We relied on these workers through the worst of the pandemic. Will Canada let them stay?

We relied on these workers through the worst of the pandemic. Will Canada let them stay?

July 30, 2021

Signs thanking front-line workers popped up all over the country in the early days of the pandemic.

The fact that many of these essential workers did not have citizenship or permanent residency meant they also did not have the same legal rights, workplace protections or access to health care as Canadians. And, it quickly became clear, the consequences of this, in a pandemic, would be tragic. In early spring there were raging COVID outbreaks among temporary foreign workers on commercial farms. These labourers work in close quarters and live in even closer ones, in communal bunkhouses and crowded trailers. By summer, at least 1,700 had been infected and three had died. Next the problem spread to meat processing: the largest workplace-based COVID outbreak in the country was at a Cargill meat plant in High River, Alta. that for years had relied on the labour of refugee claimants, temporary foreign workers and international students to run its factory. And then long-term care: As COVID began to wreak havoc in nursing homes, it emerged that a huge portion of the personal care workers who were becoming infected were refugee claimants and undocumented workers, who did not have access to the health-care system. Few farm workers, meat packers or care workers, bound by the need for their jobs and the need to stay in the country, felt they could speak out about a lack of personal protective equipment or unsafe conditions.

The pandemic brought into stark relief an inherent and long-standing contradiction at the heart of Canada’s immigration policy.