OFWs campaign for justice in Canada

By Diwa Marcelino, The Philippine Reporter

Posted at Dec 24 2010 05:47 PM | Updated as of Dec 25 2010 04:48 AM

WINNIPEG – When Antonio Laroya, Arnisito Gaviola and Ermie Zotomayor left the Philippines for Canada in 2007, they never expected they would be jailed and face deportation 3 years later.

The 3 fathers came to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to work in a gas station in High Prairie, Alberta. Although it is illegal in Alberta for recruiters to charge workers a fee for finding employment, the 3 were charged $3,000 each for the jobs.

Like many other foreign workers, they went to Canada to escape poverty and to provide a better life and opportunity for their families.

“I am the breadwinner, not only of my own family, but also of my mother, 62, and my brother and sisters,” said Gaviola, 42.

As of 2009, over 280,000 foreign workers were in Canada, according to the Citizen and Immigration Canada, 2010.

From 2007 to 2009 alone, almost 50,000 foreign workers from the Philippines entered Canada via the TFWP.

3,900 Filipinos leave daily

The chronic unemployment and lack of opportunities in the Philippines has resulted in the daily exodus of approximately 3,900 Filipinos who find jobs outside the country, according to data from IBON Foundation in 2009. Many of these university-educated workers find employment in remote communities doing jobs which locals are unwilling to do.

Just last year, 3,649 foreign workers entered Manitoba to work in the service and agriculture sectors to fill the labor shortages in these industries.

After almost 2 years of working, the 3 were laid off from the gas station. They obtained work permits and employment at a restaurant in Peace River, Alberta where they lived together in a mobile home. They asked their restaurant employer if they could be sponsored under Alberta’s Provincial Nominee Program but unfortunately the employer could not, and the 3, once again, found themselves looking for jobs once more.

After a friend found a job at a gas station in Thompson, Manitoba, the 3 packed their belongings and headed to the distant town with the promise of new work permits and low-wage jobs. Their new employer insisted they start working at once and promised that the work permits would soon follow.

Unfortunately after waiting for 3 months, the employer still failed to obtain the new work permits as promised even after repeated follow-up.

This caused the workers to be "out of status".

Arrested for having no work permits

On June 24, 2010, the trio was arrested by the Canadian Border Services Agency and jailed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for not having proper work permits. When they were released, all their identification cards were confiscated including their Philippine passports.

Since their arrest, the 3 have not been allowed to work, which has caused great distress for their families.

“I’m also depressed because my daughter stopped studying. She’s a smart girl. She did not want to stop, but what can I do?” said Laroya, 45, a career overseas worker who worked in Israel for almost 3 years prior to coming to Canada.

The 3 tried to seek legal advice in Thompson after their release but the Legal Aid Manitoba office said they were not eligible.

After seeking the advice of a Philippine consular official, they applied for another job with the help of an immigration consultant who charged them $4,500 to process their permits.

However, because of their arrest and pending court hearing, the work permit, which they paid the consultant to process, could not be granted.

Migrante Canada is assisting the 3 in their campaign to stay in Canada and is asking for support from Filipinos and the wider community. About 100% of the proceeds from their campaign will go to help the 3 men.

Migrante Canada and the 3 are also asking Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney to consider their appeal to stay in Canada after their trial on December 23 in Winnipeg.

“We never had any intent to violate any laws. Our only wish has always been to work to provide for our families and one day be reunited,” said Zotomayor, 45.

Migrante Canada is an alliance of 16 organizations in Canada advocating for the rights and welfare of migrant workers.