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Kenney's Quiet Revolution

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May 10, 2009

Kenney's Quiet Revolution

Media focus on guns, drugs and hard-nosed ministers precludes dialogue on government shifts in immigration policy

by Tim McSorley

Nearly 80 undocumented workers were arrested in various communities in Ontario on April 2. Canadian media did not report on the story, but on May 2 in Toronto over 2000 people protested Canadian immigration policy. Photo: Tania Liu cc2.0

MONTREAL–A massive police operation in the Toronto area on April 1 caught the attention of major Canadian news outlets.

One hundred and twenty-five people were rounded up in a pre-dawn raid and charged with arms, drugs and organized crime-related violations. The arrests made top headlines across national media and were featured in most large metropolitan dailies.

A day later, another police operation in Ontario resulted in the arrest of nearly as many people, but hardly a word was written about it.

On April 2, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers and southern Ontario police officers arrested approximately 80 people on immigration violations.

While not as sensational as the first news item—which nabbed some 30,000 tablets of ecstasy and 40 firearms—the story contained much of the same interest, drama and newsworthiness: one hundred officers arrested undocumented workers at their places of employment and homes in at least three communities in Southern Ontario. And, according to the CBSA, it was the largest action of its kind in the Greater Toronto Area.

The April 2 raids received next-day coverage in small-circulation local papers like the Barrie Examiner. Not a word was mentioned in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail or National Post. CTV.ca and the Edmonton Journal eventually picked up on the story, but only several days later, when dozens of people gathered in Toronto and Edmonton (and other cities) to protest the raids and the workers' incarceration.

The Toronto rally was held outside the Rexdale Detention Centre, where those arrested were being held. The individuals were all living or working in the communities of Bradford, Markham, Leamington and East Toronto. Most were apprehended at their workplaces; some were reportedly followed home from work and then arrested. Most were migrant farm workers, employed by at least three companies, including two farms owned by Cericola Farms, Inc.

Juana Tejada came to Canada from the Philippines with Canada's live-in caregiver program. She was denied permanent resident status after her three-year assignment because of a colon cancer diagnosis. She appealed, won, and became a spokesperson for the campaign to change the program. Tejada died in March. Photo: Tania Liu

The raids come at a time when Canadians are questioning subtle but important changes in the Conservative government's immigration policy and in the CBSA's tactics when arresting undocumented individuals. Just as concerning, critical coverage of this event—and recent immigration policy issues in general—has been lacking in the Canadian press.

A recent report by Citizenship and Immigration Canada says that over the past year, crackdowns on illegal immigration in the United States is causing thousands of non-status immigrants to flood across the border to Canada. Last May, then-Minister of Public Security Stockwell Day applauded the arrest of 45 undocumented workers in Toronto and declared that "[large-scale operations protect] the integrity of our immigration program," signalling the government's intent to continue on this path.

Spokespeople from No One Is Illegal (NOII) Toronto and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) denounced the April 2 raids. "Clearly Harper and his Minister of Immigration are moving closer to a US-style immigration system where fear and enforcement are routinely used to terrorize migrant workers," said UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley. Both spokespeople expressed concern that large-scale raids on workplaces targeting undocumented workers have become regular occurrences.

In a release from the CBSA, no reason was given for the timing of the raids, simply that they came after three months of investigations. While this is the first police action of its scope in the area, in a report on the event NOII quoted several sources stating that this is not an isolated incident.

The Toronto Star recently ran an investigative piece on problems in Canada's home-care worker program, where individuals, particularly women, are incited to immigrate to Canada to work as domestic workers, only to find themselves labouring in extremely difficult and constrained conditions. The Globe and Mail recently reported that an immigration officer impersonated an individual's lawyer and lured him to a meeting before arresting him on immigration violation charges. The fact that nearly 80 undocumented workers were arrested in the largest raid of its kind in Canada's history and that the event was overlooked in news outlets is surprising. After all, both the Star and the Globe demonstrate a willingness to report to some degree on immigration issues.

But their commitment to these issues is disappointing. By declining to cover the April 2 raids, they shied away from deeper questions about Canadian government policy in dealing with undocumented workers.

Neither the Sun Media nor CanWest Global news chains covered the massive arrests in-depth, and recent articles—particularly in CanWest newspapers—raise questions about what Canadians can expect from immigration news coverage in the months to come.

