Committees examine, in small groups, selected matters in greater depth. We report conclusions of those examinations, and recommendations, to the House. Committees undertake studies on departmental spending, legislation and issues related to the committees’ mandates.

As the NDP immigration critic, I am currently a member of the Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) and vice-chair of the Special Committee on Afghanistan (AFGH). I also participate in other committees, including the Special Committee Canada-China Relations (CACN) and Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA).

You can see my questions, answers and speeches in these committees on this page and the committee specific subpages.

CIMM#93: Closed Work Permits and Temporary Foreign Workers and Briefing on Recent Changes to International Student Policy and Plans for Future Measures

On the question around student housing, I absolutely think that it is essential for institutions and provinces do their part and I think that the federal government should show leadership and perhaps initiate a program wherein the federal government contributes a third of the funding, institutions provide a third of the funding, and the provinces and territories provide a third of the funding towards the creation of student housing, both for international students and domestic students. That way you can have a robust plan to address the housing needs of the students.

I'm going to park that for a minute and quickly get into the students who were subject to fraud. We have a situation in which students have now been cleared and found to be genuine by the task force, but they have not gotten their passports back yet. I don't know what the holdup is, and I wonder if the minister can comment on that.

Second, there are students who are still waiting to be evaluated by the task force, and the task force work can't proceed because they might be waiting for a date for the IRB to assess the question on their permit on whether or not it was genuine or whether or not there was misrepresentation. They are consequently in a situation in which people are just chasing their tails and they can't get to the task force.

On that question, will the minister agree that instead of making people go through that process with the IRB, the task force evaluation can move forward first so that they can be found to be either a genuine student or not a genuine student?

 

CIMM#92: Closed Work Permits, Temporary Foreign Workers and Committee Business

I want to thank the special rapporteur for joining us today at committee. I also very much appreciate your coming to Canada and looking into this issue.

As many of the witnesses have said to us, the issue around the immigration system as it's set up, with the closed work permit approach, is that it actually sets these workers up for exploitation. From that perspective.... It's not to say, as the Conservatives would suggest, that you were alleging that all employers abuse workers. I don't believe you said that at any point in time; rather, I think the issue is about the immigration system that Canada has.

Instead of having this closed work permit situation, what would you say is the remedy to address the exploitation that many of the migrant workers you spoke with directly experienced?

 

Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, United Nations, As an Individual
Tomoya Obokata

My recommendation is, certainly, to modify the closed nature of the program. If the workers are able to choose their employers at their own will, that reduces the instances of abuse and exploitation.

More importantly, whether it's closed or not, employers have to comply with the relevant legal obligations. I accept that a large number of employers already do. It's those others who do not who require further attention from the provincial and federal governments to see whether they can take appropriate law enforcement actions against those who breach labour standards legislation.

 

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

With respect to exploitation, one of the issues that migrant workers are faced with is that they don't have full status here in Canada; they have only temporary status. One issue that has been identified is the closed work permit. The other issue is in terms of having rights. Being able to have their rights protected also means that they have to have status here in Canada.

How would you suggest the policy side of things should be amended to ensure that these migrant workers have their rights protected?

CIMM#91: Government's Response to the Final Report of the Special Committee on Afghanistan and Committee Business

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I thank the committee members for supporting the last motion.

I have another motion that I'd like to move at this point. Notice has been given for it. It reads as follows:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities and relevant officials together for two hours, or invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship with relevant officials for two hours, and the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities to appear separately with relevant officials for one hour to update the committee on:

(a) the work of the task force addressing the exploitation scheme targeting international students as many students are still reporting that they are in limbo and have not heard back from officials about their status;

(b) the measures taken by IRCC and institutions to help prevent and protect international students from fraud schemes;

(c) the justification to increase the financial requirements for international students by more than 100% to $20,635;

(d) the justification for putting a cap on international study permits; and

(e) the plans to address the housing crisis for international students and efforts made to collaborate with provinces, territories and post-secondary institutions.

I think the motion is self-explanatory on all elements, and I think we would benefit from having the two ministers appear before our committee. We've also deliberated this issue at length at another meeting, so in the interest of time, I won't revisit all of those points.

I hope committee members will support this motion.

 

CIMM#90: Briefing on Migrant Trafficking and Smuggling

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

I think it would be useful to have that. Seeing as the specific study of the motion is to talk about Mexico, I think it would be useful to have that information. We know that migrant workers, temporary foreign workers with a closed work permit, are subject to abuse, and this is an ongoing issue that I know the minister is aware of and the committee is as well.

From that perspective, there have been ongoing reports. In a recent report in Ontario, I think some 67 migrant workers were subject to abuse in that regard, but it's not the only example. There are many. I won't bother citing all of them. Many people have said over and over again that the reality is that, when people are subject to a closed work permit environment, they are actually at a severe disadvantage and are subject to exploitation.

