Canada Immigration Blogs by Attorney David Cohen

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The Fools On The Hill

April 1st, 2015

Typically, April Fool’s pranks are cooked up the night before or the morning of the day itself. Rarely are they a decade in the making. Beginning today, April 1, however, Canadians and non-Canadians working in Canada alike will begin to experience the effects of misguided policies instigated by the government of Canada — the creation of undocumented immigrants to Canada.

I could point to a number of instances over the past decade in which the government botched their reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, but two stand out in particular.

In 2006, not long after the Conservatives took office, this small and rather unremarkable program, which had been around for decades and served limited purposes for skilled positions, was quickly expanded and under-regulated. Then in 2011, the ‘4-in, 4-out’ rule was brought in for temporary foreign workers who are not working in management or professional positions. This arbitrary regulation meant that after a temporary foreign worker has reached a four-year cumulative duration limit, he or she will not be granted another work permit in Canada for the next four years.

What this rule said, in effect, was that the work performed need not be temporary, only the people who perform it. It reduces human beings to mere commodities, not much more than machines to be counted first on the company inventory, then the payroll. But these are humans — people with emotions, ambitions, and hopes — not pieces of machinery.

And, while a fraction of temporary foreign workers in Alberta (those who had submitted an application for permanent residence through the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program) have been offered a temporary reprieve from the full effects of this regulation, transition to permanent resident status for the lion’s share of low-wage foreign workers remains theoretical and practically unattainable.

Many of those who arrived between 2006 and 2011, after the program’s expansion but before the ‘4-in, 4-out’ rule came into play, have children who have only ever attended schools in Canada. Some of these kids are even Canadian citizens. Are we really a country that effectively removes Canadian kids not just from school and the local community, but from the very country itself? In effect, that is what will happen.

There are no winners here. Canadians watch as wages stagnate. Businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, lose employees in whom they have invested time and training. Communities lose vital members of their societies — people active in local clubs, sports teams, community groups, and places of worship. Children, many of them born in Canada and therefore Canadian citizens, will leave the only country they have ever known because the government has told their parents that they are good enough to work in Canada, but not good enough to reside here permanently.

And finally, foreign workers, many of whom remain indebted to recruiters, are faced with an excruciating choice: stay in Canada and attempt to fly under the radar, in doing so entering a world of possible exploitation, uncertainty and illegality, or leave, in doing so potentially not just reducing their own standard of living, but also that of their family.

Let us be clear, Canada is an anomaly within the geopolitical world when it comes to undocumented migrants because it is an extremely difficult country to reach. Whereas countries such as the United States or Italy experience migrants seeking to gain entry over land from unstable countries in Central America and North Africa, Canada does not have to face that same scenario. In the case of the ‘4-in, 4-out’ rule in Canada, illegality only comes around when people stay beyond the initial four years, having entered and worked in Canada legally.

The vast majority of cases where people end up undocumented in Canada are due to ill-advised government policies. As Canadians possibly begin to vilify “illegal” immigrants in public discourse, we may forget that this government has played a starring role in converting once-hardworking, law-abiding workers into undocumented residents of Canada.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, when many of the world’s current borders and systems of government were established, every country that has run a mass guest worker program has been left in the situation where once-legal workers remain in the country after their legal work period has been completed. Why did this government think that Canada would be any different? The past decade has been the first time in our history where we have admitted more temporary than permanent newcomers, turning the Canadian tradition (not always upheld, I might add) of welcoming immigrants on its head.

At this stage, terminating the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in its entirety would be unwise and do nothing to resolve the issue of those who are already here, living lives in Canada, possibly with Canadian-born children. What happens next is anybody’s guess.

A Just Society?

March 4th, 2015

When the Canadian Constitution Act was signed in 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms became law. It was the magnum opus in the career of then-Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

Before the Charter became a signature part of Canadian life and over the years after it became law, Canada had justifiably earned unprecedented levels of international respect. Domestically, we were known as a nation of inclusiveness, diversity and open-mindedness, while abroad, our peacekeeping efforts, fair-minded diplomacy and sense of justice was seen as the benchmark for other nations.

