On October 15, Cinema Politica, a Montreal organization dedicated to screening political films, collaborated with Culture Shock McGill for a special screening of The End of Immigration, a film centred on the rights of migrant workers in Canada. Stepping into the screening hall Monday evening, there were people of all ages in attendance, mothers with their children, groups of university students, and elderly couples seated side by side, demonstrating that a diverse range of people can still gather together for the sake of awareness and social change.
Prior to the screening of the documentary, guest speakers from the Immigrant Worker Centre (IWC) spoke about the important role the centre plays in the migrant worker community, many of whom suffer abuse of their essential rights. Valentine, one of the guest speakers, is a migrant worker from Bangladesh. He outlined his experience with a private Canadian recruitment company that engaged him to work as an Indian cook in a Quebec restaurant.
Upon his arrival, Valentine’s employer withheld his passport and papers, forcing him to sleep in his basement. He paid him less than minimum wage, in cash, to work as a cook. Valentine was subsequently fired after demanding better work conditions. Concerning his struggle to obtain a ministerial work permit, Valentine questions, “If a criminal like Conrad Black [a notorious Canadian newspaper tycoon and white-collar criminal] can get a ministerial permit to stay in Canada, why can’t migrant workers like me?”
With the help of the IWC, Valentine has been able to obtain a legal permit, but has been denied medical insurance, due to the fact that he was only living in Quebec under an open work permit.
The film opened with a segment about Latin American workers digging the railway tunnel for the Canada Line in Vancouver, where a union official claims they were only paid $3.50 an hour. The documentary goes on to discuss how the migrant workers do not work under the umbrella of the government, but rather under an employer operating for a private employment company. Malcolm Guy, one of the filmmakers, called this modern phenomenon the “privatization of migration.”
Since these workers are considered temporary migrant workers under an employer, they are not allowed the opportunity to apply for Canadian citizenship or permanent residency. Therefore, only their proprietor can decide their fate within the country. The filmmakers stress that this is the result of an elitist system, which makes it impossible for migrant workers to obtain permanent residency.
While the myth about migrant workers is that they only work in heavy-duty low-level jobs, they can be found in all industries – but their numbers vary from sector to sector. A study shows that in December of 2009, for the first time in history, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada exceeded the number of immigrants. The film featured a Filipino migrant worker, Jonathan, who testified that he was threatened by his employer with the loss of his job, and consequent deportation. Where he was working, the migrant workers are paid $11.50 per hour, whereas the Canadian workers are paid $18 per hour for doing the same job. Jonathan and his four roommates pay almost $1600 per month in rent to their employer, while a similar apartment next-door runs for $750 per month. This employer, like many other employers in Canada, demands a myriad of illegal additional fees from their migrant workers.
The only people fighting for migrant rights are the workers themselves and nonprofit allies such as the Immigrant Worker Centre, through different rallies and marches held in cities across Canada. A labour lawyer, interviewed for the documentary, emphasized that migrant workers are practically treated like slaves. The bottom line, she says, is this: “Are we going to use and abuse and toss out these workers, or are we going to treat them with respect, and acknowledge our need for them?”