Friday, November 30, 2007

Canadian Labour Congress to Ministers Solberg and Finley: Where are the Filipino 11?

Temporary Foreign Worker Program Should Be Suspended

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 27, 2007) - The Canadian Labour Congress calls for an immediate moratorium of the government's Temporary Foreign Worker Program until a comprehensive investigation of identified abuse and exploitation cases takes place. Full suspension of this program is necessary as the government officially acknowledges that it cannot "monitor the working conditions offered by the employer following entry into Canada" - that it cannot protect these workers.

Over two months ago, Canada's poorly regulated Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) enabled a labour broker to lure 11 skilled trades' people to Canada for non-existent jobs.

Those workers - known as the "Filipino 11" - became indentured labour after having to pay over $10,000 each in so-called administrative fees to labour brokers and intermediaries that thrive within the unregulated margins of the TFWP.

Promised jobs in their field at up to C$23 an hour, some sold their homes or took out loans to cover C$10,000 or more in fees demanded by labour brokers. But once in Canada, they were "sold" to unscrupulous employers, kept in an isolated rural house, and forced to do menial jobs earning - if paid at all - a fraction of what they were promised.

As The Economist magazine (November 22) reported "They were economic slaves," said a Barrie policeman who chanced upon them: "It turned my stomach."

The Canadian Labour Congress first learned of the plight of these workers in early September, and filed a complaint with the Conservative government demanding an investigation into the case. In that complaint and in the September 11, 2007 news release, we asked three things:

- What investigative steps and findings will be taken by government's departments and agencies with regard to this case?

- What steps are being taken to identify and pursue the labour brokers, contractors and employers implicated to retrieve wages and usurious processing and administrative fees paid by these workers?

- What steps will be taken to prosecute the individuals and employers involved in this case?

The government's official response, received just this past week, offers little more than the shameful excuse that the department that brings in guest workers is "not mandated to monitor the working conditions offered by the employer following entry into Canada".

Meanwhile, the Canadian Labour Congress has uncovered allegations that the workers were handed from an unscrupulous broker to various employers.

"Given all that is known - and how much is still NOT known - it would be unconscionable for the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, and the Minister of Immigration to carry on with this program or to announce any further expansion of this program before undertaking a serious investigation into the known cases of abuse and exploitation," says Hassan Yussuff, Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress.

The disturbing story of the Filipino 11 is not isolated. It is but one of many cases across the country being documented by the labour movement involving migrant workers in the construction, health care, service, and agricultural sectors.

The Canadian Labour Congress, the national voice of the labour movement, represents 3.2 million Canadian workers. The CLC brings together Canada's national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 136 district labour councils. Web site:

Third-party asylum repugnant to Charter, federal court rules


Citing the example of Maher Arar, a Federal Court judge ruled yesterday that Canada must reconsider a reciprocal refugee-processing agreement with the United States because Washington flouts conventions meant to safeguard immigrants against torture in their homelands.

Experts say the effect of the ruling may ultimately be that Canada will have to process thousands more refugee claimants each year, now that the continued existence of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), passed in 2004, is in question.

Mr. Justice Michael Phelan wrote that the U.S. does not comply with international refugee conventions and that the Canadian government, in entering into the agreement, "acted unreasonably" in concluding that it did.

"... The United States' policies and practices do not meet the conditions set down for authorizing Canada to enter into a STCA," Judge Phelan wrote in his 126-page decision.

"The U.S. does not meet the Refugee Convention requirements nor the [UN] Convention Against Torture prohibition (the Maher Arar case being one example). Further, the STCA does not comply with the relevant provisions of the Charter."

Mr. Arar was under Canadian investigation in 2002 when U.S. officials stopped him at a New York airport and sent him to the Middle East to be interrogated as an alleged al-Qaeda suspect. His complaints of being wrongly smeared at home and tortured overseas were upheld by a judicial inquiry last year, causing Canada to reconsider many of its laws and practices.

Judge Phelan also concluded that the Canadian government has not conducted the ongoing review of the STCA mandated by Parliament "despite both the significant passage of time since the commencement of the STCA and the evidence as to U.S. practices currently available."

The STCA requires refugee claimants to seek protection in the first country they reach, and has allowed Canada to automatically send refugee claimants at the border back to the United States, from where they are usually detained or deported.

The result has meant a dramatic drop in the government's refugee caseload, one immigration expert says, reducing the number of asylum claims in Canada by as much as 50 per cent.

"By removing the Safe Third, we can reasonably expect to see a new significant inflow of refugee claimants to Canada from the United States. The door will soon be open ... [because] the Federal Court decision has made it virtually impossible for the Safe Third Country Agreement to continue to exist," said Richard Kurland, a Vancouver lawyer and immigration policy consultant.

Karen Shadd-Evelyn, a spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, read a prepared statement that said the STCA remains in effect, as the court has given both parties until Jan. 14 to make and respond to submissions for an appeal.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, which mounted the legal challenge based on the argument that the U.S. is not a safe country for refugee claimants, said the court's decision is significant.

"It is very good to see a court is taking seriously the human rights of refugees because there are times when we feel the rights of refugees don't count for much around the world."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cops bust human-smuggling ring

Paul Cherry, The Gazette

Two Canadian-based human smuggling rings have been dismantled after a lengthy investigation on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Vermont unsealed two indictments revealing two separate alleged conspiracies where hundreds of aliens from various countries were smuggled into the U.S. through border crossings in Quebec.

Two Terrebonne residents have been charged in Sherbrooke in connection with one of the two smuggling rings. Marcos Gonzales and Patricia Sorgente each face three counts of conspiracy. They are expected to return to court on December 20.

Three other people tied to the same ring have been arrested face possible extradition to the U.S. where they face charges in Vermont.

A woman named Jatinder Singh, 50, another alleged member of the ring is still being sought and is believed to be somewhere in Canada, a RCMP spokesperson said.

Gonzales and Sorgente are alleged to be part of what the U.S. Attorney in Vermont described as the "Galdamez Organization." It allegedly offered human smuggling services to other groups that trafficked in humans. According to U.S. authorities, people from Central and South America and countries like Pakistan and India, were willing to pay thousands of dollars to be brought into the U.S. through border crossings in Quebec.

Members of the organization would guide people across the border by foot at night while avoiding roads and points of entry. Other people tied to the organization would be waiting on the U.S. side of the border, ready to
provide transportation to U.S. cities.

Another smuggling ring was based in Toronto and is alleged to have smuggled hundreds of undocumented workers from Korea into the U.S. though unchecked parts of the border in Quebec.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shocked in Death, Shocked in Life: More Than a Taser Story

By Naomi Klein; November 22, 2007 - Los Angeles Times

The world saw a video last week of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers using a Taser against a Polish man in the Vancouver International Airport in October. The man, Robert Dziekanski, died soon after the attack. In recent days, more details have come out about him. It turns out that the [44]-year-old didn't just die after being shocked -- his life was marked by shock as well.

Dziekanski was a young adult in 1989, when Poland began a grand experiment called "shock therapy" for the nation. The promise was that if the communist country accepted a series of brutal economic measures, the reward would be a "normal European country" like France or Germany. The pain would be short, the reward great.

So Poland's government eliminated price controls overnight, slashed subsidies, privatized industries. But for young workers such as Dziekanski, "normal" never arrived. Today, roughly 40% of young Polish workers are unemployed. Dziekanski was among them. He had worked as a typesetter and a miner, but for the last few years, he had been unemployed and had had run-ins with the law.

Like so many Poles of his generation, Dziekanski went looking for work in one of those "normal" countries that Poland was supposed to become but never did. Two million Poles have joined this mass exodus during the last three years alone. Dziekanski's cohorts have gone to work as bartenders in London, doormen in Dublin, plumbers in France. Last month, he chose to follow his mother to British Columbia, Canada, which is in a pre-Olympics construction boom.

"After seven years of waiting, [Dziekanski] arrived to his utopia, Vancouver," said the Polish consul general, Maciej Krych. "Ten hours later, he was dead."

Much of the outrage sparked by the video, which was made by another passenger at the airport, has focused on the controversial use of Tasers, already implicated in 17 deaths in Canada and many more in the United States.

But what happened in Vancouver was about more than a weapon. It was also about an increasingly brutal side of the global economy -- about the reality that many victims of various forms of economic "shock therapy" face at our borders.

Rapid economic transformations like Poland's have created enormous wealth -- in new investment opportunities; currency trading; in leaner, meaner companies able to comb the globe for the cheapest location to manufacture. But from Mexico to China to Poland, they also have created tens of millions of discarded people, the people who lose their jobs when factories close or lose their land when export zones open.

Understandably, many of these people often choose to move: from countryside to city, from country to country. As Dziekanski appeared to be doing, they go in search of that elusive "normal."

