In a plea to ensure equal rights for all migrants in Canada, members of the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre held a rally August 15 in front of Sudbury MP Viviane Lapointe’s office in downtown Sudbury.
The event, which attracted several people who do not have permanent resident status, along with supporters, called on the federal government to give full immigration status to migrant workers, refugees and international students.
Without the protections that this status offers those working to make a home in Canada, workers are denied rights such as health care or safe work environments. Tt Scott of the Sudbury Workers’ Centre said many are at risk of death, especially during the pandemic.
“Canadian immigration policy has failed workers,” Scott said at the rally. “Most migrants to Canada are coming under temporary permits, such as work and study permits, rather than as permanent residents, and they are denied things like health care and education, and they are tied to an employer in order to be able to stay here.”
If someone on a work permit loses their job, they can be deported. That also means that workers are liable to endure poor treatment or conditions at a workplace in order to remain in the country.
She said not only does that mean those workers who do not have status are limited in opportunities, but also, they’re ripe for labour exploitation.
“No one was by their side and nobody was supporting them,” said Scott. “Unfortunately, too many migrant workers lost their lives as a result of the lack of protections and a lack of law enforcement.”
When Olanrewaju “Olan” Bamgboye arrived in Canada with his family, he was a refugee from his home country of Nigeria.
His wife, of Malaysian descent, and his children came to Sudbury when his wife was able to transfer here from her retail job in Brampton, and Bamgboye was able to secure one as well. When the worst of COVID-19 hit, Bamgboye and his wife decided to invest in themselves, and their community, by becoming personal support workers, and they now both work at Pioneer Manor.
However, Bamgboye told Sudbury.com that each day, his family wonders how much longer they will be able to stay.
“We are still in limbo,” he said. “Every time we get up in the morning. it’s the first thing that comes to mind; my kids still keep asking ‘what is our status,’ or ‘are we going back to that country,’ the country of persecution, where we all almost died.”
They went for their permanent resident status hearing during the pandemic, and they were declined.
“It was heartbreaking, there's every possibility of being returned to your country of persecution,” Bamgboye said. He said he and his wife hoped a staffing shortage in the health-care industry would help with their status, but not so.
“It's been a struggle, and another after another after another,” Bamgboye said. “Here we are now believing that we are in a country where there's freedom, irrespective of your religion, the colour of your skin or anything at all; we have been welcomed by the people, it's been a fantastic experience. But as much as you are having a nice experience, if you still don't have that status, you know that this can be short lived. That at any point, you'll find yourself back in your country of persecution.”
Shensi “Sabrina” Zhang came to Sudbury as an international student from China, studying at Laurentian University. She told Sudbury.com that her experiences as a student here were overwhelming at first and led her to begin her own company, HY Voyagers.
One of those experiences found her unable to take entrepreneurial classes – they were only available to those with permanent residence in Canada.
In another instance, she was unable to access timely health care while very ill, encountering staff who were dismissive and unhelpful due to her status as an international student, and the need for her to sign a waiver to indemnify the staff at the clinic, all so that she could be treated.
Zhang said it is these experiences that made her begin her business in Sudbury, to help other students to better advocate for themselves.
That, and avoid agencies that wish to take advantage of those trying to build a life here. Zhang dealt with two such agencies before beginning her own business, both of which stole her money.
She almost lost her permit as a student once due to passport office closures during the pandemic, with a domino effect happening due to the requirement for other identification and paperwork.
At the event, workers’ centre executive director Scott Florence noted that anyone who has tried to get a passport of late has felt the true weight of bureaucracy, and adding to that language barriers, identification and a pandemic, it is paramount that these limitations be examined and changed.
According to information provided by the Sudbury Workers’ Centre, there are more than 1.7 million undocumented workers, students and refugees in the country on temporary permits, contributing to society and the economy, but unable to have labour rights and social services. Many live in fear of detention or deportation, said Scott, but he added that change is possible.
Lapointe listened to all the stories and speeches at the event in front of her office, and spoke to the group, pledging to take their message to the federal government.
“Immigration makes up the largest volume of calls to my office,” said Lapointe at the event. “But I agree, not enough is being done and we need to do more.”
She thanked the group for sharing with her and said she would continue to push for advocacy.
“I will continue to bring up this important issue with the Liberal caucus and the minister of Immigration,” said Lapointe.
For those who would like to help, Scott said that a signature would do a world of good. “Please sign the petition, tell the federal government to ensure fairness and permanent resident status for all. No one should be left behind.”