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More Migrants Kidnapped by Kenney's Goons: Workplace Raids in Southern Ontario

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

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  • Guelph community members unfurl a homemade banner at the Mayday of Action: No One Is Illegal! rally in Toronto.

    Guelph community members unfurl a homemade banner at the Mayday of Action: No One Is Illegal! rally in Toronto.

Written by MaryCarl Guiao

In the last couple of months Canadian-immigrant relations have been marked by unnecessarily violent, US-style mass raids, detentions and deportations of migrant workers throughout southern Ontario.

The latest example of this trend took place this past week on May 27. Early Wednesday morning, immigration enforcement officers swarmed Lakeside Greenhouse in Leamington, Ontario and arrested at least nine female migrant food packaging workers. The women, Mexican citizens, are currently being detained in Windsor County Jail.

The majority of those arrested are in Canada on valid visas. Some have pending refugee claims and are at risk in their country of origin. One of the detainees is pregnant. Though individuals awaiting refugee claim hearings hold a level of protection against immigration arrests and are in fact legally allowed to work, immigration enforcement officers bypassed protocol and disregarded any humane sensitivity when they pursued their aggressive raid.

The criminalization of these women is wrong. We must ask ourselves: what truly is their crime?

It is critical to acknowledge that as Canada continues to make it close to impossible for hardworking immigrants of trade and manual labour skills to enter our country legally. The system is pushing hardworking immigrants into precarious conditions as these individuals strive to make a living where the opportunities exist, even at the risk of being undocumented. They contribute to Canada’s economy, but again and again, the door of opportunity is being shut in their faces.

These latest arrests emphasize that our immigration system needs reworking. It seems irresponsible for our current Conservative government to focus on pursuing and arresting people who should not be seen as criminals while there are urgent issues affecting Canadians: EI, mass layoffs, and welfare rates that fall below the poverty line. Shamefully, all of this is happening while the government bails out the wealthy, whose unrestrained greed has caused the current economic crisis. The discrimination against migrants needs to stop.

Terror and Violence Against Migrants: By-products of Recent Shifts in Immigration Policy

In April, Canadian Border Services Agency and South Simcoe Police conducted raids in Simcoe, Toronto, Leamington and Windsor. Nearly 100 workers were rounded up at Cericola Farms’ food processing factories. The workers were held at gunpoint and herded into cafeteria, where CBSA agents separated workers with proof of citizenship and permanent residency from those who didn’t. The undocumented workers were then transferred to a bus and kept shackled for a reported eight hours. Dozens more undocumented people were picked up in places unrelated to their workplace, some by enforcement officers waiting outside of shelters or impersonating lawyers.

More than 100 of these workers were later taken to the Rexdale Immigration Detention Centre, where they were put into a room with no furniture to wait unattended for several more hours. An immigration official then rushed through their rights in a reported 15 minutes using complicated legal language, providing them with biased recommendations and not adequately identifying documents which the migrant workers were pressured to sign. This inadequate level of information and support resulted in many workers unintentionally waiving their rights to counsel and options for delaying their removal and appealing to procedural actions. Later, 41 of the detained workers were forced out of Canada and deported to Thailand.

Immigration authorities did not consider the context of these cases, as many of the arrested workers possessed temporary work permits but fell into a precarious status for a number of reasons. Some reported that they faced severe danger if they were to return to their countries of origin. Others worked unauthorized second jobs because the only jobs they were legally permitted to work paid below a living wage. At least one was reportedly forced to quit due to a sexually exploitative employer. These factors have not received attention, nor any investigations have been forwarded, and no charges have been laid against any of the employers of the arrested.

Repression and raids have accompanied the changes to the immigration system made by the Harper Conservatives. All throughout Canada last summer, mass protests were held against the passing of the racist and classist Bill C-50. The bill was eventually passed in June 2008 with the Liberals refusing to vote against it for fear of prompting a politically undesirable election.

This new bill attacks immigrants' rights in a variety of ways. It allows the Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Minister (currently, Jason Kenney) to set quotas on the "category" of person that can legally set foot in Canada. This includes setting quotas based on a person’s country of origin, regardless of the skills that person may possess.

