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Agents kept tabs on workers




Carol Sandres


Didn't advise Three Amigos of requirements, lawyer contends

Newspaper title

Winnipeg Free Press

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Three Canada border services agents who got the so-called Three Amigos busted in Thompson last summer will have some explaining to do when they appear in court next month.
An Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator on Wednesday granted human rights lawyer David Matas's motion to question investigators in the case. The Winnipeg-based agents were in Thompson last spring watching the three temporary foreign workers dubbed "the Three Amigos" long before they were in violation of the 90 days' grace allowed to have work permit status restored by a new employer, the court heard.
"If my clients had known what to do, they would've done it," said Matas, who is representing the three Filipino workers through Legal Aid Manitoba. "It's a form of entrapment," he said after the admissibility hearing.
Antonio Laroya, Arnisito Gaviola and Ermie Zotomayor were making $10 an hour at the Thompson gas bar until they were arrested last summer for working without valid work permits. They were laid off from jobs in Alberta and said they were told by their new employer in Manitoba he'd take care of the labour market opinion and other documents needed to restore their work permits. Meanwhile, Canada Border Services Agency investigators declared they'd been watching them work in March and April. They didn't counsel them on what was legally required of them. Their 90 days' grace expired in May, and the Filipino foreign workers were arrested in June by police.
Their admissibility hearing Wednesday was put over to March 15, when the three Canada Border Services Agency investigators can appear in court. The three men's status remains in limbo and they can't work to support their families in the Philippines or themselves. They're getting financial help and moral support from friends, church groups and Filipino labour organizations like Damayan Manitoba and Migrante Canada.
The men came to Canada from the Philippines after paying recruiters hefty fees to work in low-paying service jobs in Alberta. When they were laid off, they had 90 days to restore their work permits but were ineligible for benefits from the Employment Insurance to which they'd contributed. They found jobs in Thompson.
The Three Amigos, like many low-skilled temporary foreign workers, were caught in a jam, Matas said at press conference after court.
"What we're seeing now is the problem of abuse of migrant workers," he said. Matas said workers are paying placement fees when they should not be charged. "You shouldn't have to pay to get a job," said Matas, adding foreign workers are also being exploited by employers when it comes to transportation costs.
The employer is responsible for their airfare home at the end of their contract but the workers are laid off and the cost is passed along to the next employer. "It creates a termination incentive."
Matas said workers can restore their status within 90 days of losing a job but it puts them in a vulnerable position. With no income, they have to find work, apply for the work permit and hope their employer is registered in Manitoba to hire temporary foreign workers and fills out their end of the paperwork.
"These people were trying to deal with the system as best they could," Matas said of the three Filipino men. "It shouldn't have happened this way." The border services agents should have said "stop" and told them the proper procedures to follow, not lain in wait for them, he said.
He's hoping the Filipino men receive temporary residence permits that will allow them to stay in Canada to get their affairs and work permits in order. "We are frustrated," Gaviola said at the news conference. "We've been waiting a long time since we (were) arrested. Our families in our country are affected."
He said his family back home is down to two meals a day, and they can't afford to buy the youngest one milk. Instead, they rely on water.
At one point, he felt like giving up and returning to the Philippines but, with extremely high unemployment there, he wants to stay and work in Canada. "We hope we finish as soon as possible," he said.


Economic sectors


Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

Manitoba and Philippines