By and large, Canadians should be proud of the way in which they have built their country.  Our cultural mosaic allows people to be Canadian while retaining a sense of identity whence they came. Becoming and being Canadian need not negate that other part of a person that wants to keep hold of something from another land — whether that thing is cultural, familial, or religious — as long as it does not infringe on the rights and freedoms of another person. That is the essence of the Charter. In Canada, our internationalism is our nationalism.

But there has always been something bubbling beneath the surface — our fear of ‘the other’. One could point toward the government’s detainment and forced relocation of Japanese Canadians, who also suffered job and property losses, during World War II. The government at that time went down this path despite evidence supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Department of National Defence that this decision was unwarranted. Canadians of Italian and German origin were also interned around this time.

Today, our leaders have allowed that fear to come to the fore of social, legal and political life once again. Indeed, our leaders are not merely standing by, allowing it to happen. No, they are the ones pouring fuel on a fire that they themselves started.

Something is seriously amiss when our Prime Minister feels the need label it “offensive” that an individual would choose to wear a niqab while taking a citizenship oath, to the extent that he would seek an appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn a decision. It is worth bearing in mind that the individual in question, Zunera Ishaq, had removed the garment when she took the citizenship test, and so her identity while taking the oath was not in question.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) stated that there’s no way to know what would have happened had she refused to remove her niqab. More worryingly, the department said that any violation of the Charter right would be “trivial” because the oath takes less than a minute to recite. Well, if the violation is merely “trivial”, then it follows that this government views the Charter itself as trivial.

To any impartial onlooker, the Prime Minister’s reaction to this affair is a clear political play, and it is not coincidental that he made his comments in Quebec and during an election year. With plenty of seats in play in the province, the Prime Minister has an eye on the voting demographic that supported the ill-fated ‘Quebec Charter of Values’ (Charte de la laïcité or Charte des valeurs québécoises) of the now-deposed previous Parti Québébois government. If he can win a few extra seats in Quebec by being divisive in this way without compromising his party’s existing support in the suburbs of Ontario and further west, he will do so. Whether or not he is genuinely offended by the niqab is by-the-by.

Following soon after this incident was something that on one level seemed inevitable, but also quite ridiculous. A woman in Quebec, Rania El-Alloul, went to court to try to retrieve a vehicle, but Judge Eliana Marengo, taking her cue from the Prime Minister, demanded that El-Alloul’s remove her hajib (a headscarf) if she wished to pursue justice, as it was adjudged to be inappropriate for the courtroom setting. This is significant religious discrimination.

How have we become so complacent? Why are we allowing the worldwide respect and admiration we earned to be thrown away so cheaply and needlessly? It’s time to fight for a return to a just society that includes all, no matter the clothing they choose to wear.

Strawberry Fields Forever

February 2nd, 2015

Canada is, among other things, a country of seasons. Perhaps more than most nations, the Canadian cycle turns according to which season it may be. Socially and economically, many of our communities and industries change their activities depending on the weather.

When my generation was growing up in Canada, summers meant one thing — you got a seasonal job. Teenagers from Central Canada would pick fruit in the Niagara Peninsula of Southern Ontario or in Quebec’s St. Lawrence Valley. Tree planting was popular for those further west. The Maritimes, with its renowned seafood industry, needed nimble hands to haul and process the catch, and local youngsters were more than happy to oblige.

Nobody ever got rich doing this hard work, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. Instead, it gave us an opportunity to build our character muscles.

The thousands upon thousands of hands that aided in seasonal work may not have been the hands that built Canada, but they were the hands that kept the country ticking over, season to season. I would bet that if you took a sample of the most successful Canadians today — doctors, politicians, engineers, entrepreneurs, and others — many of them did some sort of casual seasonal work before they began their careers. It was not in the classroom or at a desk where they honed their soft skills and gained an appreciation for what constituted a real day’s work, but rather among the fields, forests and shorelines that make up our beautiful country.

When I read in one of the national newspapers last week that five of the top six industries that have traditionally employed the most Canadian youth were also in the top half of temporary foreign worker program users, I thought back to those days picking fruit in Ontario. Have we lost something along the way?