But there isn't enough normal to go around, or so we are told. And so, as migrants move, they are often met with other shocks. A treacherous razor fence protecting Spain's North Africa enclaves on Spain's southern border, or a Taser gun on the U.S.-Mexican border. Canada, which used to be known around the world for its openness to refugees, is militarizing its borders, with lines between immigrant and terrorist blurring fast.

Dziekanski's inhuman treatment at the hands of the Canadian police must be seen in this context. The police were called when Dziekanski, lost and disoriented, began shouting in Polish, at one point throwing a chair. Faced with a foreigner like Dziekanski, who spoke no English, why talk when you can shock? It strikes me that the same brutal, short-cut logic guided Poland's economic transition to capitalism: Why take the gradual route, which required debate and consent, when "shock therapy" promised an instant, if painful, cure?

I realize that I am talking about very different kinds of shocks here, but they do interconnect in a cycle I call "the shock doctrine." First comes the shock of a national crisis, making countries desperate for any cure and willing to sacrifice democracy in the process. In Poland in 1989, that first shock was the sudden end of communism and the economic meltdown. Then comes the economic shock therapy, the undemocratic process pushed through in the window of crisis that jolts an economy into growth but blasts so many people out of the picture.

Then, in far too many cases, there is the third shock, the one that disciplines and deals with the discarded people: the desperate, the migrants, those driven mad by the system.

Each shock has the potential to kill, some more suddenly than others.

Naomi Klein is most recently the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Read more of Naomi Klein's work at

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bouchard-Taylor: mythes et réalités

 (Archives La Presse)

Caroline Touzin et Laura-Julie Perreault

La Presse

Depuis le début de sa tournée, la commission Bouchard-Taylor en entend des vertes et des pas mûres sur les accommodements raisonnables, l'immigration et certaines communautés culturelles. Alors que les commissaires entament ce soir les dernières audiences à Montréal, examinons quelques mythes entendus aux quatre coins de la la réalité.

Accommodements raisonnables

1. Les accommodements raisonnables servent essentiellement les groupes religieux fondamentalistes.

Faux. Toute personne victime de discrimination en raison d'une caractéristique personnelle visée par les chartes des droits (sexe, grossesse, état civil, âge, religion, origine ethnique, handicap, etc.) a droit à des accommodements raisonnables. La vaste majorité des demandes d'accommodement au Québec porte sur un handicap. «Les demandes d'accommodement à caractère religieux devant les tribunaux restent plutôt marginales», indique Christian Brunelle, vice-doyen aux programmes de premier cycle de la faculté de droit de l'Université Laval.

2. Les accommodements raisonnables sont un problème lié à l'immigration.

Pas nécessairement. La Commission des droits de la personne, entre 2000 et 2006, a examiné 32 demandes d'accommodement religieux. Dix provenaient de protestants, neuf de musulmans, sept de juifs, cinq de témoins de Jéhovah et une d'un catholique. «De ces données, on ne peut pas tirer la conclusion que les demandes d'accommodement raisonnable sont nécessairement liées à l'immigration ni même à un groupe religieux en particulier», souligne Pierre Bosset, professeur au département des sciences juridiques de l'UQAM.

3. Les universités sont obligées de fournir des locaux de prière à leurs étudiants.

Faux. «Aucun tribunal ne s'est prononcé en ce sens», indique Pierre Bosset.

En 2006, la Commission des droits de la personne a recommandé à l'École de technologie supérieure, une constituante de l'Université du Québec, de proposer un accommodement faisant en sorte «que les étudiants de religion musulmane fréquentant l'ETS puissent prier, sur une base régulière, dans des conditions qui respectent leur droit à la sauvegarde de leur dignité». La Commission a refusé de donner suite à la demande des étudiants, qui réclamaient initialement qu'un local de prière leur soit attribué en permanence.

En réponse à la recommandation de la Commission, l'ETS a fait savoir qu'elle mettait à la disposition de tous ses étudiants «56 salles de cours qui sont libres «...» pour un total de près de 260 heures de disponibilité par jour ou plus de 1300 heures par semaine». L'ETS a également décidé de publier un horaire de type inversé qui fait connaître la liste des locaux libres chaque jour. Cet horaire est porté à la connaissance des étudiants par courriel à chaque début de trimestre.

La Commission a estimé que ces mesures d'accommodement étaient raisonnables et a décidé de ne pas s'adresser au tribunal.

4. On sort le crucifix des écoles, mais on rentre le kirpan. C'est dangereux, des couteaux à l'école.

Aucun incident violent lié au kirpan n'a été signalé dans les écoles du Canada depuis la décision rendue par la Cour suprême en mars 2006. Dans une décision unanime, les juges ont estimé que le kirpan ne constituait pas une menace à la sécurité. De plus, la Cour a reconnu que l'accommodement demandé par Gurbaj Singh Multani, le jeune Montréalais qui a porté la cause devant les tribunaux, était raisonnable puisqu'il acceptait de porter le kirpan sous ses vêtements, dans un étui de bois lui-même cousu dans une étoffe. Environ 5% des 8500 sikhs du Québec portent le kirpan, dont une infime minorité d'enfants.

5. La liberté religieuse jouit d'une prépondérance de principe sur les autres droits et libertés, notamment sur l'égalité entre les femmes et les hommes.

Faux. Les tribunaux considèrent que les droits et libertés ont une égale valeur et qu'il n'y a pas de hiérarchie entre eux. Les juges cherchent plutôt à établir un équilibre entre ces droits et libertés en fonction des faits et du contexte propres à chaque affaire. À titre d'exemple, le droit des femmes à la liberté et à la sécurité peut justifier le recours à l'avortement même si cette pratique constitue, selon certains, une atteinte au droit à la vie. De même, les tribunaux pourront permettre à des médecins de pratiquer une transfusion sanguine pour sauver la vie d'une personne même si celle-ci s'y oppose pour des raisons religieuses. Au Québec, il n'existe à ce jour aucune décision judiciaire où la liberté de religion prime le droit à l'égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, explique Christian Brunelle.

6. Les tribunaux interprètent l'obligation d'accommodement en faisant fi des droits de la majorité.

Faux. Les tribunaux ont affirmé très clairement que l'obligation d'accommodement n'est ni absolue, ni illimitée. Une demande d'accommodement peut être rejetée si elle entraîne une «contrainte excessive» ou un «fardeau déraisonnable» pour la personne ou l'institution qui la reçoit. Dans la détermination de ce qui constitue une «contrainte excessive», l'atteinte aux droits d'autrui est d'ailleurs un facteur important aux yeux des tribunaux, explique Christian Brunelle.

L'immigration et les communautés culturelles

7. Les immigrés ne parlent pas français. S'ils ne veulent pas apprendre notre langue, qu'ils retournent dans leur pays.

La connaissance du français et le bilinguisme (anglais-français) ont beaucoup augmenté chez les immigrés au cours des dernières années. Entre 1980 et 1984, 38% des nouveaux arrivants connaissaient le français ou étaient bilingues. Cette proportion a atteint 50% pour la période de 2000 à 2004. Au cours des années 2001-2003 et 2004-2006, la proportion moyenne de nouveaux venus qui connaissaient le français est passée de 49% à 57%. Dans la population allophone* (autre que francophone, anglophone ou autochtone) établie au Québec, la proportion des personnes en mesure de converser en français était de 47% en 1971 comparativement à 74% en 2001.

8. Les musulmans ne s'intègrent pas dans la société québécoise.

Faux. «Le Québec a la communauté musulmane la plus qualifiée et la plus instruite du monde occidental dans son entier. Les musulmans viennent pour travailler et pour s'intégrer», note Frédéric Castel, chercheur à l'UQAM. Plus du tiers des musulmans au Québec ont un diplôme universitaire. C'est une proportion beaucoup plus élevée que dans la population québécoise en général. De plus, 75% des musulmans québécois parlent français. «Il n'y a pas de taux plus élevé parmi toutes les communautés culturelles», ajoute Frédéric Castel. Parmi les musulmans originaires du Maghreb, 95% maîtrisent la langue de Vigneault.

9. Comme Québécois catholique, pourquoi devrais-je payer pour que mon miel et mon beurre d'arachides Kraft soient casher?

Après avoir entendu maintes fois des propos sur une prétendue «taxe casher», le commissaire Gérard Bouchard a fini par les qualifier d'«antisémites». Des produits de consommation courante comme le ketchup Heinz ont cette certification religieuse basée sur la loi juive. Or, l'effet sur le prix est minime puisque ces produits sont fabriqués en grand volume. Dans la portion épicerie chez Metro, 75% des produits sont casher. Or, les fournisseurs de Metro ne facturent pas plus cher pour cette certification, assure sa porte-parole, Marie-Claude Bacon. Pour l'obtenir, les entreprises doivent suivre des règles très strictes et mettre de côté certains ingrédients. Une minorité de produits sont plus chers et ce ne sont pas des produits de consommation courante. On parle de produits comme la viande casher, généralement en vente dans des épiceries spécialisées. Cette dernière est vendue dans quelques grandes surfaces seulement au Québec, et toujours clairement marquée comme telle.