Setting quotas on the basis of a person’s country of origin represents a critical shift in Canadian immigration policy. Its precedents include the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, the Order in Council of 1911 prohibiting the "landing of any immigrant belonging to the Negro race" and the "none is too many" rule applied to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe during Second World War. Under Stephen Harper, and more recently under Minister of "Censorship and Deportation" Jason Kenney, Canada's immigration policy has taken a significant step backward towards its racist roots.

In light of the many immigration and citizenship issues currently arising in both national and Ontario news (for example, the allegations surrounding Liberal Immigration Critic MP Ruby Dhalla and her family's abusive treatment of, and possibly illegal practices towards, two of their hired filipina migrant live-in caregiver workers), it is important that the Guelph public be informed about the many (im)migration issues existing locally and related events, such as this past Wednesday's raids, as, although it is not well known by the general public (with the exception of a few organizations such as Migrante Ontario and Immigration Services), there are many temporary migrant workers in Guelph. 

It is important for us to recognize the root causes of immigration and migration, and in turn the recent criminalization of im/migrants.  Many im/migrants are forced to come to Canada as their home countries have been savaged by wars and neo-liberal economic models that promote corporate exploitation and the destruction of local economies.  Half of all people arriving in Canada today are on temporary visas and have very little chance of permanent residency.  Half a million live in Canada without any status at all. 

Newcomers continue to make important contributions to our country, and deserve respect and dignity.  Canada should regularize non-status members of our communities so they can continue to contribute to our economy while living in safety and peace.  We must grant them status, and put an end to the dehumanizing and criminalizing attacks on im/migrant communities.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Jun 3, 2009 @ 2:57am

    i'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that canada not necessarily be viewed as a safe-haven or refuge for the rest of the world.

    when you're here on a temporary work permit, that's fine. i hope those who were wrongfully detained are vindicated, but, by this article's own admission, not everyone had work permits and some weren't allowed to work the jobs they had.

    i don't want to get into the debate of 'no one's illegal!' because i think this is more about abiding by law and the terms and conditions of the work visa (and, besides, i think we do need to regulate immigration, too).

    whether it was the municipal police or immigration enforcement officers making the arrest, the point is that there was illegal migration occurring. if one of the detainees was pregnant i don't think should matter, either- in fact it could be construed as favoring her over non-pregnant males and sexist. i also don't understand the reference to bailing out the 'wealthy'. the canadian federal and ontario provincial governments bailed out general motors, which is pro-union, high-wage paying industry. this is what experts believe led to its demise and what left-wingers ceaselessly advocate.

    ...liberal media at it's best.

  2. Posted by: mel1000 on Jun 5, 2009 @ 6:47am

    Mary's passion and dedication to female migrant workers is evident in her column -- deservedly so, as these women keep the Canadian economy moving.

    if 'Not my CSA' seriously wants to stem the tide of migrant labour -- legal or not -- then I hope they only buy products and services that are untouched by migrant labourer hands. buy produce from a grocery store? guess what, touched by migrant labourers, regardless of country of origin. benefit from clean washrooms at a shopping mall or other public place? probably cleaned by a migrant worker.

    until Canadians put their money where their mouth is and pay the real costs -- including decent, livable wages for all -- of goods and services, then migrant workers are essential.

    and my Canada includes refugee claimants -- we are a humanitarian country and if the time comes that we forget we were founded on that principle it will be time to call us American.

    m :)

  3. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Jun 8, 2009 @ 7:26pm

    hmmm... i do enjoy my clean washrooms at the shopping mall. i mean, don't we all?

    of course i'm not against migrant workers who enter this country legally. but canada shouldn't just be carefree when it comes to monitoring its borders. we shouldn't have a 100% open door policy and let anyone and everyone in. it's so easy to go along with the mob rule way of thinking and respond yes, yes, yes, to all to demands. give everyone more money, they'd all appreciate it. i'm sure.

    however, i don't really follow you when you talk about paying migrant workers decent, livable wages and the fact that illegal immigration is going on, like one results in the other. you're mixing up two different policies and coming off like saying workers choose to come here illegally, now let's pay them more.

