Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Latin American heritage month

Close to 40,000 people in the Lower Mainland have Latin American heritage. The community is vibrant and diverse, and every year there are plenty of wonderful events and activities highlighting and celebrating their culture. This year, from June 27 to July 8, Vancouver will celebrate Latin American Week. Carnaval del Sol, a free family-friendly festival, is always one of the biggest attractions. This year will be the 10th annual Carnaval del Sol, and will feature close to 400 performers showcasing singers, dancers, bands, and incredible food. Latin American Week will give people the opportunity to attend cooking classes, dancing classes, a fashion show, and plenty of arts and crafts displays highlighting the diversity of Vancouver's Latin American community. From August 23 to September 2, Vancouver will have its 16th annual Latin American Film Festival showcasing contemporary Latin American and Latin Canadian filmmaking. I encourage all Canadians to check similar events in their communities or in communities nearby, as festivals and events like these happen across Canada each year. If there is not one in their community, I invite people to come to Vancouver and check out ours.

 

I and my New Democratic Party colleagues are proud supporters of Canada's multiculturalism and have long supported celebrating the unique heritage of Canada and Canadians. Our great diversity has allowed Canada to be built through the contributions of many different ethnic and religious groups, and those with Latin American heritage are most certainly among them. Canada's rich cultural mosaic is one of the things that makes Canada what it is today. It is a huge strength that we should all celebrate and be proud of. Events like Vancouver's Latin American Week and Latin American Film Festival put on display for all of us the richness of our society. The opportunity to speak to this and to attend events like those mentioned is one of the many reasons I have been honoured to be the NDP critic for multiculturalism.

The other hat that I wear for the New Democratic Party is that of critic for immigration, refugees, and citizenship. I feel it is important to examine bills like this from that lens as well, because actions speak louder than words. Recognizing Canada's diverse cultures and heritage is important, but it is even more important to recognize how we treat the people of that culture and heritage. According to the 2016 census, over 1.4 million Canadians identified as having Caribbean origin, or Latin, Central, or South American origins.

However, this number does not truly reflect how many individuals with Latin American heritage are in Canada and contributing immensely to Canada's society and economy. While none of Canada's top-10 source countries for new permanent residents are in Latin America, seven of the top-20 countries for temporary foreign workers annually are. Mexico and Jamaica are the top countries of origin for temporary foreign workers in Canada. Additionally, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Brazil, held top spots in 2017. These countries alone accounted for almost 37,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada, on positive labour market impact assessments from January to September.

The seasonal agricultural worker program sees an additional 30,000 labourers coming to Canada each year, primarily from Mexico, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries. People from this program provide vital contributions to Canada, working long hard hours in Canada's agriculture industry to ensure our crops are harvested and sent to market.

I do not believe we can truly recognize the contributions of Latin Americans to Canada without recognizing the immense contributions of Latin Americans who, due to how our immigration system functions, come here every year to provide vital services while lacking a pathway to making Canada their home. While these programs are structured to fill temporary needs, some research has shown that many agricultural workers have been coming to Canada for 10 years or more. Neither the seasonal agricultural worker program nor the agricultural workers stream of the temporary foreign worker program offer a pathway to permanence for these people, and force them to leave their families back home while in Canada.

While doing this incredibly important work in Canada, these workers often find themselves excluded from workplace protections that Canadians take for granted, even if they are paying for them. Workers in the seasonal agricultural worker program are not eligible for employment insurance despite it being deducted from their paycheques, and they are excluded from most aspects of employment standards acts, to name just two issues.

If we are to celebrate Latin American heritage in Canada and designate October to be Latin American heritage month, we need to match these words with actions. Let us not just recognize the importance of diversity and the joy of attending beautiful festivals and celebrations, but examine how our policies prevent the people whose heritage we say we appreciate from staying in Canada and calling it their home. Let us use this opportunity to realign our policies to recognize how much we rely on Latin American people in Canada by ensuring that we provide them with the ability to become a Canadian citizen. I have always said that if they are good enough to work here, they are good enough to stay. That approach should be the foundational principle for Canada's immigration policies.

In recognition of the contribution of the Latin American community, let us begin that work. Let us make sure that for all those who come to contribute to Canada in a permanent fashion, in a temporary fashion, and particularly for the temporary foreign workers, that we honour them by ensuring that if they are good enough to work here, they are good enough to stay.