10. Les musulmans vivent dans des ghettos.

Faux. Les ghettos musulmans existent dans certains pays européens, notamment en Angleterre et en France, mais pas au Québec. «À Montréal, les musulmans sont dispersés dans toute l'île et même dans certains quartiers qui, traditionnellement, n'accueillent pas d'immigrés, comme Rosemont et Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Il y en a aussi sur la Rive-Sud et à Laval. Dans les endroits où il y a de plus fortes concentrations de musulmans, notamment à Saint-Laurent, Côte-des-Neiges et Parc-Extension, ils cohabitent avec beaucoup d'autres communautés», soutient le chercheur Frédéric Castel, de l'UQAM, qui s'est récemment penché sur la question.

11. Le nombre grandissant de femmes voilées à Montréal démontre que la communauté musulmane se radicalise.

Faux. Les experts attribuent le nombre croissant de femmes qui portent le hijab au Québec non pas à un vent de conservatisme dans la communauté musulmane, mais davantage au fait que le nombre de musulmans a quadruplé au Québec depuis 15 ans. Il n'existe pas de statistiques exactes, mais les universitaires qui s'intéressent aux musulmanes québécoises notent qu'entre 5% et 15% d'entre elles portent le hijab.

12. Les musulmans ne peuvent pas épouser des gens qui ne partagent pas leur foi.

Faux. En principe, le Coran dit qu'un musulman ne peut pas épouser une femme polythéiste (qui croit en plusieurs dieux), mais il peut épouser une chrétienne ou une juive. Le Coran ne dit rien sur le droit des femmes de se marier avec un non-musulman. Traditionnellement, les interprétations diffèrent quant à ce droit.

13. Les Québécois de souche seront bientôt une minorité au Québec.

Faux. En ce moment, seulement 10% de la population du Québec est née à l'extérieur du pays. Dans le but d'accroître sa population jeune et sa main-d'oeuvre, le Québec recrute environ 45 000 immigrants par année et reçoit quelques milliers de réfugiés. À ce rythme, il faudrait 150 ans pour que les Québécois de souche deviennent minoritaires.

Caledonia residents call on province to end land-claim dispute

CALEDONIA, Ont. — Residents living with one of the nation's longest aboriginal occupations say they want the province to step in and clear the disputed land as Ontario's new aboriginal affairs minister made his first visit Monday to the beleaguered town of Caledonia.

Michael Bryant met with local politicians, business and spiritual leaders during his much-publicized trip, but did not meet with any of the Six Nations protesters or their representatives. Some residents who also weren't able to meet with Bryant protested outside one of his meetings, holding signs saying “One Law for All” and “Frustrated, Forgotten, Fed Up.”

Misti Bottenfield, who lives near the former housing development site that has been occupied for almost two years, said it's time Mr. Bryant gave protesters an ultimatum.

“It should be — get off the land or no talks,” said the 26-year-old, adding she has been repeatedly intimidated by the protesters. “Get off the land and out of the houses. Even though the barricades are down and the roads are open, it's still not much better. It sucks.”

Mr. Bryant came to this divided southern Ontario town to talk to residents but Ms. Bottenfield said she doesn't know anyone who has been able to speak to him.

Pat Woolley, a 20-year resident of Caledonia, said it's going to take more than a visit from Mr. Bryant to ease the worries of the town. The barricades may have come down and the occupied site may be fairly quiet now, but Woolley said the ongoing occupation continues to hurt both the town and its residents.

“This thing is getting worse, not better,” said Woolley, adding the province should put an end to the occupation now while it continues negotiating the land claim.

“Businesses continue to suffer ... You can't allow this thing to go on. I've always brought my children up to believe we are all equal under the law. My frustration with this Liberal government is that we're not seeing this transpire in this community.”

Mr. Bryant said he spent Sunday afternoon in the town and talked to residents casually in the local Tim Hortons, although he admitted the Grey Cup likely kept many people glued to their televisions at home. The province is interested in working with the town to improve tourism and development while negotiating an end to the occupation, he said.

Whether the provincially owned land is cleared of protesters is a matter for the provincial police, not the governing Liberals to decide, Mr. Bryant added.

“What we're trying to do is come up with some short, medium and long-term solutions at the same time as negotiations are taking place,” he said.

“I certainly heard loud and clear ... about what's going on here in terms of how people are feeling. Obviously people are hurting. We want to get to a point where we're turning things around.”

Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer has said town residents living with the ongoing occupation won't feel safe until Six Nations protesters leave the disputed land. But Monday, Ms. Trainer said the town wants to focus on re-starting its economy which has virtually ground to a halt since the occupation began.

Although Caledonia was one of the fastest growing towns in Ontario, Ms. Trainer said virtually no building permits have been issued in the last two years.

“We want these land claims settled,” she said. “We have lived in harmony with the First Nations people for a very long time. It's going to be hard to get that back.”

Six Nations protesters occupied the former housing development site in February 006, saying the land was wrongfully taken from them by the Crown over 200 years ago. The occupation has been violent at times, marred by barricades blocking the town's thoroughfare and clashes between local residents and protesters.

Images: Paris riots follow teen deaths

The deaths of two teenagers in a motorbike crash in Paris have triggered violent clashes with police.

To watch video, click HERE

To view photos, click HERE

Riots break out in Paris suburbs

Youths have damaged police stations, shops and cars in two Paris suburbs, following the deaths of two teenagers whose motorbike hit a police car.

Burning car, set on fire by Parisian rioters
Rioters blocked roads with burning cars

Police said 21 officers were injured in the rioting in the northern suburbs of Villiers-le-Bel and Arnouville.

A prosecutor has ordered an internal police inquiry into possible manslaughter and "non-assistance to persons in danger".

The violence - reminiscent of riots in 2005 - lasted for more than six hours.

In 2005, the deaths of two youths in nearby Clichy-sous-Bois led to France's worst civil unrest in more than 40 years.

On Sunday night Villiers-le-Bel police station was set ablaze and another in Arnouville was pillaged, police say. At least seven people were arrested.

Burning cars

Clashes broke out on Sunday night after two teenagers - aged 15 and 16 - were killed when the motorcycle they were driving collided with a police car.

Police sources said the two were riding a stolen mini-motorcycle, and that neither was wearing a helmet.


The police car was on a routine patrol and the teenagers were not being chased by police at the time of the accident, police said. The collision wrecked the front of the car and smashed the windscreen.

Witnesses have accused the police of leaving the scene and of preventing local people from trying to help the youngsters as they lay in the road.

The brother of one of the victims has called for the officers involved to be convicted.

After the accident, dozens of youths went on a rampage, setting the police station in Villiers-le-Bel on fire, ransacking the Arnouville police station and torching two petrol stations.

Riot police were sent to the area, but youths blocked their way with burning cars.

French media report that the rioters also damaged the Arnouville-Villiers-le-Bel railway station and nearby shops.

Police inquiry

Meanwhile, a state prosecutor ordered the National Police General Inspectorate (IGPN) to carry out a detailed inquiry on the circumstances in which the two teenagers - named only as Moushin, 15, and Larami, 16, lost their lives.

Michelle Alliot Marie
The Interior Minister, Michelle Alliot Marie, visited the trouble spots

In a preliminary report, the IGPN excluded any responsibility of the policeman driving the car. "The driver did not see the motorcycle arrive and was surprised by the violence of the collision," the report says.

Two witnesses said the police car was driving at 40 - 50kph (25 - 30mph) and had no revolving lights or siren on.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, speaking in Villiers-le-Bel, deplored the deaths and called for "responsibility from everyone", adding "of course the circumstances [of the accident] have to be totally clarified and this will be the job for the judiciary."

The mayor of Villers-le-Bel, Didier Vaillant, appealed for calm and said he would ensure there was "an impartial investigation, for full light to be shed" on the accident.

A brother of one of the dead teenagers, Omar Sehhouli, said the rioting "was not violence but an expression of rage".

In 2005, country-wide riots erupted after the electrocution of two teenagers from another Parisian suburb - Clichy-sous-Bois - in an electricity sub-station. They were reported to have been fleeing police at the time.

Relations between police and young people in many deprived areas have continued to be tense ever since.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Not such a warm welcome

The temporary foreign workers pouring into Canada are often exploited

Illustration by Claudio Munoz

TIMES had caught up with the sprawling brewery in the town of Barrie, an hour's drive north of Toronto. Canadians were drinking less and less beer, especially the traditional mass-produced brands. So Molson, the biggest of them all, closed the brewery and sold the property. The new owners were soon pandering to a different vice—marijuana. When police raided the plant in 2004, it was producing four crops a year of 30,000 high-grade, hydroponically-grown plants, worth around C$100m ($102m).

