Legislated Inequality: How Canada’s two-tier system of migration endangers our heritage of enabling immigrants on the path to citizenship

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

OTTAWA, November 13, 2012 — Canada’s vastly expanded program of temporary migration represents a radical shift in the country’s immigration policy that threatens Canada’s history as a country of immigrants on the path to citizenship, according to a new collection on this growing phenomenon published this month.

“By creating a two-tier system of migration, we are endangering our heritage as a nation,” says Patti Tamara Lenard, an Assistant Professor of Ethics at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and co-editor of the collection, Legislated Inequality.

“Canada has relied on immigrants who are on the road to citizenship to build and maintain a strong economy,” says Lenard. “But temporary migration programs, especially those that target low-skilled workers, create a class of migrants who are destined to remain on the margins of Canadian society.”

Legislated Inequality, which is co-edited with fellow University of Ottawa Assistant Professor of Ethics Christine Straehle, showcases the work of 24 academics specializing in sociology, political science, migration and gender studies from across Canada. It is published by McGill-Queen's University Press.

The collection is the first to take an in-depth look at the Canadian government`s increased dependence on temporary migrants to fill the country’s requirements for low-skilled labour. What began in the 1960s as a limited program for several hundred agricultural workers from Jamaica hired to assist with the harvest in Ontario has mushroomed to include tens of thousands of caregivers for children and the elderly, and a vast range of agricultural workers and employees in hotels, restaurants, manufacturing and other low-skilled occupations.

Unlike higher-skill immigrants who are encouraged to seek landed immigrant status in Canada and are quickly put on the path to citizenship, most of these temporary migrants are relegated to a merry-go-round of temporary stays in Canada followed by forced returns to their native countries.

The collection includes detailed accounts of the trials that migrants experience as they travel to Canada from Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica and other destinations in the global south every year. They are forced to put up with inadequate housing, virtually no job security and sometimes dangerous working environments. No Canadian worker would be required to endure these conditions.

The study also looks at different provincial approaches to the issue, including Manitoba’s successful effort to integrate temporary workers into life in the province, partly by facilitating their permanent resident application process.

Temporary labour migrants are among the most vulnerable people in Canada, according to Lenard and Straehle, and this collection is intended to draw  attention to the challenges they face in their quest to improve their lives and those of their families.  “We think it’s time that Canadians consider the impact of these policies and urge their government to renounce its plans to ‘legislate inequality’,” the authors say.

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Néomie Duval
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