COVID-19 highlights need for better treatment of migrant labour, advocates say

COVID-19 highlights need for better treatment of migrant labour, advocates say

OTTAWA — The COVID-19 pandemic shows migrant labourers in Canada can no longer be treated like “throwaway people” as they have been in the past, advocates said Wednesday.

From the asylum-seekers in Quebec working in long-term care to farmhands and those in the food industry, COVID-19 has exposed how essential migrant labour is, representatives of several groups and workers themselves said in an online news conference.

The time has come to reassess how workers, especially those who have been trafficked into Canada or have precarious immigration status, are handled by the immigration system, they said.

“It is work that has been typically undervalued in our country for a long time and the migrants who come to do these jobs are also undervalued,” said Natalie Drolet of the Migrant Workers’ Centre in Vancouver.

“Very few of them have the opportunity to become permanent residents, even though the jobs they are doing are permanent. Only the people are temporary.”

The federal Liberals are working on a program to grant permanent residency specifically to asylum-seekers working in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most are believed to be in Quebec, part of a cohort of people who crossed into Canada from the U.S. irregularly in recent years to seek asylum here.

For many, their refugee applications are in limbo due to a backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board and further delays caused by the pandemic, meaning their status in Canada remains uncertain in the long term.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the government is grateful to refugee claimants.

“We are looking at this situation closely and working with our provincial partners, including Quebec, to see how we can recognize those who are working hard on the front lines to keep Canadians safe and healthy,” Kevin Lemkay said in an email.

Whatever approach the government is taking must be expanded to include all the workers who have been toiling in occupations now deemed essential, including health care but also sectors like food processing, advocates said.

Many are falling ill with COVID-19 themselves, said Leah Woolner, who works with victims of exploitation in Montreal.

Whatever the Liberals are planning for health workers is a good first step but the end must be expansive, she said.

“It must be an equal policy that is inclusive as possible.”

At particular risk are those who had previously been trafficked into Canada to work, and are now undocumented.

One worker shared her story Wednesday, using the pseudonym of Maria.

She said she was brought to Canada by her employers under the guise of accompanying them on a vacation. They had lied, and were settling here permanently, though Maria didn’t have the appropriate visa. She worked 12-hour days, six days a week, paid only $600 a week, before fleeing in her pyjamas one day to seek help.

Maria was granted a six-month temporary resident permit for human-trafficking victims but could not get hers extended because an immigration official refused to hear all the details in her case, she alleged Wednesday. She is appealing but due to COVID-19, her case is delayed.

In the meantime, she is terrified of falling ill with COVID-19, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to her experiences, and can’t move on.

“I feel trapped,” she said.

Drolet, and others, say a national standard needs to be applied for trafficking victims that, among other things, removes the amount of discretion individual immigration officers have.

There also needs to be a broader recognition of the fact that while many people think of human trafficking in terms of sexual exploitation, workers in every industry fall victim.

Their cases, however, aren’t taken as seriously by police or government, for a variety of reasons, said Shelly Gilbert, who is the co-chair of the anti-trafficking committee of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

But COVID-19 has shed some new light on the issue, she said.

“It’s only recently that we’ve been recognizing that they’re in our essential industries, because of COVID-19,” she said.

“Before, they were throwaway people.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Maskwacis reporting 37 active cases

Numbers current as of Oct. 19

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Photo submitted/ Millet In Bloom
Town of Millet declared Best Blooming Community

The Town of Millet is being recognized for their efforts to meet the challenges of 2020.

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

(The Canadian Press)
Alberta-raised Cree actor lands role in Disney’s live-action ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’

Tiger Lily is featured in Disney’s 1953 animated “Peter Pan” film

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

Pipeline division owned by Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. will now be required to restore 3,840 hectares of caribou habitat,

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny and government house leader Jason Nixon chat before the speech from the throne delivered in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Alberta politicians are to return to the legislature Tuesday with a plan to discuss up to 20 new bills — many of which are focused on the province’s economic recovery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta legislature to resume Tuesday; focus to be on economic recovery

Opposition house leader Heather Sweet said the NDP will focus on holding Premier Jason Kenney

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read