Along with the “pot jungles” set up in 40 mammoth brewing tanks, police found a dingy windowless dormitory and living quarters for dozens of workers. The only people charged were nine “gardeners”; the owners escaped prosecution. They may be less lucky next time. The police have launched a new investigation into a bottled-water business they are now running out of the old brewery, involving another fast-growing, but even shadier, area of Canada's economy—the exploitation of temporary foreign workers.

Among the staff at the factory, police found 11 Filipinos, lured to Canada with the promise of jobs paying up to C$23 an hour. Some sold their homes or took out loans to cover C$10,000 or more in fees demanded by labour brokers. But once in Canada, they were “sold” to unscrupulous employers, kept in an isolated rural house, and forced to do menial jobs earning—if paid at all—a fraction of what they were promised. “They were economic slaves,” said a Barrie policeman who chanced upon them: “It turned my stomach.”

The case, still unreported, is just one of a growing number of instances of abuse stemming from the dramatic rise in the use of temporary foreign workers in Canada. The increase is the result of a quiet loosening of restrictions on foreign workers by Stephen Harper's Conservative government, designed, union leaders say, to keep wages low and to avoid a national debate on the sensitive issue of immigration.

It is Canada's thriving economy that is behind the big rise in demand for foreign workers. The jobless rate has fallen to 5.8%, its lowest level in more than 30 years. In provinces such as resource-rich British Columbia and oil-soaked Alberta, the abundance of jobs has actually become a problem; tens of thousands of posts, particularly in the construction and service sectors, remain unfilled.

It is not as if Canada is not already importing foreign workers. Last year more than 250,000 came in, most of them classified as “economic immigrants”. But they are chosen on a points system which rewards university education and advanced skills. In their countries of origin, many were part of the urban elite. Three-quarters settle in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, where there are relatively few job vacancies. Besides, few of these highly qualified immigrants would be interested in pouring cement or coffee for a living.

Heeding the call of employers needing less qualified, lower-paid workers, the government has introduced a series of measures over the past two years designed to make the hiring of foreign workers simpler. No longer are employers obliged to place an advertisement in local newspapers for six weeks for local applicants before searching farther abroad; just one week in a federal job centre will now suffice. Instead of being allowed to stay for only one year, foreign workers are now often getting visas lasting two.

At the same time, the requirement for a “labour market opinion” (LMO) on whether a worker from outside the country is really needed has been scaled back. The federal government has launched a pilot scheme specifically aimed at bringing in low-skilled workers. And special teams of federal bureaucrats have been set up in Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal to help guide employers through the process of hiring foreign workers.

Over the two years to December 2006, these changes contributed to a jump of more than 40,000 in the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada, bringing the total to 166,000. This is sure to be dwarfed by the 2007 figures, when they are released; applications for LMOs (of which about 85% are normally granted) are already up nationally by more than a half since 2006. In Alberta they have more than tripled to over 60,000. “All of this has been allowed to happen without public debate,” Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour says. “It was not discussed in Parliament. It was not debated in the last election campaign. It was just done, quietly.”

In the past, Canada's foreign workers have tended to fall into three categories: seasonal agricultural workers; live-in nannies and care-workers; and highly skilled specialists such as academics, entertainers and doctors. But foreign workers are now being sought, too, by small- and medium-sized businesses, particularly fast-food restaurants and hotels, which have trouble both in attracting and retaining local employees. In some of these businesses, anyone who lasts longer than three months is regarded as a “veteran”, says Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Foreign workers are a “massive relief”, not least because they are usually tied to their employer for the duration of their visa.

But Mr McGowan and other labour leaders complain that foreign workers are “now a recruitment tool of first choice rather than last resort”. Once in Canada, they say, there is virtually no monitoring of their pay or work conditions, leaving them wide open to abuse. “Every foreign worker needs basic training in his rights and to be told that there's a place to go to if he's being abused,” says Wayne Peppard, a British Columbia labour leader. Last year his union came to the aid of several dozen Latin American construction workers, who were being paid as little as C$3.56 an hour to dig a tunnel for a rail link between Vancouver and the city airport.

Other foreign workers are both less visible and more difficult to approach. Last spring two Chinese workers were killed when an oil tank they were building in the tar-sands region of northern Alberta collapsed. Housed in a remote camp virtually without any health and safety control, they were part of a crew of 300 workers brought in by a Chinese contractor. When a second tank collapsed soon after the first, the contract was cancelled and the Chinese workers were all sent home.

The reluctance of Canada's opposition parties to pursue the foreign-worker question in Parliament is probably due to a fear of appearing to oppose immigration in a country where one in five of the population are foreign-born. It is a concern that labour leaders share. They are at pains to stress that they do not take issue with foreign workers coming into Canada; they just do not like the temporary aspect of their stay. “If these people are good enough to build our factories and serve us coffee, they're good enough to be full citizens,” Mr McGowan says.

Ottawa is promising to make it easier for temporary workers to become permanent residents, but this is likely to be limited to the more highly skilled. And Canada needs the low-skilled too.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Toronto Star: Extradition of librarian upheld in Chicago shooting

Gary Freeman

Nov 16, 2007 09:29 PM
Tracey Tyler

While acknowledging it may seem "harsh" to surrender him to the United States after 30 years in Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld the extradition of Joseph Pannell, the Toronto librarian wanted for the 1969 attempted murder of a Chicago police officer.

There is evidence upon which a properly-instructed jury could convict Pannell and little support for his contention that, as a black man, hewould not receive a fair trial in a racially-charged U.S. justice system, a three-judge panel ruled today.

Pannell, 58, a father of four who lived quietly in Mississauga under the name Gary Freeman until his arrest three years ago, was appealing a Toronto judge's ruling from 2005, which committed him for extradition, as well as a decision last year by Vic Toews, then justice minister, ordering him to surrender.

"To return Pannell to the United States after thirty years of quiet, peaceful living in this country may appear to some as harsh and may
seem to exact an onerous and unfair penalty on his wife and children," said Justice Marc Rosenberg, who wrote today's decision. "Indeed, the
record is filled with letters of support attesting to Pannell's good character since he has lived in Canada and the perceived injustice of returning him to Chicago after so many years."

Pannell's lawyer, John Norris, argued the U.S. simply has not made out a sufficient case for extradition. He also argued that Justice David Watt, who presided at an extradition hearing two years ago, was wrong to deny Pannell a chance to summon the shooting victim, retired officer Terrence Knox, as well as an Illinois prosecutor, to the witness stand in a Toronto courtroom and challenge them on deficiencies in the evidence.

The state's attorneys filed a case record with Watt asserting they have evidence Pannell shot Knox on March 7, 1969, as the officer tried to question him outside a Chicago high school. Two civilian witnesses claim they chased Pannell as he ran from the scene and identified him as the shooter once he was in a police cruiser.

Every officer involved in arresting Pannell and recovering the gun have since died and the weapon has been destroyed.

But the U.S. still insists it can prove a gun was found and that it had been used to shoot Knox. "How it will do so, in view of the deaths of the arresting officers, is unexplained," Rosenberg said.

Norris also pointed to discrepancies in Knox's story, saying they call into question the reliability of the state's evidence.

In a victim impact statement, Knox said Pannell pulled out a gun and fired about 13 shots. Other documents say Knox is expected to tell a Chicago jury that Pannell fired 7 shots, while the officer fired back with six.

It would be wrong to focus on a single inconsistency about the number of shots fired, said Rosenberg, writing on behalf of a panel that included Justices Eileen Gillese and Jean MacFarland.

All of Knox's proposed testimony must be considered and it includes consistent accounts of, among other things, when and where the shooting happened, he said.

Pannell contends a false allegation that he was once a member of the Black Panthers - he thinks the story came from the Chicago police force - together with an accusation that he shot a white police officer, put him at risk of physical harm in the U.S.

His lawyers provided Towes with what they believed was evidence that racism pervades the U.S. justice system.

Toews, however, said that despite past problems, concrete steps have been taken to combat racism in the system. There is also no evidence that Pannell had been mistreated in jail in Chicago following his arrest, Toews said.

"This was important information upon which the Minister (sic) could properly conclude that the appellant was not at risk, despite his subjective perception," Rosenberg said.

He noted Toews also relied on the fact Pannell had been twice granted bail, despite the seriousness of the charge against him, during a period of volatility and ugly racial violence in Chicago.

Pannell said he fled to Canada while out on bail because he feared for his safety.