Can you blame an employer for wanting to harvest the season’s crop or sow the seeds for the next one? Can you blame a foreign worker who simply wants to take the opportunity to work hard for his or her family? Can you blame a series of governments that want to continue to grow the economy?

It would seem that the generations that have come after the baby boomers don’t think of Canada in the same way as previous generations. For a great majority of Canadian youth, seasonal employment, particularly in agricultural jobs, does not ever cross their minds. We have become rich — one of the most economically successful nations there has ever been. We have become lazy — considering some jobs beneath us and missing out on opportunities to learn the kinds of skills and develop the sort of values that will aid our careers and our country.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program became bloated, but it never would have become that way if we, as Canadians, continued to perform the kind of seasonal work that industries in our country provide. The program rightly affords an opportunity for employers to employ skilled foreign workers who are ready, willing and able to do the job when no Canadian citizen or resident can be found.

The next time you hear someone complain about unskilled or semi-skilled work being done by temporary foreign workers, don’t look to the worker or his or her employer if you want to point the finger. Point it at Canadian youth who no longer want to get their hands dirty.

Out with the old, in with the new

December 31st, 2014

It is fitting that the Canadian government has chosen the first day of a new year for the launch of the Express Entry immigration selection system.

Gone are the days when most economic immigrants were selected by a supply-driven, first-in first-out system. That has been replaced by a shiny new demand-driven expression of interest model named Express Entry that aims to issue Canadian permanent resident visas within six months of submitting a full application.

Like it or dislike it, it doesn’t matter. Express Entry is here and knowing how you can make it work to your advantage is key to maximizing your chances for a successful application.

On the surface, the Express Entry process looks simple enough. First you upload your profile on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) portal and if you meet the requirements of one of three federal immigration programs you will be admitted to the Express Entry pool. Once in, you will be ranked against all the other candidates in the pool and if you rank high enough you will receive an invitation to apply for permanent residence.

As we all know, looks can sometimes be deceiving. The Express Entry system is in fact somewhat more complicated than it looks. Much goes on behind the scenes and there are a lot of moving targets. For example, profiles are not static. Your comprehensive ranking score may increase or decrease over time. Besides, the make-up of the pool varies with each new entrant and after each selection draw. Fishing in the pool will be the federal and most provincial/territorial governments, as well as employers. Each of them holds tickets to Canada. How to appeal to one with alienating the others?

In time, the Express Entry system will not seem so mysterious. We can begin to demystify the process by highlighting certain misconceptions about Express Entry. Last month, CICnews published an excellent article on this very subject. Click here to read ‘Express Entry: Ten Misconceptions’.

Lastly, I would like to wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year. I look forward to continuing my blog in 2015.

Not So Fast

December 3rd, 2014

January 1, 2015 will see the start of the new Express Entry selection system that will priority process the permanent resident applications for the most desirable economic immigrants.

Express Entry is the result of years of tinkering by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, under a Conservative government that is determined to see Canada come out ahead in the global competition for top-tier foreign talent.

Some, like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, are in favour of the new selection system for the central role that employers can play. While not everyone who receives an invitation to apply under Express Entry will have a validated Canadian job offer, virtually everyone with a validated job offer will receive an invitation to apply.

Others, like some professors at Ryerson University, decry the coming selection model as one that mainly serves employers and for its lack of transparency. They call it a throwback to the Railway Act of 1925, which gave Canada’s two railways pretty much full sway over immigration policy.

No matter the side we’re on, there is a common issue that merits more discussion. I am referring to the concept of program integrity, or in other words, the ability of the new immigration selection system to thwart the inevitable fraudulent attacks that are sure to come.

Let’s put this in some perspective. A validated Canadian job offer in a skilled position is a ticket to permanent residence. In similar circumstances under the U.S. immigration selection system, would-be immigrants are paying middlemen upwards of $50,000 for a job that comes with a U.S. Green Card. Should we expect anything different?

People in this industry know very well that immigration and fraud go hand-in-hand, notwithstanding government efforts to crack down on perpetrators. Sure, we can have laws on the books in Canada, but they are of no use in the countries where money exchanges hands.