CanWest papers recently ran an article highlighting the toughness and work ethic of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in his push to bring about an immigration policy revolution—without asking what that revolution might be. What they did highlight was that the government is continuing to use outreach policies, such as funds for immigrant communities to draw on to build statues and plaques.

According to NOII, the government has also given misinformation to the press: recently, as reported in CanWest, Conservative candidate Parm Gill claimed the government is aiming to reduce the number of rejected applications from Indian youth. New information reported by NOII and researched by the Canadian Migration Institute found that the number of refugees to be accepted from India is in fact slated to drop from 150 to 125 this year. And nowhere to be found in the article on Kenney was the news, reported by the Toronto Star in February, that the immigration ministry had admitted the economic downturn could reduce the number of immigrants accepted to Canada, all the while trumpeting a planned increase in immigration from 250,000 to 265,000 newcomers per year.

Tim McSorley is Media Analysis editor with The Dominion.

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Comments

No open borders

I'm struck by the ignorance of someone carrying a sign that reads "good enough to work, good enough to stay". Migrant workers are explicitly told they are guests when they come to work in Canada and must leave when their time is up. The fact that many don't is the reason they get rounded up and booted out, which is as it should be.

The idea that anyone setting foot in Canada is entitled to stay and help themselves to our jobs and social programs is goofy beyond belief. Groups like NOII should be prosecuted and the illegals among them booted out too.

When migrant workers are invited to stay

Hi Mike,
Juana Tejada came to Canada as part of program meant to lead to Canadian residency. The live-in care giver program is meant to attract foreign workers who, after working a certain number of hours, would gain residency. In the case of Tejada, she faced measures that punished her for contracting cancer, even after completing the required amount of work. In this case, "Good Enough to Work, Good Enough to Stay" points to the fact that if Juana Tejada completed the work she was meant to do, she should be allowed to stay.

Ignorance

Currently there are systems in place that allow migrant workers to come into Canada legally if Human Resources and Skill Development Canada (HRSDC) decides that there are not enough Canadians in a certain job type to fill those jobs. All they have to do is cross the border legally, and apply for the appropriate work permit. More than 8000 migrant workers come to Canada legally every year.

People who arrive in Canada and work illegally are usually working lines of work that can be filled by tax-paying, EI paying Canadians. Currently we are seeing the lowest unemployment rates in the last two decades, and we need these jobs for Canadians.

Legal migration is not an

Legal migration is not an option for many migrants who cannot meet the criteria for immigration set by HRSDC, which exclude many poor and "unskilled" migrants. Some of these people may come to Canada as temporary foreign workers, but are then denied the opportunity to apply for permanent residency, even those who have legally worked a cumulative ten to 15 years in this country. The Canadian government has been moving away from allowing migrant workers to come and live in this country as permanent residents and is moving towards a system where an under-class of migrants are brought in on a temporary basis to work with limited rights, and who can be disposed of (deported) when they are not needed or when they start to demand rights.

The expansion of the temporary foreign worker program and the attacks on non-status workers that we have been seeing lately also hurt workers who have Canadian citizenship or landed immigrant status. By increasing the proportion of the workforce without residency, temporary foreign worker programs create a larger workforce that is highly vulnerable to exploitation due to the consent threat of deportation, employer-specific visas, etc. This enables employers to push down wages not only for migrants brought in under this program, but for all workers in Canada. Likewise, the raids carried out against non-status workers and migrants who were forced to violate the extremely strict conditions of their work visas will force these workers even further underground, where they will be vulnerable to even greater exploitation, and to accept longer hours, lower wages (certainly below the minimum wage) and even worse working conditions. This will again jeopardize the working conditions of Canadian workers with status by creating a labour pool willing to carry out the work they do at illegally low wages, without overtime and in highly unsafe conditions. As such, standing up to these attacks and opposing temporary foreign worker programs is in all of our interests and will benefit all workers in Canada.

Thanks

Hey .. Thanks for writing this ..

What is the article you are referring to here: "And nowhere to be found in the article on Kenney was the news, reported by the Toronto Star in February, that the immigration ministry had admitted the economic downturn could reduce the number of immigrants accepted to Canada, all the while trumpeting a planned increase in immigration from 250,000 to 265,000 newcomers per year."

TorStar article

Thanks Hussan. You can find the piece here: http://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/article/585574

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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