Permanent resident status for migrant farm workers not likely

By Dhaman Persaud Kissoon

Dhaman Persaud Kissoon is a Toronto-based lawyer and university lecturer.
Dhaman Persaud Kissoon is a Toronto-based lawyer and university lecturer.

Canada’s immigration policy has been generally geared towards filling an economic need. If one traces the history of the treatment of workers in Canada, a common theme emerges. Whenever there was a downturn in the economy  or the need for workers lessened, the government passed restrictive laws.

The first major example of this was the Chinese Immigration Act which was brought in to limit the number of Chinese workers who could enter Canada, These workers were initially brought to work on the railways. The treatment of these workers and the imposition of an abhorrent head tax were well documented. The Federal Government has since offered an apology to Chinese Canadians for its treatment of these workers.

Indians were also brought in to work in Canada. There has been a history of abuse of these immigrant  as well  and there were specific laws limiting the number of Indians workers who could migrate to Canada. It was called the Continuous Passage rule and it reduced the number of Indian workers arriving in the country.

Moving forward, there had been an influx of domestic workers from the Caribbean in the 1920s. These workers we brought in from Guadeloupe at a time when the need for such workers were high. With the advent of the war, many of these workers sent back to their   home country.   In the 1950s there was another wave of domestic workers arriving from the Caribbean, particularly from Jamaica and Barbados.  The abuse of these workers were also well documented. Their treatment was much akin to the Live Care Workers who came later and about whom many horror stories have been written.

The trend of importing workers to fill an economic need continues with the recruitment of migrant workers from the Caribbean and Mexico. These workers are brought in on an annual basis to work on the farms and at the end of the season they are required to return to their country of origin.

It is well documented, at least in Ontario, that the working conditions experienced by these workers and the wages received are below minimum standards required by law. A number of incidents have been reported of injuries on the job and the lack of proper medical treatment and resulting benefits. It is quite alarming that in this day and age this type of treatment continues in Canada.

The question has been asked: Should these workers be allowed to apply for permanent residence in Canada? The simple answer is yes. But there must be proper  procedures put in place and after they have  served their  contract and have meet all the security requirements, they should be allowed to apply. This would be a recognition by the government that these workers serve a very useful purpose in Canada.

But this is not likely to happen. The farm owners would resist this course of action because they would lose their source of cheap labour as they would no longer  have control over the workers once they have received full status.

As long as there is an economic need, migrant workers will be brought into Canada. The very strong preference would be to bring them in on a temporary basis so that control can be maintained and minimum standards do not have to be met. History is repeating itself in Canada in the treatment of workers.