Migrant workers in Canada: the new second-class citizens

Migrant Dreams looks at the inhumane way workers from abroad are treated in Canada

On Oct. 17, Cinema Politica will be screening Migrant Dreams, a documentary exploring the situation of migrant workers in Canada. The topic of immigration has been discussed at length in Canada due to the large number of immigrants accepted into the country. However, there is a difference between immigrants and migrant workers. Immigrants come here for permanent residence, whereas migrant workers come to Canada for seasonal employment. The topic of migrant workers is studied in Migrant Dreams (2016), a documentary directed by Min Sook Lee.

The documentary is set in Leamington, Ont., a common destination for migrant workers as there are several farming companies located in the area. The process begins with so-called agents, individuals hired as middlemen who look for workers to bring to Canada, recruiting foreign workers and having them sign a contract to work as seasonal farmers. These contracts are written in English, a language spoken by only a select few of the applicants who hail from countries like Indonesia, Guatemala and Jamaica.

In Leamington, Ont., migrant workers are threatened with deportation if they do not comply with the demands of their supervisors.
In Leamington, Ont., migrant workers are threatened with deportation if they do not comply with the demands of their supervisors.

Once the workers arrive in Leamington, they are faced with the harsh reality of life as a migrant worker. They are bullied by their recruiters who demand up to 30 per cent of their weekly paycheck to cover their transportation and rent fees—unaware that these requests are illegal.

The documentary showcases the workers’ abysmal living conditions, including footage of 26 people sharing what seems to be a garage equipped with only three bathrooms. Some of the dorms are infested with cockroaches, and the employees are under constant surveillance by their employers.

However, not all the workers remain silent as their employers benefit from the workers’ naivety and desperation. In the documentary, Umi, a migrant worker from Indonesia, explains how she stood up to her boss and recruiter by renting her own apartment. Although she is now living in better conditions, she is still a victim of extortion. Her hours were reduced to discourage other workers from undertaking similar actions, and her employer still holds the threat of deportation over her head. Her apartment was even been raided by people who were looking for her passport.  Regardless, Umi is forced to continue working for this company, because Canadian law prevents migrant workers from seeking other employment once they’re in the country. Sadly, Umi is just one among thousands of migrant workers being exploited.

This documentary seeks to educate viewers and raise awareness about the extortion of migrant workers. Organizations, such as  Justice for Migrant Workers, promote farm workers’ rights and freedoms, but documentaries like Migrant Dreams are crucial for inciting political and social change as they discuss a topic too often overlooked by mainstream media.

Migrant Dreams will screen at Cinema Politica on Oct. 17 at  7 p.m.

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