and say there are 1,000 Iraqi people living in Montreal, most of them--I wouldn't say all of them--have a minimum of one family member to come here, so we're talking about 2,000 people if everyone brings one person only--a mother, a father, a sister. I'm not talking about the family. That's it; we need only 2,000 in Montreal, and you are talking about 29,000.
I'm not asking Canada to accept all these people; it's impossible. But--
An hon. member: No, it's not impossible.
Ms. Hala Alobaidi: Really? That's good. It's good to hear that, because people are desperate. Every day I see it, especially now when we have had the Canadian coalition group. They have 50 churches sponsoring every year, they told us. They came to present, and since then we receive calls every day. They say, “We would like to sponsor a family. What can we do? What do you need from us?”
So 50 church people were.... We applied only for five Iraqis for the time being, and we have a lot. I don't promise anybody. I don't encourage them, because we don't want to lose our credibility as a community centre, but you have problems putting the Iraqis together because the political situation is affecting us. We are talking here about Christian and Muslim. My family is half and half: my mother is Christian Armenian and my father is Muslim. The Iraqis are like that; we are a mixture of Shia and Sunni. We don't have one label. We are Iraqis.
I really would like to have credibility for our organization, because there isn't an Iraqi.... Before, we couldn't have an organization. There was no concept of non-profit, and now there is a concept of non-profit, and we'd like them to group. We'd have to promise them, but I would not like to promise them before I know there is a commitment from the government, and that we can do it, and that they are willing.
They are good people. They have been here for 25 years. They are well established and they are even willing to hire their people when they come in. I have seen many Iraqi refugees here who were immediately taken by the Iraqi groups and given jobs. The minute they have their work permit, they are hired, so the willingness is there. I can assure you that if not all of the 2,000 would do that, 50% of them would.
But we need a process that is faster. I have a friend in Toronto whose father died in the process of waiting. He had to go to pick up his mother, who is very old, and it took a while. He went between Syria and Jordan, and there was no sympathy. He was so mad because of that.
We need to make sure that the process is good and that people won't spend lots of money. Many of them are willing to sponsor their family to leave Iraq, but for how long? How many houses can they support?
I can speak for Montreal. There is a willingness. Many families are willing to sponsor their family, but the process and the promises....
Ms. Alobaidi, thank you very much for acting as a volunteer to help your colleagues from Iraq, to help them to act as Canadian citizens here in Montreal. Thank you very much. I know sometimes it can be very difficult. I can't imagine. Thank you.
You are talking about Iraq, but there are also Kenya, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Congo and Haiti. There are also several other countries where the people are experiencing horrors and where they, somewhat like you, are afraid for their families and their fellow citizens. I understand this very well.
It is also not easy for the government. I find it ironic that my Liberal colleagues, who did nothing after 13 years in power, seem to be able to solve the problems and force the government to solve them now that they're in opposition. I am not here to talk, I am here to work with you, with my colleagues, to try to improve make progress on this issue. We understand the situation clearly. Perhaps my colleagues will continue to ask questions or put pressure on us to do the work they didn't do.
You made your presentations and right at the end you said that you calculate that there are about 60,000 Iraqi refugees who might come to Canada over the next thee years, that is, about 20,000 refugees a year. They are all refugees, but are there some who should be given priority? How do you see this issue? How do we select those 20,000 refugees?
This is a well-known fact. When somebody comes to Canada or emigrates to anywhere else in the world, they have to join the labour force of that country and contribute to the well-being of that country, and they have to assimilate with that country--to the laws, regulations, and the life of that country. This is a fact that everybody knows. Nobody will accept anybody unless there is a need. It's the law of supply and demand.
When these Iraqis come, they will definitely come with a certain background. They will come with qualifications. Some of them are doctors, some of them are teachers, and some of them are nurses. With those qualifications, all they need is to assimilate with the country, and this is the whole objective of taking people into Canada. It's the labour force that you need. Yes, of course there is a humanitarian issue, for which Canadians are on top of the list because they sense it more than anybody else. I would imagine this is because of their background or because of their nature, maybe. But it's all these things together. It is true, sir, that these people will come and contribute to the well-being of this country.
Now, you say there is suffering elsewhere in the world. This is true. As long as there is human nature, we will be fighting each other, unfortunately, and there will be suffering and refugees. The human population is increasing, and there will be a shortages of this and shortages of that. There will be local wars. That situation will continue.