As the name implies, Express Entry means just that. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is aiming to issue permanent resident visas to invited candidates within six months of receiving a completed electronic application. Few candidates are ever interviewed. From a program integrity and security perspective, that worries me. I understand that big and small businesses want their labour here quickly, but at what cost to the rest of us?

There is a need for rigorous anti-fraud protocols as part of the new immigration selection system, and I, along with most Canadians, would like to hear more about that from the people in charge.

Caregivers Finally Catch A Break

November 5th, 2014

Talk about a change of heart.

A few months back my blog dealt with the negative commentary emanating from Canadian government officials and targeting live-in caregivers, also known as the extended Filipino community in Canada.

Lo and behold, last week the very same government announced significant reforms to the caregiver program that can only be seen as hugely beneficial to the caregivers themselves.

Changes to the program include ending the live-in requirement. It will remain an option, but will no longer be mandatory. No longer will caregivers be forced to sleep where they work and have their wages garnished for room and board. It’s about time.

Of utmost importance to caregivers is the length of time they are separated from their spouses and children back home. As it stands now, a caregiver must first complete two years of full-time work in Canada before applying for Canadian permanent residence status and including their immediate family members in the application. Processing times are long and, in some cases, extend well beyond three years. Currently, there are 60,000 applications awaiting a decision. The government has committed to clear the backlog completely by 2016. A cap of 5,500 applications per year has now been imposed, with the goal of processing permanent resident applications within six months. If this goes as planned, it will be a praiseworthy accomplishment.

As I have stated previously, caregivers are dedicated, hard-working individuals. They do the type of work that Canadians shun, at any reasonable wage. I, for one, am glad that they are finally getting their just due. Better late than never.

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy . . .

October 15th, 2014

The recent news that Postmedia had purchased the Sun Media chain certainly raised a few eyebrows, not least my own. Media commentators were quick to ask some obvious questions: Is this the print media’s last stand? A survival strategy? Will shrinking newsrooms result in a lack of diversity and poorer content? Can independent media in Vancouver, for example, truly thrive if three of the four dailies are owned by the same company?

But one question came to my mind immediately: Will this purchase change the editorial stance of the Sun Media titles? We live in hope.

When it comes to immigration, Canadian media organisations, much like the Canadian people, generally follow a progressive, open-minded and nuanced line of thinking.  Canada is known around the world as a country with a broad immigration policy, which is reflected in our ethnic diversity, sustained peace in our land, and economic security. Canada is, quite frankly, one of the most successful nations in history — and immigration has had a huge part to play in that.

If, however, Sun Media newspapers were your predominant, or indeed only, source of news on immigration to Canada, you would be left with the impression that Canada plays host to thousands upon thousands of immigrants for whom the only goal is to take welfare, then sponsor family members to join them in Canada and do likewise. You would be led to believe that the average immigrant is a scrounger, out to take the ordinary taxpaying Canadian for a ride. This is, at the very least, disingenuous and reactionary. At its worst, it is dangerous. Sun Media’s views on immigration lie somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.

Take, for example, a news article published in the Vancouver Sun just last week. The article states that median employment earnings for men in B.C. have plummeted by a third since 1976, and that, according to economists, immigration is one of the principal reasons for this. But there is not a single direct quote from any economist to back up this claim.

A reader of the news sections of Sun Media publications could be forgiven for not noticing that lead statements such as that in the Vancouver Sun article are not backed up, but the mask truly slips when it comes to the Op-Ed sections.

In a Toronto Sun article titled Work? Why Bother!’ published on October 5, 2014, columnist Ezra Levant says that Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program is “Canada’s answer to illegal Mexican immigration in the U.S.” He then goes on to discuss the issue of Mexicans in the U.S. for the next four paragraphs. This is not just the very definition of a straw man argument; it also insidiously implies that temporary foreign workers have committed some sort of offence just by their very presence in Canada. It scapegoats people who have not carried out any crime.

Furthermore, an article by Salim Mansur published in the Toronto Sun in January, 2012, essentially says that immigration leads to acts of terrorism. Mansur cites the infamous “rivers of blood” speech given by British MP Enoch Powell in 1968, in which he urged Britain to significantly curb the number of immigrants it allows into the country. That speech referred to Powell’s conversation with a constituent who stated that “In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” Powell, expecting that his audience would fear such a scenario, made the claim that allowing visible minorities to immigrate is “like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.”

