by Nathaniel Jote
On Wednesday March 4, the constituency office of Finance Minister Joe Oliver was picketed as part of the beginning of a nationwide “Campaign Against the 4 Year Limit on Migrant Workers.”
Organised by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), “a coalition that includes migrant workers, allies, workers’ centres, legal aid clinics, and unions,” protesters denounced a law dubbed the “4-and-4 rule,” which allows temporary foreign workers to stay in Canada for only four years before forcing them to leave for at least another four.
“Our message here is loud and clear: we want the Canadian government to hear our call and remove the 4-and-4 rule,” said Jesson Reyes, an organiser with Migrante Ontario, to the assembled crowd. “Harper, Harper, go away, foreign workers are here to stay!” chanted picketers in response.
“Have you ever lived in a place for four years?” asked Tzazna Miranda, an MWAC activist. “You make friends. You find family. You find a community. You learn your rights, the law. You learn your job.”
“This law doesn’t make any sense,” she continued, “for employers, for workers, or for the economy. It means employers are forced to bring in new labourers every four years, to be retrained at great cost and who know less about their rights. For workers it’s unjust; it’s traumatising.”
The action took place as part of the beginning of the cross-country campaign against the 4-and-4 rule. In the week leading up, protests around the same issue took place in Hamilton, Guelph, Edmonton, Surrey, and the Okanagan Valley. Another rally is being planned for Toronto area residents on March 29.
“When this law comes into effect on April 1, 2015, we will see massive deportations of temporary foreign workers and caregivers across Canada,” Reyes told BASICS in an interview. “We believe that if you are good enough to work here, you’re good enough to stay.”
Many activists have expressed concern that enforcement of the 4-and-4 rule will only lead to a huge increase in undocumented people, as temporary workers may refuse to leave after their visas expire, either because of a lack of opportunities at home or in account of roots they have established in Canada.
The plight of undocumented labourers has gained a great deal of publicity in the United States, where millions work for starvation wages under brutal conditions, and where any attempt to unionise or militate for higher wages or better working conditions leads to crackdowns and deportations.
A similar system has long since begun to be constructed in Canada, with much less fanfare. The municipal government already estimates that up to 500,000 undocumented workers may live in Canada, about half of which probably live in Toronto.
“Almost all migrant workers who live and work in Canada support their families back home,” said Samay Cajas, an organiser from No One Is Illegal. “To lose status and the right to work is devastating for them and their families. To even arrive, many workers incur huge debts.”
Organisers had planned to deliver a person-sized painted STOP sign to the MP. However, the Honourable Mr. Oliver was evidently too embarrassed by the government’s policy to defend it: he refused to meet with protesters and closed his office for the day.
Unlike MPs, however, police officers were present in abundance. During the course of the protest at least four separate squad cars showed up in a parking lot directly across the street from the constituency office. Why the MP for Eglinton-Lawrence regards police as better public representatives of the government than himself remains, unfortunately, unclear.
The March 29 action will take place at Citizenship and Immigration Canada Headquarters, (55 St. Clair E) at 2 p.m.
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For more about the Campaign Against the 4 Year Limit on Migrant Workers, go to no4and4.tumblr.com