Five years ago this situation did not exist, but now because of the...I will call it invasion, it has happened. Now we are facing a problem. It's a tragic problem.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Let me welcome to the committee. I haven't seen him before. I've been on this committee for 10 years.
He raised an interesting issue. He says that the Liberals haven't done anything. Let me just say that one of the things the Liberals did do was resolve a huge crisis that existed in IRB, with the number of people on the backlog. We had it down to a record low of 20,000 people on the backlog and we had 10 vacancies on the 160-member board.
This government has created a crisis on the board. There are 58 vacancies. The backlog right now is at a record high. From the 20,000 we had it down to, it's at 42,300, and it's projected to be going to 62,300, according to the IRB.
So I thought we made a major accomplishment. We depoliticized the system, and the Conservatives came along and totally destroyed it and politicized the system. Refugee stuff should not be partisan. I agree with you. It should be Canadian. But unfortunately, the mindset of the neo-conservatives is really at the forefront on this issue. I raise that because I think that's a very important point to make.
Mr. Harvey, welcome to the committee, but please do not invent information, and maybe you want to reflect on what the information is.
I had a staff member who worked with me for a long time. His name is Mohamed Hamoodi. He had nine members of his family wiped out when they were looking for Chemical Ali. They thought they were bombing Chemical Ali, but they bombed a bunker, with bunker buster bombs, where his family was taking shelter.
The horrors of what has happened to Iraq, which was the cradle of civilization, are just unbelievable. We have to push and push hard. We need big numbers of refugees coming in, because not only are we helping the immediate situation there, but we are also helping the situation in the Middle East. The Iraqi refugee problem is unsettling the whole region.
I have followed the committee since the beginning of last week, starting in Vancouver, to here. I have seen the full scope of the regulations and the improvements that have to be made to the Immigration Act. Some of them have been addressed, concerning temporary workers, and there are complex situations to be resolved, so much so that we in the Bloc Québécois are wondering whether this issue should be dealt with in a specific bill, after serious study by the government, which is currently formed by the Conservatives.
I am surprised at the statement by a new member of the committee this morning, when he came in and said that his party wants to resolve the situation. His government wants to resolve immigration by adding a clause at the end of a bill concerning the budget. That seems immoral and hypocritical to me, on the part of a government.
I am now going to ask Mr. Thomas a question about his religion, whose followers are being persecuted in his country.
Do you think that you will be better able to settle here if we accept more refugees who belong to your religion? Is the settlement situation here sufficiently favourable to promote immigration or accept more refugees from your religious group who could adapt to Canada?
I would like to welcome the witnesses who are appearing before us today.
As you certainly know, you are at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
You will have seven minutes to make an opening statement. I would warn you that this is very little time, much shorter than you might have thought. To assist you, when there is one minute remaining, I will signal you by raising one finger so you can wrap up. There will then be a questions and comments period with the members.
This morning we have Jill Hanley, Assistant Professor at the McGill School of Social Work, as an individual. From the Union des producteurs agricoles, we have the First Vice-President, Pierre Lemieux, and Hélène Varvaressos, Director General of d'AGRIcarrières, Comité sectoriel de main-d'oeuvre de la production agricole. You may divide up the seven minutes available to you as you wish.
So we can start. Ms. Hanley, you have seven minutes.
Good afternoon, everyone. It's my pleasure to be here today.
I'm going to be focusing my comments on the temporary foreign worker program.
I'm here in my capacity as a researcher today. My comments are based on eight years of research done in collaboration with other university-based researchers and in cooperation with community organizations that give services to migrant workers.
Our research has focused on what we call precarious status migrant workers. These are people who come to Canada not as permanent residents but with a range of temporary statuses ranging from undocumented to trafficked to temporary foreign workers, and we actually see that often people who are permanent residents feel themselves to be precarious in terms of their permanent right to stay in Canada.
What I want to express very strongly is a concern about the temporary foreign worker program being used to expand the bringing to Canada of workers without giving them permanent status here. Our work on precarious status workers has clearly demonstrated that there is a problem with these workers' feeling that they have the full rights of Canadian workers. We see that in labour rights, health, education, family separation and reunification, sense of belonging, and unionization—in all of these areas—temporary foreign workers face major barriers. Sometimes the barriers are legal—they are excluded in policy from certain benefits—and sometimes it's the conditions of their work, or their fear of ultimate deportation or refusal of an eventual permanent status here in Canada.