Deemed a flight risk, he was denied bail following his arrest in July, 2004. He still has the option of seeking permission to appeal today's ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

A 'serious' concern with fairness

Nov 04, 2007 04:30 AM
Thomas Walkom

In 1996, a 41-year-old Colombian trade unionist applied at the Canadian embassy in Mexico City to immigrate to Canada. Amparo Torres was well-known in the region. She was a founding member of the Union Patriotica, a coalition of leftist political parties created a few years earlier at the behest of Colombia's then president in order to bring an end to decades of guerrilla warfare. She had also been kidnapped by one of the country's right-wing death squads.

Unlike most of the "disappeared" who suffered that fate, she survived and fled to Mexico.

Torres was up front with the Canadian embassy. She didn't hide her politics (she's a Communist) or her family affiliations. Her brother Jorge is a leader of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), Colombia's largest, oldest and deadliest guerrilla faction. Her ex-spouse, Luis Urbano, had by 1996 joined FARC and become its international spokesman.

But she herself, she told Canadian officials, did not belong to FARC.

As a high-profile political refugee, she was almost certainly vetted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (although CSIS won't confirm that). The upshot was that Canada welcomed her as a permanent resident.

She settled in Toronto and got a job in a travel agency. Two sons, now both Canadian citizens, attended university. She married. She continued to be active politically and give speeches.

After one speech, CSIS agents interviewed her about her views. They seemed satisfied.

Then came 9/11 and the war on terror. To a new Colombian government determined to crush its guerrilla opponents, the U.S.-led crusade was a godsend. Normally sensible countries were now in a tizzy over terrorism.

In 2003, Canada officially listed FARC as a terrorist body. A few months later, Torres found CSIS was investigating her again.

This time, she says, agents interviewed her friends and associates. She says they told her boss that if she continued to work there, the company might be proscribed as a terrorist front. Torres was fired.

She hired a lawyer; CSIS replied by upping the ante.

In May 2005, she was informed that a member of the immigration and refugee board, a quasi-judicial tribunal, had begun hearing evidence in secret to determine if she should be deported to Colombia. The hearing is still going on

To Torres, all of this is a nightmare. Neither she nor her lawyer, Raoul Boulakia, are allowed to know the substance of the allegations against her. All they know, on the basis of an edited summary, is that CSIS claims to have "reasonable grounds" to believe that she belongs to a terrorist organization.

Torres has been able to successfully counter some of what the government has presented during open sessions of the hearing. But she can't dispute the meat of the CSIS argument because she simply doesn't know what it is.

So far, the courts have refused to derail the hearing, although on Monday, federal court judge Anne Mactavish ruled that there is potentially a "serious" concern about its fairness.

"This process forces me to constantly remember all the abuses and tragedies I try not to dwell on," writes Torres in her court affidavit. "I live with fear of being deported, tortured and killed.

"It is a constant reminder of my plight in Colombia as it repeats themes of my disappearance in Colombia: . . . being a victim of slander or evidence I am not allowed access to . . . having a life I am trying to establish wrecked; being powerless compared to state actors who act with complete impunity."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Video: La Commission Bouchard-Taylor a Cote-des-Neiges

Pour voire le reportage:

Le Montréal multiethnique au micro

Forum des ciotyens dans Côte-des-Neiges

La Commission Bouchard-Taylor a fait un premier arrêt à Montréal, mardi soir, dans le quartier multiethnique de Côte-des-Neiges.

En tout, 175 personnes s'étaient inscrites pour participer au forum des citoyens, mais ce sont 182 citoyens qui se sont présentés. Plusieurs d'entre eux ont dit avoir été blessés par les propos qu'ils ont entendus aux audiences de la Commission Bouchard-Taylor lors de sa tournée régionale.

Un citoyen d'origine tunisienne, qui s'est présenté comme étant Mohammed, a critiqué les médias qui associent les immigrants aux accommodements raisonnables. En outre, il a voulu exprimer un conseil aux personnes qui désirent émigrer au Canada. « Pensez-y deux fois et si vous y tenez bien, ce n'est pas le bon moment pour venir au Québec, choisissez une autre province », a-t-il dit.

Farah Abdill, d'origine somalienne

Farah Abdill, d'origine somalienne

Farah Abdill, d'origine somalienne, considère pour sa part que la Commission Bouchard-Taylor n'a fait qu'aggraver l'islamophobie qui sévit dans tous les pays occidentaux. Il déplore aussi le fait qu'il ne sera jamais considéré comme Québécois parce qu'il est noir.

Demain, si je dis "Je suis Québécois", la question qui suit, c'est "Tu viens d'où?" Alors, malgré que je voudrais bien être Québécois et dire "Oui, je suis Québécois", on va toujours me dire "Tu viens d'où? » — Farah Abdill, d'origine somalienne

Abdul Muttalib, originaire du Bangladesh, a d'abord fait rire l'assistance en déclarant qu'il n'avait jamais lapidé sa femme, en référence au controversé code de vie adopté par la petite municipalité d'Hérouxville, en Mauricie. Il ne s'oppose pas aux accommodements religieux dans les piscines, les sports et à l'école. « Ça n'enlève pas ou ne viole pas mes droits et ne concerne qu'une petite minorité de gens », a-t-il plaidé.

Amir Khadir au forum des citoyens de la commission Bouchard-Taylor

Amir Khadir, un des deux porte-parole de Québec solidaire, d'origine iranienne

L'un des deux porte-parole de Québec solidaire, Amir Khadir, qui s'exprimait à titre personnel, a invité les gens à ne pas prendre les immigrants comme boucs émissaires. Selon ce médecin d'origine iranienne, le Québec n'a pas besoin de se replier sur lui-même pour s'affirmer.

D'autres citoyens ont déploré le manque de ressources attribuées par les gouvernements à l'intégration des immigrants, soulignant le haut taux de chômage qui les touche. L'ancien député bloquiste Osvaldo Nunez, d'origine chilienne, a plutôt proposé l'apprentissage du français pour intégrer les immigrants à la société québécoise. « C'est un élément indispensable », a-t-il fait valoir.

La ministre québécoise des Communautés culturelles et de l'Immigration, Yolande James, était présente au forum, mais elle a refusé de s'adresser aux médias.

On estime que 75 % des immigrants du Québec s'installent à Montréal, et beaucoup d'entre eux choisissent Côte-des-Neiges. Il s'agit d'un des quartiers les plus multiethniques du pays. Des résidents originaires de quelque 125 pays y vivent.

Selon le recensement de 2001, 497 975 résidents du Québec font partie de ce qu'on appelle « les minorités visibles ».

La Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d'accommodement liées aux différences culturelles se déplacera mercredi à Sherbrooke pour trois jours, avant de revenir à Montréal le 26 novembre. Un autre forum des citoyens se tiendra dans la métropole québécoise, le 17 novembre, au Palais des Congrès.

Un organisme dénonce une « manipulation politique »

Par ailleurs, quelques personnes ont répondu à l'appel du Centre des travailleurs immigrants en manifestant mardi soir devant l'édifice où la Commission Bouchard-Taylor tenait son forum de citoyens. Leur porte-parole Jaggi Singh a fait valoir que la Commission a été créée sur une base xénophobe et raciste.

Plut tôt dans la journée de mardi, le réseau « Rejetons l'intolérance au Québec », qui coordonne les activités de nombreux groupes musulmans, a lui aussi fait valoir que la Commission Bouchard-Taylor a été créée sur de fausses prémisses, dénonçant ce qu'il appelle la manipulation politique faite autour du débat sur les accommodements raisonnables.

Carmen Chouinard, du Centre islamique libanais, considère qu'il n'y avait pas de crise des accommodements et le gouvernement Charest a agi par opportunisme. Elle ajoute que les travaux de la Commission sont dommageables puisqu'ils alimentent le racisme et la xénophobie.

Le Réseau « Rejetons l'intolérance au Québec » a prévu tenir des forums en parallèle aux travaux de la Commission Bouchard-Taylor.

Montreal accommodates panel's road show

Picketed outside by activists demanding jobs for immigrants, the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation chose a highly symbolic site to hold its first Montreal open-mike night Tuesday.

The place was a new multi-ethnic library in Côte des Neiges/Notre Dame de Grace, a borough where almost half its residents are foreign-born.

But the subject on the lips of many of the 200 participants at the raucous two-hour meeting wasn't reasonable accommodations of religions. It was the bread-and-butter issue of language and employment.

"You f--ked me up here, and you f--ked up my country, too, and all the Middle East - you didn't give me a chance," complained Iranian immigrant Reza Koochekian Jaboor, 61, who said he hasn't found decent work in 22 years here because he doesn't speak French.

"Tu t'es trompw de province!" (You chose the wrong province!), a man heckled from behind him.

The evening at the Intercultural Library on Cote des Neiges Rd. was also disrupted briefly about half an hour in, as demonstrators picketing at the entrance started pounding on the window, whose blinds were drawn.