I know that there's a system whereby the people themselves can report and go through the ministry to apply for an open work permit as vulnerable workers. Will the minister consider providing open work permits to people from the beginning—so that they're not having to face exploitation and then seek recourse—to be more proactive and pre-emptive in the face of this ongoing situation?

Marc Miller Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

It's something that we're definitely looking into. Obviously, we want to deal with the exploitation as it occurs, regardless of the conditions that people are in. It is clear that, when you have a closed work permit, it does make you more vulnerable. It makes you more hesitant to report abuse and take action, and it gives you less of an ability to move from one place to another.

Looking at the next policy options we have in our tool kit is something that both I and Minister Boissonnault are looking at intensely. I think it's something that we will be working to fix in the coming months.

CIMM#89: Issue with Committee Press Release content and Mandatory Provident Fund for Hong Kongers

I was saying that we're moving towards the end of the year. There's some unfinished business that I would like to wrap up with respect to this committee.

Committee members will remember that, back before the summer recess, we were actually embarking on the process of the study around international students who were being cheated and subjected to exploitation by bad actors.

The committee agreed with respect to a motion that I had made related to that, and a subsequent press release was to be issued. The former chair—not you, Mr. Chair—did follow through on that. However, the press release that was issued did not actually reflect the will of the committee and was done without the consent of the committee. I took great offence, not just for myself but because, given the way we operate with the work we do here, it has to reflect the will of the committee.

A motion I had put on the table at that time was debated but it was not resolved. That was back on June 19, 2023.

To that end, Mr. Chair, I'd like to bring this motion back up. I would like to move:

That the committee report to the House of Commons the potential breach of privilege resulting from the issuance of a press release by the committee on June 14, 2023 which altered the language that was adopted in the motion unanimously on June 7, 2023 by editorializing the content of the motion, adding additional information that was not part of the original motion, and outright omitting information, including the specific call to waive inadmissibility on the basis of misrepresentation; the motion specifically instructed the committee to issue a news release to “condemn the actions of these fraudulent 'ghost consultants' and call on the Canada Border Services Agency to immediately stay pending deportations of affected international students, waive inadmissibility on the basis of misrepresentation and provide an alternate pathway to permanent status for those impacted, such as the Humanitarian and Compassionate application process or a broad regularization program” and this was not accurately reflected in the content of the issued press release.

CIMM#85: Application Backlogs and Processing Times and Closed Work Permits and Temporary Foreign Workers

I appreciate Mr. Possberg's comments about the concern over violations of labour codes, whether it's a domestic worker or a temporary foreign worker. I guess the operative difference, though, between those two categories of workers, is that temporary foreign workers do not have full status. People who are here—Canadians or people with permanent resident status—have status and, therefore, protection.

In the case of temporary foreign workers, the biggest problem, of course, is this: Because they don't have full status, they have very few options. When they are subjected to mistreatment or abuse by the employer, what happens to them? They have dilemmas. They have difficult decisions to make. If they report this situation, they stand to lose their job. If they lose their job, they run into a whole host of other problems. These include not having financial resources, not only to support themselves but also to send home to their families.

We also have situations where a lot of workers may not have access to information about where to go to make their reports. There have been surveys done. The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, for example, has done a lot of work with migrant workers. When they survey migrant workers, how many of them have actually received information about their rights? The vast majority of them say they haven't. Then, when you ask further questions about how many of them received information about their rights in the language they speak, that number reduces even more. You can anticipate the difficulties with all of that.

CIMM#84: Government's Response to the Final Report of the Special Committee on Afghanistan and Closed Work Permits and Temporary Foreign Workers

I want to say thank you to all the witnesses, as well.

I want to carry on the conversation with responses from Ms. Gagnon and Mr. Pilon.

On the issue of temporary foreign workers, I understand you're indicating there is a system problem. The system, of course, creates an environment where there's an imbalance of power. The reality is that temporary foreign workers have zero power. They are entirely reliant on their employer. If they complain about the employer, they get fired from the job. They are then in deep trouble, because they're not making the money they need to send home to support their families, for example. From that perspective, in that power imbalance environment, there can be abuse that occurs. You have cited some horrific examples to that end.

In order to create a better balance of power, some advocates have advanced the notion of an open work permit. That is to say, the employers would have to treat these employees fairly. If they don't, they will move on somewhere else. Some people argue that having an open work permit means you can't keep them in the sector, because they can go anywhere. However, as with all jobs, to be competitive and get good workers, you need to pay them and have good employment conditions.

I wonder whether you can comment on the need for system change. Should the government be considering an open work permit option for migrant workers?

Are you ready to take action?

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