What we are concerned about is that if a temporary foreign worker program, coupled with the Canadian experience class, is being seen as a way to make our immigration system more responsive to the labour market, we feel it has long-term implications. When people come as temporary foreign workers—and under the Canadian experience class it's being suggested that for two years they stay on this status before being able to become permanent residents—in those two years they are not eligible for settlement services. We see that this has a long-term impact on people.
It's also very difficult for people, especially in the low-skill categories, to be accompanied by their families on this status, and having a two-year or longer.... So far, for live-in caregivers, whose program has basically the same structure as the temporary foreign worker program, plus the CEC, we see that they often have four years or more of separation from their family.
I question the wisdom of using a temporary foreign worker program in a wider sense. I feel that it has human rights and social rights implications that are negative for Canada and for the people coming under this program. I would like to see that, rather than our using temporary foreign workers, people who are able to work in Canada and have job offers be offered permanent residency status.
We see that the Canadian permanent residency point system is very skewed towards high-skilled, highly educated migrants, when in fact in our economy we have high demand for lower-skilled migrants. Those who come in as permanent residents usually end up in the lower-skill types of jobs anyway, so we feel there's a disconnect between the exclusive evaluation of the permanent residency and the demand in the labour market.
To summarize, I hope people have questions, but basically in my research everything I've seen about the social rights implications for temporary foreign workers seems to indicate that the very temporary nature of their status creates barriers for their human and social rights. I feel that the objectives of Canada in immigration and social development can be met just as easily by giving these people permanent status from the get-go.
I think most provinces are interested in increasing immigration that is tied to employment and that this can be coupled with a policy to give permanent residency upon arrival to people who have job offers. And this would better respond to all the human rights and social rights concerns they have.
I've tried to make it brief, but that's the main point of what I would look at.
Good morning, everyone.
The UPA is an association of two kinds of groups. There are regional federations, based on geography, and production groups, in which producers choose to join together to market their agricultural products.
The UPA relies on the direct commitment of more than 3,000 producers acting as its administrators. Year in and year out, the 50,000 farmers in Quebec invest over $600 million in the economy of Quebec. As well, there are 35,000 forestry producers, who harvest about eight million cubic metres of wood annually, for a total value of some $450 million, thus contributing to the 16,000 jobs created by the forestry industry in the regions.
Over 30,000 agricultural enterprises, the majority of them family farms, create employment for about 59,000 people. The Union des producteurs agricoles is involved in the issue of temporary agricultural workers through a non-profit corporation set up by the UPA. The corporation is overseen by the board of directors and members of the general council of the UPA. The corporation has a Director General, Hélène Varvaressos, and is one of the 30 sectoral workforce committees in Quebec.
I am going to ask Ms. Varvaressos to present the rest of the brief.
Good morning, everyone.
In Quebec, the demand for foreign workers has increased dramatically because of labour shortages. In 2007, according to data from Service Canada, there were about 5,175 foreign temporary agricultural workers from Mexico, the Caribbean and Guatemala in Quebec.
Over the past several years, a number of changes have been made to foreign temporary worker programs in order to improve the tools and processes. Programs that were generally reserved to horticultural operations are now open to all agricultural production Quebec.
The UPA has signed agreements with Service Canada to have the regional farm employment centres, 14 of which are located in Quebec, analyze foreign worker applications in order to meet the needs of producers.
The changes being proposed by the Canadian government are worth considering and designed to support the agricultural production sector. We are pleased to be able to rely on the Foreign Worker Program to stabilize the labour requirements of farming operations.
The first and most important point, in our view, is the large number of foreign temporary workers in a single workplace, on farms which in many cases are isolated. That calls for special measures to ensure that these workers are properly integrated.
The UPA believes that farms need more support with their approach to human resources. The farm employment centres that have already been set up in the region can play a valuable role in establishing a network for sharing best practices, success stories and concerns relating to hiring foreign temporary workers.
We want to explore the possibility of playing an active role in introducing a voluntary conciliation process to solve labour relations problems between employers and foreign temporary workers and providing training for employers and supervisors. The farm employment centres could play a valuable role in this area.
