A multimedia project puts a human face on the impact of drastic changes made by the Conservative government to Canada’s migration policies.
By: Nicholas Keung – Immigration reporter
Published on Wed Sep 02 2015
Source: The Star
A Palestinian man caught in statelessness in Canada. A Mexican journalist’s battle against Ottawa to prove her country’s inability to protect her. A Filipino caregiver’s degrading experience as a temporary foreign worker.
These three migrants are among those whose stories are featured in an innovative multimedia project that puts a human face on the impact of the drastic changes made by the Conservative government to the immigration and refugee system in the past decade.
Their stories in videos, along with a detailed report released this week, are part of an initiative called Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration, led by Vancouver-based advocacy groups No One Is Illegal and S**tHarperDid. Its purpose is to assess these reforms in the run-up to the Oct. 19 federal election.
“The entire immigration system has been overhauled by this government. There are so many new policies. People have become numbers, and it’s hard to understand the full impacts of these changes,” said Omar Chu, of No One Is Illegal.
“These videos highlight people in different immigration streams. Citizenship is harder to get, easier to lose. Refugees can lose their permanent residency by cessation. Family class is reduced. There are more and more temporary foreign workers. No one ever feels fully at home here anymore.”
The project examines Ottawa’s various reforms, from citizenship to family reunification, detention, deportation and funding priorities. Chu said one common theme has emerged: How these new policies are, in effect, legislating discrimination and creating a class of less-worthy citizens.
Chu’s group began the project a year ago, and its timing to the upcoming election was coincidental. But he said immigration policies should be debated by candidates of all political stripes.
That fits the mandates of S**tHarperDid, an advocacy group formed by comedians and filmmakers that became prominent in 2011 with comic videos critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government.
“We wanted to use our creative talents to confront political injustices that we felt were occurring relatively unnoticed,” said Sean Devlin, the group’s executive director.
“We hope that this project will help more Canadians see migrants as human beings, first and foremost, as people who are often forced to find a new home by global systems of power that Canada both contributes to and profits from.”
Multimedia journalist Nicky Young did some of the interviews for the project and was touched by the stories he heard.
“I cried a few times,” said Young, who grew up in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood. “After doing all these (interviews), I realized (immigration) status is everything some people think about. I learned how I’d taken my status, my citizenship, for granted.”
Young said he believes in the power of storytelling and hopes the Never Home videos can shed light on immigration and refugee issues that are overlooked by politicians and other Canadians.
Hamoudi Gharaieb: ‘Why are we treated like second, third-class citizens?’
Hamoudi Gharaieb, 36, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, came to Canada in 2010 to be with the Canadian woman who was his wife at the time. He never applied for legal status and was arrested by Canadian border officials in 2013.
Canada tried and failed to deport him, because Israel refused him entry, he says. Ottawa has refused to grant him permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds, even though it can’t remove him.
“We are paying taxes here, but we have no status. My beef with Canada is the government is legislating immigration laws to take migrants’ rights away. Why are we treated like second, third-class citizens?” he asked.
Karla Lottini: ‘I just feel a moral obligation to share my story’
Veteran Mexican journalist Karla Lottini says she was threatened when she uncovered fraud and corruption at a government cultural department. The 41-year-old fled to Canada in 2008 after a gun was pointed at her sister.
A refugee judge denied her asylum claim, citing her failure to “establish the existence of well-founded fear” or prove her country was incapable of offering her protection. She was ultimately granted permanent resident status in Canada on humanitarian grounds in 2013.
“Canada says Mexico is a safe place and refuses asylum. I know of corruption, violence and impunity in Mexico. I’m the 1 per cent of people whose life was saved here,” she said. “That was my experience with the Canadian system. I know the power of the media. I just feel a moral obligation to share my story.”
Hessed Torres: ‘I lost respect for myself’
Hessed Torres, 29, came to Canada in 2014 under the old live-in caregiver program. Soon after, the former registered nurse from the Philippines learned the harsh realities of being a temporary migrant worker.
While she was brought in by a family to look after a man with multiple sclerosis, she says, her employer required her to do yard work and other duties that were not in her contract. Worse, she says, she was never paid for her overtime work.
She says she was later terminated because she failed a driver’s exam and couldn’t drive her client to medical appointments.
“I worked at 12 midnight, not getting paid overtime, not a single cent. It’s painful because of what it does to my dignity … I lost respect for myself,” she said. “People tell me, you have so much skill and you talk fluent in English. But none of that matters because my status is so precarious, and I’m just one of the caregivers you see pushing around strollers or driving or walking pets.”