  4. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Jun 8, 2009 @ 7:27pm

    every time this topic of illegal workers entering this country arises, the response from the left seems to be 'they don't earn enough!' or 'who else would do our low wage jobs!' or 'no one is illegal' as if this justifies them breaking the law. but the fact is some of these workers are here illegally first. in fact, maybe, the flood of illegal migrant workers is what is keeping wages down, but that thought probably never crossed your mind. if you want to renegotiate the labor laws, raise minimum wages, or start a movement to unionize migrant workers, be my guest. but don't expect lawmakers to bend the rules to allow illegal migration. that would be sending the signal that, sure, canadians have laws, but we're so nice and you're so special that we'll bend them for you... and if you break more laws while you're here, 'we'll forgive you... we tolerate unlawful behavior'... 'you happened to be apart of al-qaeda and bombed 11 embassies... okay, come to canada, we'll rehabilitate you'.

  5. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Jun 8, 2009 @ 7:28pm

    you still haven't responded to the issue of breaking the law. and i don't blame you, it's a tough thing to justify. but that's the germane problem we need to focus on. and, if you think about it, for every 1 illegal migrant worker who sneaks into canada, there are probably 2 dozen more who are waiting and have filled out all the paperwork to come here legally! now, you want to talk about fair! how fair is that to them? why don't you write an article about that for a change!

  6. Posted by: J.D. on Jun 9, 2009 @ 1:08pm

    Interesting article, but without citations your claims don't mean anything. Name your source if you want to be taken seriously, otherwise you sound like an uneducated person going on some crusade without a shred of real evidence.

  7. Posted by: Start working on Jun 10, 2009 @ 11:28am

    Not My CSA- The connection between paying migrants a liveable wage and illegal immigration that you stated you don’t really follow, at its core has to do with the nature of the work permits given to migrants. What cases show are situations where migrants are given closed work permits to jobs that do not pay a living wage. When these individuals then take on a second job to survive it is seen as a violation of their work terms, as the second job wasn’t certified/. In turn their previous work permit often is voided and they become illegal. What Mary was getting at was that if their first job paid enough, this wouldn’t happen and these individuals would not fall into a precarious status.
    What should also be noted is that giving these individuals open work permits to be able to travel within a certain certified industry, recognized as having labour shortages, would also improve this problem. Just as citizens have the ability to walk away from an abusive or bad job, so should migrants. This would alleviate cases where migrants experience abuse and are forced to choose between enduring this or becoming illegal.

  8. Posted by: Start working on Jun 10, 2009 @ 11:30am

    Cont…

    This would also allow them to work multiple jobs if they so choose, which coincides with their right to strive to better themselves.

    The above is concerning migrant workers coming into the country legally. When it comes to individuals with no status, as you pointed out, discussion becomes more complicated. I recognize the difficulty in legitimizing my position within the confines of our current immigration system, as legality does pose obvious barriers. Either way I believe that we have to continue to address these issues, outside of these confines, through a humanist perspective that affirms the dignity and worth of people over dismissing them in the name of constructed laws. Things are not so black and white, and all policies should be assessed, reworked and bettered. Whether this should take the form of a call for open borders, or the facilitating of controlled entrance, and the empowering of newcomers, debate is welcome; however, what we have currently is not working.

  9. Posted by: Start working on Jun 10, 2009 @ 11:32am

    I also do not think that you should be pinning ‘legal’ migrants against no status migrants, and throwing in such words as fairness in the mix. For one you cannot generalize positions, and it just comes off very unsavoury to suddenly suggest a defence for one in the expense of the other. Furthermore, the problem here is again with our system. Those ‘legal’ migrants that you speak of are rapidly dwindling in numbers. Particularly those of manual labour or ‘low’ skill trades. The changes to our country’s point system have made it almost impossible for them to get in legally. To emphasize the rigidity of these changes, a professor at the University of Guelph took the immigration test and did not pass, not qualifying for citizenship. I advise you to visit the webpage of Citizen and immigration Canada and have a look at it. Coupled with this restriction on providing citizenship, since our country still has vast labour shortages in stigmatized industries, our system has worked out our needs over the wellbeing of migrants by introducing and expanding temporary worker programs. Through these programs we get our workers but do not provide them with the protections of full status.