(As the meeting wound up, the 20 young activists also came in and unfurled a banner at the front of the room, chanting: "Immigrants in, racists out!")

The window-rattling briefly muffled a short speech by Amir Khadir, an Iranian-born doctor and co-spokesperson for the Quebec Solidaire political party, who said the province's economic development should not be done "on the backs of immigrants" who are jobless.

Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James also attended the meeting but shied away from reporters, chatting instead with commissioners Gerard Bouchard and Charles Taylor before the meeting began.

For many in the crowd, the barrier of language - the French and English that immigrants have to know to work in the metropolis - was a constant theme. A French-Canadian man said he's disturbed that so many immigrants he sees on the bus speak English.

A Belgian immigrant said the contrary: He did a rough count at Cote Vertu métro station and saw "seven out of 10 commuters" reading Métro, the free French-language daily newspaper.

When it comes to equal-opportunity hiring, Tunisian immigrant Karim Rahmouni said, "Quebec shouldn't treat immigrants as handicapped" just because their French isn't up to snuff.

"I invite all immigrants to learn French," Pakistani immigrant Abdul Talib advised, saying that knowing the language of the majority is the best way to "integrate into the mosaic" that is Quebec and Canada generally.

Sibel Ataogul, a lawyer who immigrated here from Turkey when she was 9 years old, was applauded heartily after she proclaimed, "I learned French in eight months" and said immigrants adapt best to Quebec not by being coerced but by working hard.

Somalian refugee Farah Kulmijeh Abdil said learning French isn't an issue for him. "I'll never be Quebecois, because I'm black," he complained. "I'll always be asked, 'Where are you from?' "

Claude Dumont said he has asked Chinese immigrants in the neighbourhood why they speak English, not French. "They tell me there's not enough language training in French here," he said.

Mario Beaulieu, president of Mouvement Montreal francais, said English is the problem.

"If there's high unemployment (among immigrants), it's because they have to learn two languages, in addition to their own," he said.

In Montreal, "they can't get work if they don't understand English." And that, he said, is unacceptable.

Cote des Neiges and its sister community, Notre Dame de Grace, comprise one of Montreal's most heavily ethnic boroughs. Of a population of 172,000, more than 72,000 are immigrants; of those, 30,000 aren't Canadian citizens. The largest groups are Filipinos, Moroccans, Haitians and Chinese.

More than 40 per cent of residents speak English as their first language at home, compared with 30 per cent who speak only French and 25 per cent who speak another language.

Wednesday night, the Bouchard-Taylor commission moves to Sherbrooke for three sessions, returning to Montreal on Monday for a full week of hearings at the Palais des congres.

Compounding immigration mess

Toronto Star
Nov 19, 2007 04:30 AM

Carol Goar

Canada has a backlog of 850,000 unprocessed immigration applications.

The federal government plans to admit a maximum of 265,000 immigrants next year.

It doesn't take a calculator to figure out that the pipeline will be clogged for years.

Even if Canada stopped accepting new applications – which it has no intention of doing – and Ottawa reached its immigration target – which it has seldom done – there would still be 585,000 applications in the queue.

Some of these people have been waiting for seven or eight years. Some have lost hope.

Either the governing Conservatives don't consider this a problem or they aren't prepared to spend the money to solve it.

Immigration Minister Diane Finley clearly knows how backed up the system is. Her annual report to Parliament – written by departmental bureaucrats – warns that the logjam is compromising service and eroding confidence in Canada's capacity to absorb newcomers. "Looking ahead, actions to control application intake and bring down the inventory are critical."

Yet in her introductory message, Finley merely thanked employees for their hard work and dedication. She ignored their plea for help.

Phil Mooney, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, says there is only one way to eliminate the backup: Admit more immigrants.

"We're set up for 265,000 people and we've got this mass of workers already in the system. All the department can do is whittle away at the edges and hope Parliament increases the number of people who can come in."

If Ottawa refuses to do that, Mooney says, three things will happen:

Migrants will apply for temporary work permits and stay in Canada illegally. "We'll become a guest worker society."

Applicants will jump the queue by getting provinces to nominate them. "They know they can get to the head of the line that way."

And employers will face acute labour shortages. "We need workers in large numbers in all categories and the system is not equipped to handle it."

The Conservatives didn't create this mess, but they compounded it.

Until 2002, the immigration backlog was small. That year, the Liberals introduced a stringent new set of entry criteria for skilled workers.

Hoping to beat the deadline, close to 500,000 people applied under the old rules.

To give them a fair chance, the government put in place a 12-month transition program, under which applicants could be assessed under either system. When it ended, there was still a sizable backlog so Denis
Coderre, the minister of the day, announced a three-month extension.

Then he cut it off. Close to 100,000 applicants, whose cases had not been adjudicated, got letters of rejection.

To Ottawa's dismay, they launched a class action suit – and won. A federal court judge ordered the government to assess the 100,000 applications under both the old and the new rules. He set a deadline of
September 2005.

It slipped by with many cases still unresolved.

The Conservatives added new pressures when they took office.

First, they ramped up Canada's temporary foreign worker program – once used primarily to bring in seasonal farm workers – creating a large influx of migrant manual labourers. Then they devolved responsibility for selecting immigrants to the provinces, creating 10 new entryways.

"If you wanted to create a backlog, you couldn't have done it better," Mooney says.

He sympathizes with the immigration officials. "They're good people facing mind-numbing challenges."

He gives them credit for getting some things right. "They do a fabulous job on children. You can usually get them in within three to six months. And they do a great job re-uniting spouses. That takes less than six months."

But people who apply as skilled workers – at a time when Canada urgently needs skilled workers – can expect to stand in line for years.

This country has a long tradition of welcoming newcomers. Immigrants built and shaped the Canada of today.

The Canada of tomorrow will need them even more.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mexico-Guatemala: The Other Border

The immigration experience of Central Americans offers cautions about current approaches to immigration reform, just as a U.S. debate on immigration fails to produce meaningful changes in immigration policies.

When the topic of immigration comes up in the U.S., the debate usually centers on the Mexico-U.S. border and the Mexican immigrants that make up a large portion of those who cross the border running along the states of California, Arizona, and Texas. Far fewer think about the significant number of immigrants who must cross multiple borders before they arrive in the U.S.

Pushed by the hope of finding new economic opportunities, thousands of Central Americans and others cross the border between Mexico and Guatemala. It is the natural gateway for the rest of Latin Americans. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, 2 million documented and undocumented cross Mexico’s southern border a year.[1] The majority of these undocumented immigrants are Guatemaltecos, followed by Hondurans, Salvadorians, and a fewer number of Nicaraguans. They are either in route to the U.S or seeking temporary work in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas.

Over the last years, difficult economic circumstances, lack of opportunities, along with natural disasters have increased undocumented migration. Since 2001, the number of undocumented Central Americans coming into Mexico has more than doubled.[2] This number is a low estimate considering it is hard to accurately document the actual number of undocumented immigrants who cross the border.

Central American immigration to Mexico, however, is no new phenomenon. During the civil wars of the 1980s, Mexico saw an increase of immigration from Central America as refugees fled genocide in their home countries. Natural disasters such as hurricanes Mitch and Stan have also put more pressure on already poor communities to migrate north. In the last two decades, however, a growing factor in Central American migration to Mexico has been the adoption of free-trade policies in the region.

Free-trade a Factor in Immigration

Free-trade policies, while trumpeted as the solution to Latin America’s underdevelopment and economic problems, have led to a loss of jobs, a decline in salaries, worsening working conditions and increased cost of living, all of which have exacerbated existing inequalities. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the free trade agreement signed between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, has been the most glaring example of the disastrous effects of these policies. Since its inception in 1994, Mexico’s small farmers have been forced into poverty as they lost land due to land privatization or went out of business due to their inability to compete with U.S. agricultural imports, especially corn. In turn, the general Mexican population has suffered a hard blow in the resulting rise in corn tortilla prices, one of Mexico’s principle food staples. Mexicans have also experienced increased unemployment, and a decline in quality and access to public services as a result of privatization. Another effect of reduced quality of life: immigration from Mexico to the U.S. increased by more than 61% in the first 8 years of the policy’s implementation.[3]

Central America is experiencing trends in the same directions with the initiation of its own free-trade agreement with the U.S., known as CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). CAFTA took affect last year after Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic signed agreements with the U.S. Much like its predecessor, CAFTA threatens to displace a large number of agricultural workers, forcing many into larger cities to search for other employment. This is worrisome, as the agricultural industry provides an important source of revenue, and Central American countries do not seem to have a viable economic replacement for a loss of jobs in this sector. Some of the negative affects of CAFTA can already be seen in the first year of its inception. In El Salvador, the first to implement CAFTA, exports to the U.S. have already dropped by more than half from $187 million to $88 million.[4] In Guatemala there has been an inundation of North American chicken in the domestic market, that has increased its price, despite promises that the free-trade agreement would reduce food costs.[5] In Honduras, while exports to the U.S. have increased by 1%, U.S. exports to Honduras have risen by 13%.[6]

According to some analysts, CAFTA’s promise of foreign investments is also an empty one. Umberto Mazzei, Director of the Institute of International Economic Relations in Geneva stated in a recent article that “The purchase of national companies by foreigners in particular - represents a transfer of property and not a new investment,” pointing to the fact that much of the profits end up leaving the country rather than being used to invest further in the nation.[7]

The loss of jobs in the agricultural industries, along with increases in the cost of living with fewer employment opportunities are speculated to produce economic and social hardships that will result in migration both within and outside Central American nations. Most of this migration will be directed towards Mexico and the U.S.