And yet, the revisionist Sun Media Op-Ed pages are willing to reference Powell’s words as a vision for Canada. Indeed, Mansur says that “four decades later [after Powell’s speech], especially in the aftermath of the July 2005 suicide bombings in London and concerns over ‘homegrown terrorism’ many now view Powell’s Birmingham speech as prophetic,” drawing a direct line from immigration to terrorism. Canadians don’t fall for this kind of hysterical coverage.

I could go on and give other examples, but that could take me until Christmas. Postmedia, mainly through its National Post newspaper, has typically offered a more balanced editorial stance on matters concerning immigration. Let us hope this rubs off on their new acquisition.

Falling Through The Cracks

October 1st, 2014

For some reason, many individuals on open work permits in the province of Quebec are not eligible for medical coverage under the provincial health plan. It would make some sense to deny coverage to individuals on open work permits who were not gainfully employed, but why deny benefits to working tax payers?

Let me share an example of a family in Quebec, who I know quite well. They are a married couple with a five year-old Canadian-born daughter. The mom came to Canada on a study permit five years ago and is in graduate school at a prestigious university. The dad is on an open work permit and has been employed in a full-time job for the past four years. They have always maintained legal immigration status and applied for Canadian permanent resident visas four years ago. They received Quebec selection certificates a long time ago.

Through no fault of their own, the federal portion of their permanent resident applications have gone from one delay to another, with the end of the process still not in sight. Although the husband paid his fair share of taxes, neither he nor his wife are entitled to health benefits offered to Quebec residents and to individuals on work permits of a non-open variety. Worse still, their Canadian-born daughter is also not eligible for public health insurance in Quebec because of her parents’ status. How can that be justified?

La place des enfants est à l’école / Children Belong In School

September 3rd, 2014

Lettre ouverte aux :
L’honorable Yves Bolduc, Ministre de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, et
L’honorable Kathleen Weil, Ministre de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion

La place des enfants est à l’école

Madame la Ministre,
Monsieur le Ministre,

Pour la plupart des enfants, le mois de septembre marque le début d’une nouvelle année et la fin officielle des grandes vacances. Les feuilles commencent à tomber et une nouvelle routine redémarre. Le stress et l’excitation viennent alors se mêler à l’idée de devoir s’adapter à un nouvel environnement. L’école, avec toutes ses opportunités, ses longues amitiés à venir, fait de ces années les plus précieuses dans la vie d’une personne.

Pourtant, des milliers d’enfants à travers le Québec n’ont pas l’occasion de vivre cette expérience à cause de la situation de leurs parents dans cette province. Certains d’entre eux sont demandeurs du statut de réfugié ou demandeurs d’asile dont la requête a été refusée. D’autres sont de simples touristes ou encore des travailleurs temporaires ayant demeuré au Canada après l’expiration de leur visa. Les parents ne sont pas les victimes ici et ce sont les enfants qui se retrouvent sanctionnés.

C’est un fait établi maintenant que des milliers d’enfants ne peuvent pas aller à l’école au Québec. En effet,  la loi sur l’instruction publique du Québec mentionne que seuls les résidents en situation régulière et certaines catégories d’immigrants peuvent avoir accès à l’éducation publique. Nos voisins en Ontario ou encore aux Etats-Unis autorisent ces enfants à aller à l’école, quelque que soit leur situation et nous obligent à constater qu’en matière de bon sens, de compassion et de devoir, le Québec est à la traîne. Les conséquences sont ainsi reportées sur les nouvelles générations et une telle punition du fait d’autrui est injustifiée. Les enfants sont-ils censés être punis pour une infraction qu’ils n’ont pas commise ? Cela reflète-t-il nos valeurs en tant que Québécois ? Bien sûr que non.

Certaines personnes évoquent l’argument selon lequel les contribuables ne devraient pas payer pour les enfants dont les parents sont en situation irrégulière. Cependant, l’histoire nous a montré ce qu’il advient des enfants qui ne vont pas à l’école. Ces enfants sont désœuvrés et deviennent inapte à se conformer aux institutions ou aux personnes incarnant l’autorité, réagissant en conséquence par des actes de désobéissance civile. Pouvons-nous les accuser ? Ces mêmes institutions et ces mêmes personnes les ont déjà abandonnés.