  10. Posted by: Start working on Jun 10, 2009 @ 11:34am

    More so there are so many problems with these programs that we cannot blame migrants if they consider ‘illegality.’ Type in Canadian migrant worker programs in Google and you can read a plethora of reports of worker abuses, and systemic problems within these programs. So again something has to be done, this is not working.

    If any of you are interested in connecting with this issue further and critically testing your current positions and opinions, I advise you to contact Student Support for Migrant Workers-Guelph, their email is [email protected] Participate in one of their volunteer outreach projects and meet some migrants, hear their stories, and add a very critical layer to your knowledge on all this.

  11. Posted by: Start working on Jun 10, 2009 @ 11:37am

    J.D we are still waiting for more coverage on the recent raids,but I have read the sources that Mary uses and nothing can be more legit then testimonies from those migrants involved. I have a feeling that doesnt fly too much for you, so the Clifton. J. 2005, article speaks to similar deportaions which ocured within the Portuguese community in Toronto.

    Sharma, N. 2006. Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of Migrant Workers in Canada.Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    Clifton. J. 2005. “Deserving Citizenship? Canadian Immigration Policy and ‘Low-skilled’ Portuguese Workers in Toronto” A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in The Faculty of Graduate Studies (Geography) The University of British Columbia (Vancouver).

  12. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Jun 11, 2009 @ 12:47am

    re: start working

    thanks for your comments. some of your points are really good especially the one about 'open' work permits allowing migrant workers to move around within a given industry. and i generally agree that that is a good idea.

    what i find hard to believe is how migrant workers can afford to send remittances home yet still aren't paid enough to live a 'decent' life. it's no wonder they don't have any disposable income if they send it all home. but by doing so they're able to support their spouse, children and/or parents. so it would seem they're able to save at least some of their money (in the form of remittances) and, perhaps, aren't earning as little as one would be led to think. i admit migrant workers aren't paid much, but most of the jobs we're talking about here are in greenhouses or restaurants or agriculture or, like mel1000 mentioned, cleaning washrooms. typically these jobs have a high turnover rate, require hardly any education, and demand little responsibility. hence workers only get paid minimum wage or slightly above.

  13. Posted by: Drew on Jun 11, 2009 @ 11:02pm

    @Not My CSA
    So your point is that migrant workers obviously make enough money since they can afford to feed their families back home. It is totally unfair to separate the well being of the migrant with their families back home. When discussing the income of Canadians it is almost always expressed in terms of "household" income. Providing for your family is part of being "paid enough to live a 'decent' life". I mean you could tell your kids to get a job, and that would be very libertarian of you and all, but maybe it wouldn't be in their best interests.

  14. Posted by: chocolat et thé on Jun 12, 2009 @ 1:24pm

    To 'Start Working':
    Wonderful to know there's an organization in Guelph that's able to help shine light on this important issue.


    To 'not my csa':

    The point system is discrediting the skills and academic/professional credentials of immigrants which they had attained (and worked hard to do so!) in their country of origin)- that's why they are (forced to be!) working in so-called 'low-skilled' jobs, not because they are incompetent or 'low-skilled'. To add, these credentials and programs to work outside of their country require migrants to pay lots of money. Even those that work 'low skill' jobs often pay exorbitant fees in order to be part of temporary programs in the first place. This is a huge drain on income.

    I have many friends who are immigrants and are economically wealthy in their country of origin, but still face rigid or unconquerable barriers that suppress their ability to use their skills and academic/professional credentials. It also takes them longer to be in positions of economic and/or political "prestige" or power, or at least in positions that lead to having a "comfortable and secure" livelihood in Canada.

  15. Posted by: chocolat et thé on Jun 12, 2009 @ 1:27pm

    [cont’d] To ‘not my csa’:

    In Canada, many migrants working with the proper papers, such as some live-in caregivers (see links in next post) that get paid, as a National Post editor had calculated, roughly $3 hour and regularly work overtime without pay. This is not a living wage even for someone not having "valuable" skills. Canadian Immigration legislation and enforcement makes it easy for employers to get away with this, thus often (almost always) employers receive no penalty.

