Public forum aims to overcome 'wall of disbelief' over abuse of migrant workers

A public forum in Charlottetown will aim to shine a light on the situation migrant workers face in Canada.

Social justice lawyer Fay Faraday will speak at a Cooper Institute public forum in Charlottetown

Migrant workers can find themselves in a position where it is difficult to stand up for their rights. (Lindsay Carroll/CBC)

A public forum in Charlottetown will aim to shine a light on the situation migrant workers face in Canada.

Fay Faraday, a Toronto-based social justice lawyer who will speak at the forum, told Mainstreet P.E.I. these events are important.

"The degree of exploitation and the nature of exploitation of these workers is really quite shocking," said Faraday.

"What we're often faced with is a real wall of disbelief that this kind of treatment can happen in Canada."

Faraday has been working with migrant workers since 1990, and said she can still be shocked by the stories she hears.

Treatment a product of the immigration system

The abuse can start before workers arrive, said Faraday.

Recruiters can charge large fees to find workers a place in Canada, which can put workers in debt before they have even earned their first dollar.

Once in the country, they are reliant on their employer, Faraday said. Their work permits are only good for one job, in one place, with that one employer.

The treatment of migrant workers is a predictable product of the immigration system, says Fay Faraday. (CBC)

If the work is not what they were told it would be, or the pay is lower, or even if the work is dangerous, it can be difficult for workers to assert their rights, she said, and those who do can face deportation.

"The level of rights erosion is really shocking to the Canadian consciousness and there's a reluctance to believe it's true," said Faraday.

The system is set up to put migrant workers at a disadvantage, she said, and it should not come as a surprise to anyone that others will take advantage of that.

Immigration system skewed by class

Temporary status is the only option open for labourers who want to come to Canada, said Faraday.

Skilled workers and professionals have access to routes to immigration that are not available to labourers.

Fay Faraday has been working with migrant workers since 1990, and says she can still be shocked by the stories she hears. (CBC)

"There is a need for working class workers in our economy, there always will be, and to close the door to permanent immigration is a problem," she said.

The forum on migrant workers, sponsored by the Cooper Institute, will be held at the Farm Centre in Charlottetown on March 27.