L’étape suivante de ce cycle s’aggrave davantage lorsque ces enfants entrent dans l’adolescence et s’entraînent dans la petite délinquance. Or, faire appliquer les lois et offrir des services sociaux est bien plus coûteux que ce que l’éducation aurait coûté initialement.

Aucun argument économique ou humanitaire ne saurait justifier qu’un enfant soit privé de scolarité. Les contribuables perdent de l’argent, les enfants perdent l’opportunité, ou plutôt le droit à recevoir une éducation, les collectivités connaissent des difficultés sociales et les forces de police doivent agir sur des problèmes qui auraient pu être entièrement évités. Ainsi, nous créons une société qui se distingue, dès le berceau, entre les nantis et les démunis.

Soyons clairs : ces enfants n’ont violé aucune loi et sont néanmoins sanctionnés. Ils devraient pouvoir se sentir à l’aise au sein d’un environnement pédagogique sûr, nous devrions pouvoir accompagner nos enfants dans leur apprentissage et partager avec eux la patinoire pendant les entraînements de hockey. L’école pourrait, et devrait représenter un endroit de répit pour eux, contrairement à l’atmosphère qui règne à la maison, où les parents s’inquiètent à chaque fois que l’on frappe à leur porte. Laissons ces enfants aller à l’école, de la maternelle au CEGEP. Donnons à ces enfants les outils les menant à la réussite. Ne dénigrons pas leur droit fondamental tel qu’il est consacré par l’article 26 de la Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies, dont le Canada est signataire.

En tant que père, en tant que Québécois, en tant que contribuable, je pense que cette situation ne reflète pas les valeurs qui nous tiennent à cœur. Ce système mène à des situations désastreuses. Peut-on encore voir le Québec comme un leader progressiste au sein de la fédération Canadienne si une telle situation perdurait ? Je suis convaincu que les Québécois, s’ils avaient eu connaissance de cette situation, auraient souhaité que ces enfants reçoivent une éducation, quelque soit leur origine. Il est temps de leur en offrir une. Il est temps d’ouvrir les portes de nos écoles à ces enfants qui vivent au Québec.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame la Ministre, Monsieur le Ministre, l’expression de ma considération respectueuse,

David Cohen

 
An open letter to:

The Honourable Yves Bolduc, Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports
The Honourable Kathleen Weil, Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness

Children Belong In School

Dear Ministers,

For most children, September marks the beginning of a new year and the unofficial end of summer. The leaves start falling, the regular routine comes back, and a mixture of excitement and nervousness builds up as they wonder how they will adapt to new surroundings. School, and the opportunities and lifelong friendships it offers children, make those years some of most exciting in any person’s life.

Several thousand children across Quebec, however, do not get the opportunity to share in this simple right of passage. Their parents have no legal status in the province. Either they are refugee claimants or asylum seekers whose applications were rejected, tourists who overstayed their visas, or temporary workers who remained in Canada once their visas expired. But the parents are not the victims here. No, instead the provincial government has punished their children.

It is now known that several thousand children will be unable to attend school in Quebec because Quebec’s Education Act says that only legal residents and certain categories of immigrants can receive free public education. Our neighbours in Ontario and the United States allow children to attend classes regardless of their legal status. When it comes to compassion, common sense and doing the right thing, Quebec is falling behind. We are passing punishment on to new generations, and such vicarious punishment is unwarranted. Should minors be punished for offences they did not commit? Does this reflect our values as Quebecers? The answer is ‘no’.

There will be people who make the argument that taxpayer dollars should not be spent on educating children whose parents remain in Canada without legal status. But history has shown us what happens when children don’t attend school — they become bored and soon begin to resent the institutions and people who wield power over them, and react accordingly by way of civil disobedience. Who can blame them? Those same institutions and people have already abandoned them.

The next step in the cycle comes as these children enter adolescence and begin to commit petty crime. Law enforcement and social services then have to pick up the pieces, all of which costs far more than what an education would have cost in the first place.