Guatemalans Crossing into Mexico (Photo Credit: NY Times)
Women will be affected disproportionately as immigration patterns have changed over the years. According to the United Nations 2006 Migration and Development Report, women migrants represent one half of all migrants and are a larger group than men in developed countries. These women are being pulled by a demand to fill jobs in the domestic and service sector. Central American women have not escaped this trend, migrating north to work as housekeepers, nannies, hotel workers, caretakers of the elderly, as well as, a growing number of young Central American women entering the sex industry. Female immigrants also face the added risks of rape, physical abuse, and exploitation in their attempts to migrate across borders.

Business Boom in Traffic of Undocumented

Pushed by market forces to migrate north, immigrants are also becoming an increasingly profitable commodity themselves. Mexican immigration authorities have recognized that the traffic of undocumented immigrants is, after narcotrafficking, the second most profitable illicit business in the country and generates $10 billion dollars annually. The cost of a coyote, the name given to border smugglers, can easily reach thousands of dollars, an enormous price for those who are already trying to escape conditions of poverty.

Furthermore, paying a coyote does not secure an immigrant’s safe arrival on the other side of the border. Recently the New York Times reported a case in which a truck with 81 immigrants was abandoned in Monterrey, Mexico, leaving those inside trapped and sweltering. The Mexico-Guatemala border is no exception to these dangers, as undocumented immigrants from Central America face an increasingly militarized Mexican border.[8]

Mexico Looks to U.S. Militarization as Example

According to the conclusions of the 2001 International Colloquium on Security of Mexico’s Borders, “In Mexico, there is a tendency to push the U.S. border further south in terms of security and migration.”[9] That is, Mexico has adopted similar border policies to the U.S., which has meant an increased emphasis on combating narcotrafficking, terrorism, and securing borders.

Current president Felipe Calderón has focused much of his first year in office on cracking down on drug trafficking and organized crime. This has translated into an effort to militarize many parts of Mexico, and in particular the border it shares with Guatemala. Like the U.S., adjustments in Mexican immigration policies continue to stress military might over policy reforms as solutions to illegal immigration.

During a national forum on Mexico’s immigration policies in May 2005, Erubiel Tirado, the Coordinator for the Iberoamericana University’s National Security Program, referenced the relationship between Mexico’s immigration policies with those of the U.S., stating, “Our immigration policy in the region is expressed in a punitive form rather than one based on economic and social rationality…in which the anti-terrorist paranoia of the United States tightens its punitive controls at the federal and state levels of our country.”[10]

Militarization’s Threat to Human Rights

The boost in military units, bases, and patrols has had negative effects on Mexico’s civil population and on undocumented immigrants trying to enter Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas. In light of the new focus on fighting the drug trade, organized crime, and terrorism, undocumented immigrants face the increased danger of being tagged as narcotraffickers, gang members, or terrorists. Indigenous peoples of the region stand to face the brunt of this military profiling as one of Mexico’s and Central America’s most marginalized and discriminated populations.

The numerous deaths of innocent Mexican citizens at the hands of military soldiers this year alone has led the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) to call for the military to be “taken off the streets and [to] focus on their exclusive constitutional function of defending national security, not the persecution of delinquency.”[11]

These human rights violations by the Mexican military, along with the broken promises of economic growth in Mexico and Central America, is a telling story and one that can shed light on the U.S. stalemate on immigration. The future effects of CAFTA and increased militarization will prove unfortunate evidence of how strategies have failed to reduce undocumented immigration and secure the U.S.’s national borders.

Perhaps then policy makers and politicians will realize that investing in socially and economically just policies in the U.S. and in Latin America will be more successful at creating border security than military might and unbalanced trade agreements.

Vanessa Burgos is an independent journalist and human rights worker who has spent the last year covering human rights and immigration issues in Latin America.


[1] Statistics from the Mexico’s Nacional Institute of Migration.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Statistic as reported by Global Exchange.
[4] Amounts taken from a report from the Stop CAFTA Coalition, “Monitoring Report: DR-CAFTA in One Year”, September 12, 2006.
[5] Umberto Mazzei, “Guatemala: Two Months of CAFTA”, November 2, 2006. Posted on
[6] Percentages taken from a report from the Stop CAFTA Coalition, “Monitoring Report: DR-CAFTA in One Year”, September 12, 2006.
[7] Umberto Mazzei, “Guatemala and Costa Rica: In and Out of CAFTA”, July 18, 2007. Posted on
[8] Betancourt, Antonio. "Mexico: 81 Migrants Found Trapped In Truck." New York Times (July 13, 2007).
[9]Conclusion of the forum “Seguridad y Migración Coloquio Internacional sobre la Seguridad en las Fronteras de Mexico”, posted on the website of Mexico’s Nacional Institute of Migration,
[10] Statement by the Coordinator for the Iberoamericana University’s National Security Program, Eurubiel Tirado in “Frontera Sur y Seguridad Nacional: El Olvido Intermitente”, part of the forum “Hacia una Politica Migratoria Integral en la Frontera Sur de Mexico”, Primero Foro (May 2005).
[11] National Comission on Human Rights (CNDH) taken from a report put out by Servicio Internacional Para la Paz,

Stéphane Dion interpellé


Des organisations de défense des droits de la personne ont manifesté samedi après-midi à Saint-Laurent, dans le nord-ouest de Montréal, où se trouve la circonscription du chef du Parti libéral du Canada, Stéphane Dion.

Les manifestants ont demandé au chef libéral de s'opposer au projet de loi C-3 sur les certificats de sécurité. En vertu de ceux-ci, le gouvernement peut détenir et de juger des immigrants qui ne sont pas citoyens canadiens sans que ces derniers aient accès à la preuve détenue contre eux.

À la suite d'une décision de la Cour suprême, le gouvernement Harper s'apprête à modifier la loi et à permettre ainsi à des avocats spéciaux de voir cette preuve. Toutefois, les personnes qui sont l'objet d'un certificat de sécurité n'auront toujours pas accès à cette preuve.

Adil Charkaoui, lui-même visé par un certificat de sécurité et actuellement en liberté surveillée, était présent à la manifestation. Il a lancé un appel à Stéphane Dion: « On lui demande de se joindre au Bloc québécois et au NPD, de voter contre cette loi injuste. On lui demande tout simplement de jouer son rôle de chef de l'opposition officielle. »

Au total, quelque 200 personnes ont participé à la manifestation, parmi lesquelles on retrouvait des militants d'extrême gauche, de musulmans et de militants des droits de la personne.

Le PLC avait indiqué, lors du dépôt du projet de loi C-3, qu'il n'avait pas l'intention de s'y opposer.


Protesters denounce Bill C-3 legislation

A group of more than 100 protesters took to the streets of Liberal leader Stéphane Dion's riding in St. Laurent yesterday - complete with marching band - asking him to oppose Bill C-3, the recently introduced security-certificate legislation. The proposed legislation "responds to none of the core concerns" raised in a public campaign, said organizers with the Coalition Justice Adil Charkaoui. The marchers delivered an open letter to Dion, signed by 45 groups, laying out a broad array of criticisms of the approach adopted by the minority Conservative government.

To view photo essay:

Friday, November 16, 2007

HOUR: The debate is a farce

Muslim community leaders decry fallout from increasingly divisive reasonable accommodation dialogue

Islamic identity in Quebec rests at the centre of the current storm of debate surrounding reasonable accommodation as the rights of Muslim minorities in the province to publicly practise religious customs are under attack in a state-sponsored commission.

Startling many Canadians is the overt racism towards non-dominant cultures in Quebec, expressed repeatedly in hearings initiated by the Liberal minority government of Jean Charest on the eve of the last provincial elections. Québécois from the rural regions of the province are delivering a social discourse that is shaking the contested conception of Canada as a multiculturally tolerant society.

"The only way to return peace and harmony in Quebec is to ban religious accommodation," announced a woman participating in the state commission in Gatineau in October. Dominant symbols of Christianity in the province aren't up for discussion in the hearings, as the giant cross on Mount Royal continues to shine nightly in the sky.

