News  Filipina live-in caregivers pursue human rights complaint

Complaints against immigration consultant neglected by federal and provincial governments

A Montreal company that provides live-in caregivers is being brought to the Quebec Human Rights Commission on charges of human rights violations and forced labour. The company, Super Nanny, has been trafficking Filipina women from across Asia under the federal government’s Live-in Caregiver (LIC) program.

Evelyn Calugay, president of Filipina worker’s group PINAY, said the women “are being lured by the good life they will have here.”

“They are told they can become permanent residents within 36 months,” Calugay said.

Between 2004 and the time of Aurora’s death in September 2009, more than forty women signed with Super Nanny after he recruited them in Asia. The women would pay over $4,000 to Aurora, in addition to airfare to Montreal.

“They will do anything in desperation to produce this money. If they are in the Philippines, they would sell everything they have, as long as they are able to go somewhere that they will have a better life,” said Calugay.

Steve Richter, of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), said the case centres on Filipina guest workers, who were brought to Montreal under the pretence that they already have an employer. CRARR is handling the human rights aspect of the case.

“Once [the workers] got here, they were told that the employer was no longer available, and then subjected them to forced labour and coercion into signing a lease in one of his slum houses. He also coerced them into opening bank accounts and life insurance account where Aurora thought was ‘best for them,’” Richter said.

Aprodicio Laquian, professor emeritus in community and regional planning at the University of British Columbia, said that immigration consultants like Aurora have been “a major source of problems” for Filipino migrants.

“Until lately, they were not regulated. At present, there is an Association of Immigration Consultants that tries to regulate the activities of members, but it is only partially effective,” Laquian said. “The Philippine Government has passed laws outlawing unlicensed immigration consultants and making it a crime for them to charge their immigrant clients, but it is extremely difficult to implement the law. Also, many immigrants, especially live-in caregivers, do not come directly from the Philippines – they are recruited in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, the Middle East, et cetera where immigration consultants are not regulated.”

PINAY originally brought the case to the Quebec Human Rights Commission in early 2009, though the commission has been slow to take action. It was notified of Aurora’s death in 2009, yet summoned him for a hearing two months later. The commission also summoned his daughter, Natalie Aurora, but she claimed that she had nothing to do with the cases of human trafficking and exploitation.

CRARR got involved in 2010 in an effort to move the case forward, according to Fo Niemi, the centre’s executive director.

“When we got involved we looked at the evidence again, and we found that that contrary to what the commission believes, his daughter was actively involved in many of these practices,” Neimi said. “We also found that in addition to his daughter there were other people involved, including his secretary who was actively involved, to the point of going to Asia to recruit these women.”

Roland Coloma, an assistant professor of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, voiced the need for regulation of recruitment agencies as well as individuals like Aurora.

“What is distressing is the consistent silence of the municipal, provincial and federal governments to do something about it,” said Coloma. “The LIC program is a federal program. What we need is a strict federal program and policy that can really ensure that women who are being recruited from the global south can have the kinds of right and protection as workers when they come to Canada.”

Niemi expressed that he would like the case to end with a judicial or official declaration that the women have been discriminated against, harassed, and exploited because of their race and social class. Additionally, he would like to see the women compensated as a result of this exploitation.

“Ultimately, it’s the federal and provincial governments that have the powers, but also the responsibility, to ensure these women are protected from the moment they set foot in Canada,” said Niemi.

“We want to raise awareness that the system that we have set up to protect people from discrimination and exploitation has not worked for these women and therefore we need to reform some of these institutions and the protection provided to them,” he continued. “We feel there may be more women working as LICs who are subject to these kinds of conditions but have not come forward.”

According to a Citizenship and Immigration Canada press release, as of the first of April 2011, improvements will be made to the temporary worker program, specifically for LICs. It states that the changes will include “a more rigorous assessment of the genuineness of the offer,” and a “two year probation from hiring for employers who fail to meet commitments to workers.” It remains unclear if these changes will affect the ongoing Aurora case.