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British Columbia Western Canada: The plight of Canada’s immigrant workers

Good morning from Vancouver. Wendy Cox here.

The Globe’s Kathy Tomlinson has spent months digging into the plight of immigrant workers who come to Canada on the promise of a decent-paying job that could potentially lead to citizenship or the ability to work in Canada long term.

The workers she interviewed spent thousands of dollars for the promise of a better life and received nothing and sometimes worse. In April, she told the stories of eager recruits willing to borrow and scrape together as much as $15,000 each to get one of the “guaranteed” jobs offered by just one of many recruiters advertised. The recruiters were working on behalf of employer clients, often franchise owners of major chains.

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This week, Kathy shone a light on the the service-sector businesses that use the recruiters and profit from them. She reported that some brand-name fast-food franchisees take large cash payoffs for giving international students and other foreign nationals jobs – at least on paper – that they need to obtain permanent residency in Canada, according to lawyers, immigration consultants and employers.

Kathy’s sources told her the payments to employers are cash transactions, illegal and virtually impossible to trace. They come straight out of the exorbitant fees that immigration consultants collect from the foreign nationals for arranging the job offers for them.

It is illegal in Canada to accept a fee for offering a job.

And it’s not just questionable business owners and job recruiters that have highlighted the problems with Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs.

In Vancouver, Wendy Stueck interviewed more than a dozen Guatemalan women who are facing deportation after coming to Canada on the promise of work at an area blueberry farm. Many had gone into debt to pay for their airfare to Canada, as well as to pay off the recruiter that provided their paperwork.

But when they arrived, with work permits in hand, they learned there was no work on the farm and their work permits had been approved by Canadian authorities even though the supporting documents had recently expired or were about to.

The workers say the recruiter assured them if there was no work on the farm, they could find jobs elsewhere, but under the rules of the Canadian program, their work permits are tied to only one employer.

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NDP MP Jenny Kwan is advocating in Ottawa for the workers to get open work permits.

Ottawa has taken some limited action to address the issue. On Friday, the Liberal government said that as of next week, it will expand a program to allow foreign workers who’ve been exploited or abused in Canada to get out from under their employer’s control.

Starting next week, temporary foreign workers who find themselves in abusive job situations will be able to apply for open work permits that will allow them to find other jobs in Canada.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West:

Opioids: Justin Giovannetti reports Alberta’s newly elected United Conservative government is launching a review of the province’s existing supervised drug-use sites and putting a hold on new locations in the midst of a public health crisis fuelled by opioid abuse.

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The review will look at the province’s response to the opioid crisis and attempt to find a balance between the health services provided by Alberta’s half-dozen supervised drug-use sites and community concerns that crime has increased significantly around the sites, according to Jason Luan, the associate minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

The move is similar to one undertaken by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government. That province has capped the number of supervised drug-use sites in certain areas and has required operators to shift their focus to providing more treatment services.

Meantime, Statistics Canada reported this week the life expectancy in Canada has stopped increasing for the first time in more than four decades, due largely to soaring overdose deaths in the Western provinces.

Legislature scandal: The turmoil surrounding the office of B.C.'s Speaker erupted once again this week with news that Speaker Darryl Plecas had a private forensic team collect data from the computers of two senior legislative officers – the acting Clerk of the House and the acting Sergeant-at-Arms.

Mr. Plecas maintains he is simply “safeguarding data” after the previous, permanent occupants of those offices were marched out of the legislature last year and placed on leave.

The Opposition Liberal house leader released notes of a meeting between the three house leaders and Mr. Plecas that quotes him as referring to a report written by retired Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverly McLachlin about spending irregularities at the legislature as “pathetic” and “stupid."

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Liberal House Leader Mary Polak described his behaviour as bullying, but Mr. Plecas said he did not act inappropriately.

Premier John Horgan said there are no plans to attempt to replace Mr. Plecas with another Speaker.

Outside prosecutor: Alberta’s crown prosecutors are bringing in an out-of-province counsel to help direct an ongoing RCMP investigation into the ruling United Conservative Party that could involve both Premier Jason Kenney and his justice minister.

The race has been marred by allegations Mr. Kenney’s campaign worked to prop up a “kamikaze candidate” who helped defeat the Premier’s main rival, former Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean, as well as serious irregularities in the ballots cast in the race. The RCMP has questioned people in both Edmonton and Calgary, and Alberta’s elections commissioner has levied nearly $90,000 in fines so far as a parallel investigation continues.

Carbon tax: The Saskatchewan government has filed notice that it is taking its challenge of the federal carbon tax to the Supreme Court of Canada. Justice Minister Don Morgan says the province will ask the high court to rule on whether the tax is constitutional and whether Ottawa has the jurisdiction to impose it. Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal ruled in a split decision earlier this month that the tax is constitutional.

Opinion:

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Gary Mason on tough times in the B.C. forestry sector: “There are some difficult days ahead for many in the province. Along with the expected forest fires this summer, some forest companies could go up in smoke, too.”

Senator Elaine McCoy on the tanker ban legislation: “Passing legislation from the House of Commons should not be a perfunctory practice, carried out even when the evidence shows that lasting damage may be done. The Senate needs to fulfill its role and stand up for the constitutional rights of Canadians. It’s time to stop Bill C-48.”

Editorial board on Alberta’s oil habit: “A better legacy for Mr. Kenney would be that of the politician who had the foresight to see beyond the election cycle, and the courage to tell Albertans that now is the time to start putting away money for a very different future.”

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