There is no economic argument to be made for denying an education to children, nor is there a humanitarian one. The taxpayer loses money, the child loses the opportunity (sorry, the right) to receive an education, local communities experience social problems, police forces have to deal with entirely avoidable issues, and we create a society clearly demarcated, from the cradle, by haves and have-nots.

Let us be clear: These children have broken no law, yet they are being punished. That is wrong. These are children who ought to feel comfortable in a safe educational environment, learning with our own children and sharing the ice with them during hockey practice. School could, and should, be a respite for them — somewhere that stands in contrast to a no doubt distressing situation at home, where anxious parents worry about each and every knock at the door. Let these children go to school, from kindergarten right through to CEGEP. Give children the tools to succeed. Don’t deny them their human rights, as enshrined in article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is signatory.

As a father, as a Quebecer, as a taxpayer, I believe this situation does not reflect the values that Quebecers hold dear. It’s a recipe for disaster. Can we still think of Quebec as the progressive leader in the Canadian partnership if such a scenario is allowed to continue? I bet Quebecers, if they knew about this, would feel strongly that children, regardless of their backgrounds, deserve an education. It’s time to give them one. It’s time to open up our schools to all children living in Quebec.

Yours Sincerely,

David Cohen

Punishing Spousal Sponsors

August 5th, 2014

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander recently boasted that “Canada has one of the most generous family reunification programs in the world”. Maybe so, but don’t ask Canadian citizens and permanent residents, who are sponsoring their foreign national spouses, to second that opinion, especially those caught in the quagmire of the in-Canada sponsorship process.

The current immigration regulations permit a foreign national spouse to be inside or outside Canada during the sponsorship process, so long as, in the former case, the foreign national is already legally in Canada when the process begins.

In the past year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has doubled the processing time on inland applications and there is feeling among many of the individuals affected that the additional delay has been manufactured. At best, it is seen by some as a deterrent to utilizing the inland option and, at worst, it may be a signal that CIC soon intends to put an end to the in-Canada sponsorship option.

Spousal sponsorship is a two-stage process for both in-Canada and outside-Canada applications. The first stage always occurs in Canada and it involves an assessment of the Canadian sponsor’s eligibility. The second stage is about assessing the foreign national and it includes health and criminal clearances. Last year, the first stage of inland applications was taking six months to complete and it now takes eleven months. To put this in perspective, the first stage of outside Canada applications is being completed in less than two months. There is no difference in the work being done. It’s purely a policy decision.

For in-Canada applicants, completion of the first stage of the process is significant. It is only then that the foreign national spouse is entitled to a work permit and a provincial health card. The longer wait is more than an inconvenience; it causes financial and emotional hardship. It doesn’t have to be this way. Canada grants open work permits to the spouses of international students and many temporary foreign workers, right from the moment they enter Canada. Nobody is saying this is wrong, but what is available to temporary foreign residents with few ties to Canada should also be given to spouses of Canadian citizens and permanent residents. After all, they are residents-in-waiting. Why punish them for doing what the regulations allow?

Next on the Government’s Hit List

July 3rd, 2014

First, it was the 280,000 Federal Skilled Worker applicants, most of them from Africa and Asia, whose files were terminated. Next, it was the 50,000 plus Federal Investor applicants, most of them from China, whose files were terminated. It appears that live-in caregivers are next in line.

Let’s be very clear. When you denigrate Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP), you attack Canada’s Filipino community.  The LCP has been around for 22 years and 90% of primary applicants are women from the Philippines. Most of the 625,000 Filipinos now in Canada can trace their arrival back to the LCP. You cannot separate the LCP from Canada’s Filipino community.

Recently, there has been a spate of national newspaper articles that have called into question both the value of the LCP and the bona fides of the Canadian Filipino community. The impetus for this negativity does not emanate from ordinary Canadians but rather from the Canadian government in the form of statements by cabinet ministers and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) reports.

