Skip to main content

A rink attendant resurfaces the ice at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, current home of the Abbotsford Heat AHL hockey team, in Abbotsford, B.C., on Tuesday April 15, 2014.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The federal government approved the hiring of hockey coaches through the temporary foreign worker program – an immigration stream meant only for jobs Canadians can't fill.

In six cases since 2010, the government approved Labour Market Opinion (LMO) applications to bring in hockey coaches under the TFW program, documents obtained through the Access to Information Act show – saying, in essence, no Canadian could be found.

The TFW program has been under fire for several months, with Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney pledging a crackdown on abuse and further changes. From banking to construction to fast food, high-profile examples of abuse keep popping up. Chief among abuses of the program is using a foreigner brought in as a TFW for a job that could have gone to a Canadian.

On the hockey front, the documents leave much unclear. But a government spokeswoman said the cases included coaches even at the National Hockey League level.

"These are cases of NHL teams requiring coaches and training staff with very specialized skills and experience," said Alexandra Fortier, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kenney. "For example, bringing in an elite stickhandling coach for a one-week training session or an American team bringing its trainer with them to Canada for a one-week training session. It also includes an American-born player playing for an AHL team in Canada." The cases, she said, "are extremely rare."

It is not known who the coaches are or what teams applied. But documents show the federal government approved, in 2013, the hiring of an "assistant strength and conditioning coach" and a "professional stick-handling instructor." In 2012, an LMO was issued for a "strength and conditioning coach," while an "Athletics Coach/Strength and Conditioning Coach" was hired in 2011. In 2010, a "Guest Hockey Instructor" and "Head Strength and Conditioning Coach/Manager" were approved under the TFW program. The Globe and Mail requested records of all players and coaches granted an LMO since 2010.

Canadian immigration law generally exempts pro athletes from needing to get work permits, but certain coaches are required to; only those from countries that freely allow reciprocal hiring of Canadian coaches are exempt. LMO approvals don't mean the coaches were actually hired, and federal changes in 2013 introduced fees for LMO applications in a bid to curb the number of applications being made for TFWs that are never actually brought to Canada. In 2012, the most recent year available in the government's online statistics, 80,000 foreign workers entered Canada with an LMO.

A Hockey Canada spokesman said the organization isn't involved in helping teams or coaches navigate the immigration system or TFW program.

NDP Employment and Social Development critic Jinny Sims said she finds it "a bit unusual" that the TFW program was necessary to fill positions in Canada's game.

Problems with the TFW program are not the fault of foreign workers themselves, she said, but the program's oversight has been lacking and led to it being used to take jobs from Canadians and undercut wages. "Obviously the system is broken, nobody's doing any oversight. They're supposed to show evidence they've done everything they could [to hire a Canadian]," Ms. Sims said.

The CBC revealed a case this month in which TFWs effectively forced out Canadian workers at McDonald's. Earlier this year, iron workers in the Alberta oil sands complained they'd been replaced by TFWs. In an explosive case last year that triggered a round of changes to the program, it was revealed that RBC workers were being replaced by TFWs and training their replacements.

Mr. Kenney has pledged an investigation, which is of little comfort to the NDP critic. "I don't know what kind of investigation we need when there is evidence after evidence that the program is broken," Ms. Sims said. "… If you look at it in writing, the program looks good, but it's the fact we have no enforcement and it seems LMOs are handed out willy-nilly."

Interact with The Globe