May 17, 2011 headline in The Vancouver Sun: “B. C. woman charged with human trafficking. West Vancouver resident allegedly forced African woman to work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.” A young woman was allegedly brought over from Africa and forced to work in demeaning and slave-like conditions in a lavish West Vancouver home for about a year. In June 2009, she learned the conditions she was living under were not acceptable and sought help at a women’s shelter. The victim is now at a safe place in B. C. and police are keeping her identity private to protect her.
I had two reactions: “How could this happen in Canada?” and “Thank goodness our social safety net works for foreign workers exploited by their employers!” In following the story in the media I read a comment by Melissa Holman, President of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association of Canada. “We hear about cases like this seven to 10 times a day across Canada. Workers call us from their cell phones, hiding in their closets. And we hear from them by email – but they are terrified we will write back to that email address and their bosses will find out. It’s a daily thing.” Okay, this happens much more than I thought. What about Canada’s support for abused foreign workers. Am I right about that?
Melissa Holman called from the Association’s Calgary office apologizing for a two day lapse after receiving my email. She’d been busy. In the past nine months they have dealt with 9,000 calls from clients concerned about their working lives as temporary foreign workers in Canada. And no, Canada does not have much to offer these people. Take the case of a man from the Philippines whose employer threatened to kill his family back home if he contacted authorities about his working conditions. The employer also demanded that $5,00.00 be paid to continue working. When the worker did go to Canadian authorities he was told that no action could be taken without hard evidence so he recorded a 45 minute telephone call between his employer and the family in the Philippines. It was all recorded, the threat to kill them all and the demand for the money. Recorded in Tagalog, a Filipino language. “Good show,” said Canadian authorities but we can’t do anything until you have the conversation translated. If this gentleman had been able to afford to pay 50 cents a word to translate a 45 minute conversation he would not have needed help in the first place. So much for support from our Canadian government.
The non profit TFWA is funded entirely by donation to preserve it’s independence of government regulations that can lead to red tape and Catch 22 nightmares for clients. For more, including how to offer financial support, go their web site, http://http://www.tfwassociation.com/. They work collaboratively for the good of immigrant workers with many fine employers but there are always some who push for as much as they can extract from people dropped into a strange culture, often without proficiency in English or French, and who are very apprehensive about contact with officials and lawyers.
June 9, 2011 headline in The Vancouver Sun: “East Vancouver couple accused of domestic slavery, people smuggling. Filipino woman forced to work around the clock, police say” An East Vancouver couple is being accused of forcing a woman into domestic slavery after police found a Filipino woman living illegally in the couple’s home.