The federal department responsible for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is promising to investigate "all allegations of abuse” while the B.C. government has ordered a sweeping review of its practices governing the trucking industry. The moves come after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed how some companies based in the province are using untrained foreign drivers, putting lives at risk across the country.
“Any employer found to have violated the rules will face serious consequences,” said a statement from Michael O’Shaughnessy at Employment and Social Development Canada.
He said the government is very serious about protecting "the safety and welfare of temporary foreign workers, and does not tolerate any abuse.”
B.C.’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure said she has ordered an immediate review of trucking safety standards and enforcement at the provincial level, which could result in tougher sanctions against lawbreaking companies.
“We are very, very concerned about this and are going to be acting,” Claire Trevena said in an interview. “We will be doubling down to make sure every company … is operating safely.”
The Globe discovered that several immigration consultants and trucking companies, primarily in Surrey, B.C., take large illegal cash payments from international students and other foreign nationals, in exchange for truck-driver jobs that might help those newcomers qualify for permanent residency.
The trucking companies then send the newcomers out on the road, around the clock, with no training, often unable to decipher Canadian highway signs and unprepared to handle the trucks, leading to accidents and near misses.
In one case The Globe highlighted, a 23-year-old new truck driver went through a red light at full speed two years ago on a Manitoba highway and killed 19-year-old Carley Hunking and her 17-year-old boyfriend, Dorian Roulette.
Gurjant Singh had been driving for a B.C. carrier, under a temporary work permit, and wasn’t able to stop his heavily loaded truck properly. The Globe’s investigation found that federal authorities allowed carriers to hire novice drivers such as Mr. Singh, even when those companies had a proven history of accidents and safety violations.
The provinces are responsible for training and safety standards in the trucking industry. Ms. Trevena reiterated that B.C. will come through with long-awaited mandatory minimum training for truck drivers, which most other provinces have, but will also push the federal government to “make sure there is oversight” of the companies that hire foreign workers.
Chris Joseph lost his 20-year-old son Jaxon when Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, a former international student with no truck-driving experience, drove a semi into the bus carrying a team of young hockey players from Humboldt, Sask., killing 16 and injuring 13 last year.
Mr. Joseph, along with Carol and Lyle Brons, whose daughter Dayna was killed, are calling on whichever party wins the federal election to set national standards for training and safety and make truck driving a skilled trade, requiring formal education for all new drivers.
“Everybody wants that except the crooked companies that want to bring in slave labour,” Mr. Joseph said. “When it involves death and danger, there has to be a high standard … and it should be national."
“The more we hear of these loopholes, the more angry we get,” Carol Brons said.
“Transport Canada has to be the leader on this,” said her husband, Lyle. “And they have to work with Immigration Canada so these companies have some accountability. How can this carry on?”
The Globe asked the four main federal parties what they would do, if elected. The Liberals sent a statement, with no mention of the trucking industry, saying they have made improvements, such as increased inspections of companies employing foreign workers.
The Conservative Party said it would crack down on the immigration consultants who do the recruiting, but gave no specifics.
The NDP said it would bring in government oversight for consultants, ending industry self-regulation, while the Green Party repeated its policy to shut down the Temporary Foreign Worker Program altogether.
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