Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Jenny Kwan on Motion M-155 Filipino Heritage Month

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I provide my voice in support of Motion No. 155, which is a motion to designate the month of June Filipino heritage month.

It is a pleasure to see the member for Scarborough Centre, who moved this motion, back in the House of Commons and in full action. We have sat together on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for some time now. The motion before us today speaks to that committee's work as well.

The Filipino Canadian community is one of the fastest growing groups in Canada. The 2016 census estimated over 800,000 Canadians identified that they are of Filipino descent.

The Philippines has consistently been a top source country for newcomers to Canada for years. In 2016, it was the number one source country with over 40,000 new permanent residents to Canada. Large, vibrant and flourishing communities have been established in Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and my home city of Vancouver.

In my time in municipal, provincial and now federal politics, I have had the opportunity to engage with Vancouver's Filipino community and now with communities across the country.

To say that this community contributes to Canadian society would be a massive understatement. Filipino organizations such as Migrante Canada, which now has six provincial chapter organizations, advocate tirelessly for the right and dignity of Canada's migrant workers.

In my riding of Vancouver East, we also have the west coast domestic workers' association. As well, there is Vancouver's singing nannies, which brings together Filipino caregivers in Canada who put on shows and build ties within the community. They help to reduce homesickness for the many Filipino caregivers here in Canada who are far away from their original homes and from their families.

Much of the Filipino community's human rights and work stems from their own community's experience and that is what I would really like to focus on today.

When I rose in question period last week, I asked the Prime Minister about addressing the need for a national, affordable, accessible and high-quality child care program in Canada. The lack of such a program has forced families to navigate a patchwork of options, not all equally accessible or effective for their needs.

For a large number of families here, hiring a caregiver from the Philippines is their best option.

I have had the honour of working with and getting to know personally Filipino caregivers from across the country. Their dedication to their work, to their community and to their family is truly inspiring. However what our immigration system subjects them to is an injustice.

Under the old live-in caregiver program, we forced Filipino women to come to Canada, leave their families behind, live in the home of their employer and work for at least two years before they could apply for permanent resident status and reunite with their family here in Canada.

Caregivers in Canada are treated differently from any other stream of economic migrants in that respect. Filipino caregivers must jump through more hoops and cannot bring their family with them at the outset.

The live-in caregiver program was ended after far too many stories of employer abuse and hardship were made known to the public.

Despite knowing about the systemic hardships involved in the program and the risk of abuse, thousands of Filipino women left their families in the Philippines to come to Canada to care for our families, hoping that one day, after all their hard work, they would be able to secure a better life for their own children by finally reuniting with them here.

Tragically, their PR applications were not given much priority in terms of processing efforts or immigration levels plan space. As a result, an application backlog was created and swelled to tens of thousands. That meant that for thousands of caregivers in Canada, in addition to having to wait two years to even apply, it would take years before an application would be decided.

I met caregivers who, due to these unjust delays, were separated from their families for nearly 10 years. They missed life's milestones. They missed graduations. Relationships and marriages broke down. Loved ones passed away. All while they waited.

In addition to those hardships, they had to keep paying to renew their work permits and they had to keep paying for their family members to have their medical exams done.

They had to continue to respond to IRCC on time, but IRCC did not have that same responsibility to respond to them. In some cases, children aged out of the system. That is, by the time the application finalized, the dependent children were too old to be considered dependants. Families were permanently broken up by our system's backlogs.

Since getting a true sense of this issue I have been taking on live-in caregiver applications from across Canada and my office continues to advocate tirelessly for their completion.

I was pleased to see that the minister announced that 80% of the backlog would be clear by the end of this year, but at the same time I was heartbroken. It means that for 20% of those families, there will be another Christmas apart. It does not matter how many stories I hear, because I can never really imagine what that feels like. However, these women are so strong. In the face of all of this hardship, they continue to be some of the most dedicated, optimistic people I have ever met. The hope of bringing their family together keeps them going.

The current caregivers program, caring for children and caring for high medical needs, has seen improvements to the system, but it has also put in place additional hoops that caregivers must jump through to stay. The minister quietly had the department post online notice that these programs would be ending next year. I have questioned the minister in this place on what plan there is to replace these programs. It is still unclear.

It is my hope that all members of this House support the motion before us today to recognize the contributions and heritage of the Filipino Canadian community. However, it is also my opinion that to truly recognize those contributions, we must work together to put in place a just caregiver immigration stream, one that recognizes that if they are good enough to work here, they are good enough to stay. That means permanent residence on arrival, a stream that has in mind the best interests of not just the employer's family but of the employee's family as well. That means ending the forced separation of caregivers from their families. Let us not just recognize the contributions of the Filipino community to our country; let us commit to making sure that people are no longer forced to spend even one more Christmas apart.

There is still much work to be done. In addition to this issue, there is also the medical inadmissibility situation, whereby some of the caregivers are forced to leave their family members behind because one member of their family unit has a medical inadmissibility issue. Because of that, the entire family is being rejected. We have to ask what is wrong with this picture. Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, yet we have a policy in place that discriminates against people with disabilities. This is wrong. Caregivers are impacted by this. We want to honour them, and creating a heritage month to recognize the Filipino community is welcome and absolutely to be supported.

To honour that motion and the words behind it, let us also put policies in place and change our immigration policy to ensure that those women who come here to take care of our families are not leaving their families behind, that we are not forcing the break-up of families. We can do this. Canada can do better. Let us honour the Filipino Canadian community with action as well as words.

With that, again I would like to thank the member for putting this motion forward. I ask all members of the House to work collaboratively, and I call on the minister to take action to change our immigration system. If people are good enough to work, they are good enough to stay.