At a news conference to announce new measures to protect vulnerable foreign workers from the risk of abuse and exploitation
July 4, 2012
Good afternoon and thank you all for being here. Ladies and gentlemen we all know that human trafficking is a growing aspect of organized crime worldwide, including Canada. The victims of human trafficking, who are mainly women and children, are denied a normal life and are compelled to provide labour services through a variety of coercive practices for the profit of the people who control them.
We have good reason to believe that temporary foreign workers entering Canada to work in sex-related businesses are often at a high level of risk. In a 2010 report on human trafficking in Canada from the RCMP, it said that “human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has been mostly associated to organized prostitution. Specifically, human trafficking has been found to occur discretely behind prostitution fronts like escort agencies and residential brothels and is extremely difficult for law enforcement to detect without proactive investigations. Organized crime networks with Eastern European links have been involved in the organized entry of women from former Soviet states into Canada for employment in escort services in the Greater Toronto Area and possibly in massage and escort services in the Montreal area.” That’s just one example from the RCMP of the problem. Of course, it’s much broader than just that.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program already has a number of provisions to ensure the well-being of temporary foreign workers during their stay in Canada. For example, workers sign contracts, they’re registered with the Workers’ Compensation Board, their workplace conditions are overseen by the relevant provincial labour agency, and they receive private or public health care coverage.
While in Canada temporary foreign workers also have the same rights and protections as Canadian workers under applicable federal/provincial employment standards and labour laws. They’re paid at the same rate that a Canadian worker would be for the same job. In April of last year, regulatory changes came into effect to strengthen the protection of temporary foreign workers and improve the integrity of that program.
This was an important step forward. Amongst other things, you can blacklist bad employers under those regulations. Today, my colleague Diane Finley and I are announcing measures to further strengthen protections for temporary foreign workers, especially those who might be subject to degrading treatment and human trafficking.
As Minister Finley is also announcing in Toronto, Canada is barring businesses related to the sex industry from accessing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. We are doing so to protect foreign nationals from threats related to sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The Government cannot in good conscience continue to admit temporary foreign workers to work in businesses in sectors where there are reasonable grounds to suspect a risk of sexual exploitation.
That’s why, effective July 14, 2012, immigration officers will no longer process any work permit applications from foreign nationals seeking employment in a strip club, escort service or massage parlour, essentially denying businesses related to the sex trade access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
For its part, effective immediately, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada will no longer authorize such businesses to hire temporary foreign workers under the program.
In addition, as of July 28, foreign nationals issued new open work permits – which normally would allow people to work for any employer – will be restricted from working in these sectors through a condition to be inserted into their work permits. That’s to plug a potential loophole.
These changes reflect our Government’s ongoing commitment to strengthen partnerships and collaboration to prevent and combat the crime, the odious crime, of human trafficking, often described as modern-day slavery.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think we could all agree that Canada’s immigration system should not be used or abused to exploit vulnerable people. Supporting businesses that pose these risks of exploitation is clearly not a good use of Canada’s immigration system or its resources. People being brought to Canada to work as exotic dancers or escorts are particularly at risk of being exploited or abused. Denying these sectors access to temporary foreign workers will help to protect vulnerable applicants by keeping them out of these types of situations in the first place.
I should also point out that today the Safe Streets and Communities Act, known as Bill C-10, comes into force, and that as well gives me as the Minister of Immigration the authority to issue instructions to our visa officers around the world – which I will be doing – instructing them that if they have evidence that an applicant for a work permit abroad is likely to face degrading or humiliating treatment in Canada, that they can and should refuse the visa.
That demonstrates that we’re taking this approach on July 14 that I’ve announced, which is Ministerial instructions so that we will no longer issue work permits in these sectors, in addition to which overseas visa officers will be able to deny work permits if they believe someone’s going to face degrading or humiliating treatment. This is in addition to earlier initiatives our Government took to combat human trafficking and support its victims.
For example, in 2008, our Government introduced a special policy of a temporary resident permit of 18 months for victims fleeing human trafficking situations. That is to say, if a foreign girl finds herself being trafficked by criminal gangs in Canada and she escapes the situation, in the past she might have been deterred from doing that because the criminals might have told her that she then could be subject to deportation if she was not living in Canada legally or in status. We clarified that.
Now we send out a message to the prospective victims of human trafficking that if they flee their captors they will not be punished. In terms of our immigration rules, they will have at least temporary status for 18 months as they try to regularize their situation and get their lives back in order. We provide them with counselling and other social support.
These are also measures that are included in our broader action plan on combating human trafficking, which was released by my colleague Vic Toews last month, which provides a comprehensive strategy for combating human trafficking. It includes, for example, criminal penalties that we have introduced through legislative changes, such as, for example, a five-year minimum mandatory prison sentence for those who are convicted of trafficking in minors, that is to say literally buying and selling human beings under the age of 18.
These all constitute part of an ambitious agenda of our Government to combat this terrible form of slavery and exploitation. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to protect the vulnerable.