  16. Posted by: chocolat et thé on Jun 12, 2009 @ 1:34pm

    [cont’d] To ‘not my csa’:

    Follow the links below for
    a) More information on the exploitative working conditions that migrant workers in Canada face:
    "Nannies trapped in bogus jobs"
    http://www.thestar.com/article/602352
    &
    "Federal agencies fail to protect migrant nannies"
    http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/602649
    &
    " Ruby Dhalla's notion of 'care and compassion' "
    (an article that is indicative of a common practice in Canada)
    http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/05/08/national-post-editorial-board-ruby-dhalla-s-notion-of-care-and-compassion.aspx

  17. Posted by: chocolat et thé on Jun 12, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    [cont’d from above]:

    b) Elaboration on current exploitative Canadian Immigration Policy:
    "The Shift in Canadian Immigration Policy and Unheeded Lessons of the Live-in Caregiver" Programhttp://www.ccsl.carleton.ca/~dana/TempPermLCPFINAL.pdf

    To support the creation of humane work conditions for immigrants/migrants, you can write letters to demand better monitoring and protection for immigrants/migrants, regulation of employment agencies, a call to stop employment agencies from collecting fees from workers that they are recruiting and to stop the deportation of immigrants/migrants.

    Letters can be sent to the
    Minister of Labour ([email protected] or pfonseca.mpp.@liberal.ala.org)
    AND
    Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism([email protected]).

  18. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Jun 14, 2009 @ 5:49pm

    i highly doubt that the migrant workers working in greenhouses are doctors, professors, or lawyers back in their home countries. that sounds good though.

  19. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Jun 14, 2009 @ 6:04pm

    re: drew

    maybe your parents should've encouraged you to get a job, but that would probably not have been in your best interest, which is great because you'll have more time to complain about the burden of debt you face upon graduation from university.

  20. Posted by: Drew on Jun 17, 2009 @ 12:53pm

    @Not my CSA
    Actually I'm a graduate that worked all through university and is still in debt. Maybe if you actually cared about people's well being instead of shooting your mouth off and not bothering to research your personal attacks we'd live in a society where people can go to school without it being a debt sentence and workers (regardless of their origins) could actually be paid a living wage in order to support their families (whever they might be). Thanks for proving your ignorance.

  21. Posted by: Mary on Jul 3, 2009 @ 2:02pm

    re. not my csa

    The fact is that racialized immigrants with 'high credentials' (eg,
    veterinarians and other doctors, engineers, university graduates)
    ARE working in the green houses, in the seasonal agricultural worker
    programs, and in other similar placements/programs intended for so-called
    'low-skilled' migrant workers.

    Some folks from Student Support for Migrant Workers recently went to both
    the National Migrant Justice Gathering that took place the weekend of June
    20-21st at the University of Waterloo, and the Bradford Migrant Worker
    Appreciation Day this past June 28th.

  22. Posted by: Mary on Jul 3, 2009 @ 2:04pm

    At the events we met many people who work with racialized migrant workers
    who've confirmed this.

    Furthermore, it has been widely argued (including in academic literature)
    that the time employed in these temporary migrant worker programs in canada, has the effect of de-skilling workers, actively producing them as
    'low-skilled' workers.

  23. Posted by: Mary on Jul 3, 2009 @ 2:06pm

    For example, migrants working within the live-in caregiver program (many of whom are nurses, teachers, university graduates, etc.) are required to take on the role of a 'caregiver' to the elderly/disabled/handicapped/children for at least two years straight (though often completing the program takes longer). Consequently, as they continue working as domestic workers, over time they lose their (accredited) skills and professional knowledge

  24. Posted by: Mary on Jul 3, 2009 @ 2:07pm

    A key reason for the (high prevalence and rate of) de-valuing and deskilling of skilled and racialized immigrants in Canada also has to do with the Western construct of racialized immigrants (eg, Africans, Mexicans, Thai) as unskilled labour.

    Hence, current Canadian immigration processes reproduce and structure inequality against, including the deskilling of, racialized migrants.

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