Muslim community groups throughout the city are organizing their response to the current debate surrounding reasonable accommodation in the lead-up to the public hearings in Montreal, scheduled for Nov. 27 in French and Nov. 29 in English.

The civil rights of Muslim women within Islamic practices are being fiercely discussed throughout Quebec, often by non-Muslims in the rural regions of the province who have never encountered a Muslim face-to-face.

"I think that the motivation was not really to have a real debate

or dialogue around issues that people don't understand or are not comfortable with - they want to apply their own view of women's liberty, so I find this very intrusive, very discriminatory," explains May Hayder of Montreal's Al-Hidaya Association.

In the context of Quebec's discussion on reasonable accommodation, the Quebec Council on the Status of Women, a provincial body that advises the government on issues relating to women, appealed to Charest's Liberals to force public employees to remove visible religious symbols within workspaces.

Apart from large Christian crosses, Sikh turbans and Jewish yarmulkes, targeted symbols include the common headscarf which conceals the hair and neck of Muslim women, arguing its abolition would ensure equality between men and women in Quebec.

"Freedom of religion must be limited, intrinsically, by the right to equality between women and men," explains Christiane Pelchat, the president of the Quebec Council on the Status of Women, in a statement during which she described equality between the sexes as a "hallmark of the Quebec identity."

According to the Quebec Council on the Status of Women, Islamic symbols such as the headscarf send "a message of the submission of a woman, which should not be conveyed to young children as part of a secular education, which is required to promote equality between men and women."

The targeting of Islamic symbols in the context of reasonable accommodation is pushing increasing numbers within Montreal's Muslim community to feel isolated from the broader society.

"How do you want to liberate a woman by imposing on her a certain way of life that she herself doesn't agree on?" asks Hayder. "I don't see this as liberation. I see this as oppression, actually. If for any reason Muslim women feel that things are being imposed on them within their community or faith, we live in a democratic society in which freedom is cherished and where they have the freedom to liberate themselves."

Lost in the current debate is also a recognition that a Muslim community and Islamic customs have existed in Montreal since the late 1800s, when both Christian and Muslim migrants from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine first established communities here.

"A Muslim community first established itself in Quebec more than 100 years ago. People from the Middle East have had an impact on the formation of Quebec society for generations," explains Hesham Hallal of the Centre Communautaire Musulman de Montréal, one of Montreal's largest Muslim community centres.

"For now this discussion on reasonable accommodation is not a debate. For a real debate to happen it needs to occur on a basis of equality. However, today we are witnessing a discourse rooted in a majority against a minority discourse," continues Hallal.

According to Mostafa Henaway of the Immigrant Workers' Centre in Côte-des-Neiges, the current discussion on reasonable accommodation has nothing to do with building a secular society in Quebec.

"Harper's Conservatives and the ADQ in Quebec are targeting the religious elements of the Muslim community to push a conservative and pro-war agenda in this province," explains Henaway. "This debate has nothing to do with secular politics, or creating a secular society. Real secularism would allow people to express their individual religion and spirituality, not in conflict with the rest of society, which is the opposite of the current discussion on reasonable accommodation."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Airport review of Taser incident: staff not at fault

Taser victim Robert Dziekanski, of Pieszyce, Poland, had flown to B.C. to start a new life as a Canadian.

Taser victim Robert Dziekanski, of Pieszyce, Poland, had flown to B.C. to start a new life as a Canadian.

Updated Fri. Nov. 2 2007 10:54 PM ET

The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER -- A review by officials at Vancouver International Airport into the night a Polish immigrant died after being shot by an RCMP Taser clears up some of the mystery surrounding the case, but also poses more questions.

Paul Levy, vice-president of airport operations, said it's now known that Robert Dziekanski got off a flight and passed through initial customs screening at about 4 p.m. on Oct. 13.

But he didn't show up in the customs hall until 10:30 p.m.

He cleared customs and immigration around 12:30 a.m. Sunday and just over an hour later, was zapped with the Taser and lay on the floor dying.

That means there are still several hours unaccounted for before Dziekanski finally went through the immigration process.

He was unable to speak English, had just completed his first flight ever and had given away his last packages of cigarettes before embarking on almost 24 hours of travel.

"He, for whatever reason, decided to stay inside that customs hall around the (luggage) carousels for over six hours,'' Levy said.

Levy said airport staff are not responsible for that area, so he doesn't know why no one noticed Dziekanski loitering in the baggage area for so long.

"During that time when he was in that area, there would have been over 4,100 passengers that would have transited through there,'' he said.

While Dziekanski waited, his mother Zofia Cisowski also waited, but outside in the public area.

A lawyer for Cisowski has said the woman, who worked two jobs for years to bring Dziekanski to Canada, told her son to wait for her by the baggage carousels.

She apparently didn't realize that in international arrivals she could not go to meet him in the secure area.

Levy said Cisowski, in looking for her son, was directed by airport staff to a customs inquiry office on the arrivals level around 7 p.m.

He said officials there advised her he had not yet arrived at the secondary customs screening point.

"For some reason, and we don't know why ... he didn't go to the exit point out of customs,'' said Levy.

Levy said Cisowski couldn't have paged her son in the customs hall from the public area because of a Canada Border Services Agency policy against public-address pages for passengers there.

"The customs hall area is an area where, other than emergency pages. . . their policy does not want paging done,'' he said.

"That is something obviously that we want to review with them -- say is there an opportunity to look at different procedures and or another way to do that.''

After hours of waiting, Cisowski left, making the five-hour drive back to Kamloops, only to find a message waiting for her asking her to come back. Once she returned, she learned her son had died.

Security was called after reports a man was throwing furniture and wielding a stapler.

One witness has said when RCMP arrived, they almost immediately shot Dziekanski with a Taser.

An autopsy did not immediately reveal the cause of death.

Levy said the airport continues to look into the incident and completing the review could take a couple of months.

"As we see things, if there's things that come up that we need to change, we'll take immediate action,'' he said.

"We're not going to wait to get to the end of it and then say, do this.''

Levy called the incident a "great tragedy'' and said the airport authority offers its condolences to Dziekanski's family.

Larry Berg, YVR Airport Authority president, said in a statement the uncompleted review so far reveals the safety and security needs of airport passengers are being met.

But he also noted the airport is evaluating security procedures, the provision of translation services, its response to medical emergencies and communication with Canada Border Services in the wake of what he called an "extraordinary and tragic occurrence.''

He refused to reveal more, saying the airport respects the privacy of those involved and believes the best way for the family to receive information about it is through the coroner's office.

The airport authority recognizes there are a lot of questions surrounding the fatal confrontation, he said.

No one from the airport has commented in the almost three weeks since Dziekanski died.

"We think it's appropriate now that we get out there and share at least what we're doing in the way of working with the coroner and what information we have at this point,'' Levy said.

"In terms of safety and security of the public and people that work here and our employees, we're confident that the safety and security procedures we have are appropriate.''

Meanwhile, a man who recorded Dziekanski's fatal confrontation with police on video was in court Friday to get the recording back.

The lawyer representing Victoria resident Paul Pritchard said he's been assured by Department of Justice officials that the RCMP will return the recording next week.

Pritchard turned over the video voluntarily on assurances it would be returned within 48 hours but police later balked, saying it was crucial to their investigation.

Police appeared to back down on Thursday but noted Dziekanski's mother did not want the video of her son's final minutes shown in public.

Pritchard's lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court was adjourned until next Thursday. Lawyer Paul Pearson said he'll pursue the matter vigorously if the Mounties don't turn over the recording by then.

Pritchard said he will give a copy of the recording to Dziekanski's mother to "let her get the closure she needs.

"After that, like I said, I want it to get out to the media. As far as I know that's still the plan.''

Pritchard said he feels a bit uneasy being thrust into the public eye.

"I mean nobody wants to be the guy that sues the RCMP,'' he said outside the courthouse in Victoria. "But, like I said, I felt that I was compelled to do it. It's my duty as a Canadian citizen.''

At a news conference Thursday, Pritchard said one of the two Mounties who came to deal with Dziekanski asked as he came in whether he should use the Taser.

Pritchard said he saw Dziekanski shocked by the stun gun almost immediately.

The Mounties have asked an independent observer attached to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to watch over their internal investigation of the airport Taser incident.

Solicitor General John Les said the RCMP are willing to change the way these types of incidents are being investigated.

"The RCMP have asked the federal police complaints office to monitor the investigation right from the very beginning, anticipating that obviously this is a pretty controversial set of circumstances that occurred there,'' said B.C. Solicitor General John Les.

"They are not brushing off the need for a different model for monitoring complaints. They recognize that these things have to be done on a basis that is beyond reproach.''

The independent observer is part of a pilot project launched within the commission last March.