Government-sourced information of a disparaging nature has been pushed out to the public-at-large at a fast and furious pace. The first news story I came across claimed that a CIC internal report showed that 40% of all LCP job offers were being made by Canadian Filipinos to their extended family members overseas. The take-away from this article is that the LCP is less about genuine Canadian employment and more about family re-unification. A few days later, another news story appeared, which raised the ante by claiming that up to 70% of LCP applicants were extended family members of their supposed Canadian employers. The final word on this matter came from Jason Kenney, current Employment Minister and former Immigration Minister. Minister Kenney let Canadians know about the time he went to Manila a few years back to give a seminar on nannies’ rights. According to the Minister, each and every one of the 70 caregivers in attendance was going to work for a relative in Canada. To boot, all they wanted to know about was the penalty they would be subjected to for working outside the employer’s home illegally. Really, Mr. Kenney? You want us to believe that caregivers would ask that question to the Immigration Minister before departing to Canada?

As if this propaganda weren’t enough to poison the minds of Canadians, we have also recently been informed that according to internal documents, fraud is an ongoing problem in the LCP and that the absence of mothers was causing infidelity in the Philippines. I am not making this up.

The problem with this unfavorable publicity is that it just doesn’t fit with Canadians’ perception of the Canadian Filipino community. The fact of the matter is that I have never met anyone in Canada, who had a bad word to say about Filipinos in our country, especially caregivers.

Live-in Caregivers are dedicated, hard-working individuals. They not only serve as nannies but also look after the elderly and disabled among us. The type of work they do would never be done by Canadian workers, no matter what the wage offered. We may call their work low-skilled but that is only because of the meager wages they earn. Just ask any Canadian whose elderly parent is being taken care of by a compassionate live-in caregiver if the work being done is low-skilled.

The main reason Filipino women caregivers are willing to work long hours for low pay in Canada is to gain Canadian Citizenship and sponsor loved ones to immigrate to Canada. That is the quid pro quo and it was never a problem until the government chose to make it one.

So what is behind the negativism and the not so veiled threat to do away with the LCP? I am not sure, but it is interesting that a suggestion being floated is that we ought to replace the LCP with an au pair program. This would allow mainly young European women to enter Canada temporarily and join the thousands of other Europeans already here under the International Experience Class (IEC).

Is the real issue then about identity?

Really the Best We Can Do?

June 3rd, 2014

When the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian uprising of 1956, Canada responded decisively to the plight of the 200,000 refugees who fled for their lives. Back then, the Canadian population was less than half of what it is today, and yet we managed to resettle almost 40,000 victims of the hammer and sickle within our borders. We stood tall in the world as an example of what a wealthy, developed society could aspire to.

In the ensuing years, albeit on a smaller scale, Canada continued to exhibit this generous spirit, as can be seen from the following figures on refugee resettlement:

  • 1979 – 4000 Vietnamese
  • 1992 – 5000 Bosnians
  • 1999 – 5000 Kosovar Albanians

Fast forward to today as the horrendous civil war in Syria grinds into its fourth year, leaving unimaginable devastation in its wake. Innocent Syrians find themselves defenceless against a sociopathic government, foreign militants and even their own neighbours. Millions have been tormented by chemical attacks, shootings, and kidnappings. It has been described as the largest human crisis of our generation. According to the United Nations, out of a population of 21.4 million people, 9.3 million are in need of assistance. Already, 2.6 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

Last week, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees met with Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander as part of a tour aimed at convincing international partners to help resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees, in addition to the 30,000 the UN asked countries to accept last year. The Canadian government is considering the latest UN request.

Last summer, our government committed to taking in a meagre 1,300 Syrian refugees, which consisted of 1,100 private sponsorships, and only 200 government sponsored refugees. If that’s not mean-spirited enough, until now, no more than 10 have actually arrived in Canada.

Frankly, Canada’s response to date to the humanitarian crisis in Syria can best be described as stingy and cold-hearted, and stands in sharp contrast to the warm welcome offered to the 40,000 Central Europeans almost 60 years ago. To me, it is a shameful rejoinder to a plea for hope and charity. It says much about the Canadian ethos today. One has to wonder what has changed in Canada since the 1950’s. Have we become poorer? Perhaps not materially, but certainly in spirit.

*Photo from Ottawa Citizen, May 29, 2014