The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, May 02, 2007
MPs voted yesterday to tackle what critics say is an illogical policy of
deporting illegal foreign skilled trades workers while the country faces
chronic labour shortages in housing and other building sectors.
The Commons immigration committee voted unanimously to hold hearings on
tens of thousands of undocumented foreign skilled workers in Canada, many
of whom work in an underground economy in which they're underpaid and have
little recourse if they get injured on the job or face abuse.
The idea behind the motion, proposed by Toronto Liberal MP Jim
Karygiannis, is to stop deportations, which critics say were increased
early among illegal workers last year and to legalize their status in
MPs cited estimates of 200,000 undocumented foreign workers in the
country, and the total reaches 500,000 when children and other family
members are included.
"We're going to bring the human stories, the human faces into the House of
Commons," Mr. Karygiannis said.
Immigration Minister Diane Finley responded with a statement echoing the
government's reaction last year to a proposed amnesty for illegal workers:
that it would be unfair to let people jump the queue when others who
applied legally for immigrant status have waited patiently.
"There are no easy answers," Ms. Finley said. "This is a serious issue,
one involving families and often children, but it is not fair to allow
some to jump the queue while others who follow the rules have to wait in
The committee decision was welcomed by the Labourers International Union
of North America, one of a coalition of organizations offering to help the
government legalize undocumented workers, help get them certified in
Canada and place them in apprenticeships or jobs while their immigration
status is processed.
"In all of the major sectors of Ontario in construction there are jobs ...
that are not being filled, and this has been going on now for several
years," said Jim Evans, government-relations director for the Labourers
"There are projects that don't start, are delayed and probably end up
costing more money because they go slower than they should because there
aren't the skilled trades people to do the work. These projects are being
held back because we can't get people to fill those jobs, and at the same
time the government is throwing people out of Canada."
The motion to hold the hearings was passed by MPs in all four federal
parties after Mr. Karygiannis agreed to delete a reference to government
deportations at the request of Conservatives and added temporary foreign
workers to the study as requested by NDP immigration critic Bill Siksay.
MPs may focus on the immigration point system, originally designed to
attract blue-collar labourers. It was overhauled a decade ago to attract
entrepreneurs and doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals,
many of whom cannot find jobs in this country.
"There's an unfair balance," Mr. Karygiannis said. "We need working class
Mr. Evans said the Labourers Union, in co-operation with church
organizations and the Salvation Army, was willing to set up receiving
centres where illegal workers could come and apply for legal status.
"These folks could come without any risk that they were going to be
scooped up and deported and get their processing started and submit the
stuff to immigration Canada," he said. "Meantime these people would keep