Alberta's temporary foreign worker program has no oversight and is mired in so much bureaucracy that employers are allowed to treat hopeful immigrants like indentured labour.
That's what a federal committee travelling Canada to examine immigration issues heard in Edmonton yesterday, during a lengthy meeting in which several interest groups blasted the provincial and federal governments.
"Alberta's temporary foreign worker program is inherently exploitive and treats people as disposable. I can assure you Canada's reputation in foreign countries has suffered a great deal," Yessy Byl told the committee of MPs.
Byl is a TFW advocate with the Alberta Federation of Labour, and her comments were echoed by other groups, including the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and Ukrainian Canadian Social Services.
All agreed that TFW programs would not be as burdened if the federal immigration department wasn't so maddeningly inefficient.
"Of the hundreds of workers I've dealt with in the last two years, almost all have come here not to work but to emigrate. They are using the TFW program because our immigration system is so dysfunctional," Byl said.
"I don't think we have a clue as to how great this problem is. There is currently no system by which we can legitimize the workers that we so desperately need," she said.
"In the meantime, brokers and employers bringing these workers here are running around unchecked, illegally charging recruitment fees, housing workers in homes with up to 14 other people and making huge sums of money renting out houses.
"People are being lured here with the promise of $12 an hour jobs only to arrive and find themselves on the wrong side of the poverty line."
Other speakers said Canadian embassies in eastern Europe make it notoriously difficult for people to enter Canada.
HARD TO EMIGRATE
"On the one hand we have this great campaign encouraging foreigners to emigrate to Canada, yet on the other hand we have an immigration system that makes that increasingly difficult," said Bill Diachuk of the Ukrainian group.
Committee chair and Conservative MP Doyle Norman appeared to sincerely listen to the concerns, while other committee members from all federal parties asked presenters to suggest solutions to the problem.
Those included amnesty for illegal immigrants with established jobs and establishment of watchdog groups to protect the rights of foreign workers.
Edmonton Sun, Wed Apr 2 2008
Byline: Brookes Merritt