The second important factor is integrating foreign temporary workers into rural communities. Integrating several thousand workers into small villages in Quebec presents challenges and can have a significant impact on the local population and settlement services provided to the workers. Employers and communities do not have the tools to do this properly. We therefore propose that the governments concerned provide rural communities with the means to help them settle and integrate foreign temporary workers as best they can, so as to facilitate dialogue with local residents.
The third important point concerning changes to the Foreign Worker Program is to improve the tools and processes. There are no fewer than 13 different institutional players involved at one point or another in the foreign temporary worker application process. The process has to be streamlined and duplication eliminated.
There are currently 5,000 foreign temporary workers and it is anticipated that this number will grow significantly. Given the current capacity of the system, we seriously question its ability to meet the needs adequately without the quality of service declining.
One of the major improvements made by the federal government is on-line posting of employers' notices. We seriously question the usefulness of this approach because high-speed Internet access is not widely available in rural areas. At present, the farm employment centres are helping producers submit their postings. We propose that Service Canada maintain the agreements with the farm employment centres to help producers submit their foreign worker postings.
Because farms do not have human resources specialists in their field, they need outside resources. We recommend that simplified management guides be offered, because at present it is very difficult for people to find their way around them at present. We would also like to see more information on foreign recruitment opportunities. At present, employers are left to their own devices and have to do their own recruiting, and this is not always easy.
We also recommend that the transition from temporary worker to permanent resident status be made easier. At present, some foreign temporary workers, for example from Mexico, have been here for 10 or 15 years. If we want to have them immigrate, immigration constraints and criteria do not favour them, and that is unfortunate, because they are exceptional potential immigrants since they already have work experience and experience with Quebec.
In conclusion, the agriculture sector hopes that it can continue to rely on the Foreign Worker Program. Special attention must be given to the situation of foreign workers because of their vulnerability. The media pay a great deal of attention to this issue, but the government has to properly support businesses to show the public that the program generates benefits.
Obviously I would like to address other aspects, but I will close by reminding you that seasonal agricultural workers are important to the agriculture industry. It is those workers who enable it to expand. Canada's social policies leave it with some gaps in measures to support hiring seasonal agricultural workers and ensuring their loyalty to businesses.
We know the problem; we've heard it throughout, from other cities. Some of the recommendations said to make sure that the recruiters don't charge money and are legitimate. For the temporary foreign workers, we have to ensure that when they come into Canada there will be an orientation session, that there will be checking to make sure the employers are not exploiting them, etc.
Coming back, I'd like to ask Ms. Hanley about the point system that was changed. Perhaps you can give us some historical perspective, because the categories—A, B, C, D—used to be fairly balanced. Now, in the low-skill categories—the C and D, and especially the D—they are hardly given any points. As a result, we see that most of the people coming to Canada would have to speak fluent English or French, plus have degrees, etc.
When did that change take place? What was the reason that change was made to happen? In the 1980s it wasn't the case; it was in the mid-nineties that I noticed it was beginning to go up. At that time, what was the rationale for the Canadian government—I think at that time it was the Liberal Party—to make that change?
What then happened was that the number of temporary foreign workers went up, and then the undocumented workers also went up, because there was no queue for some of these people to come in by.
The debate has a lot to do with unionizing the workers. We at AGRIcarrières and the Union des producteurs agricoles are an intermediary between the workers and the employers. We try to improve relations as much as possible, to provide producers with personnel when they need them, whether locally or from outside.
AGRIcarrières always tries to improve employers' training and knowledge and tell them that to keep productivity up, human resources have to be well treated and certain working conditions have to be in place. We even held a seminar in the spring to tell the employers that we think there are winning solutions, to have a productive workforce.
The objective behind all that is for agricultural producers to have workers, for them to be able to find and keep workers, whether the workers are foreign or local. They have to retain their workforce as long as possible. When the workers are well trained, there is automatically higher productivity. In addition, the agricultural producers are competing with a world market.
Quite often, agricultural employers would like to have a little better protection from the outside constraints that have led to the globalization of markets. Quite often, they also have to compete with employers in other countries. Quite often, they also have agricultural workers whose working conditions are far from glowing.
We agree with the social measures, but...