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Constitutional Class Action against Closed Work Permits Launched on Sept 14 2023 by DTMF-RHFW

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Media Advisory - Closed work permits violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms : Constitutional class action concerning closed work permits launched by RHFW.


Montreal, september 15 2023 - The Association for the Rights of Household and Farm Workers (RHFW) as plaintiff, is launching a constitutional class action suit seeking (1) recognition of the violation of the constitutional rights of those who have had a right to work in Canada imposed on them at the discretion of a specific employer or group of employers, and (2) an order for damages to compensate them for the harm they have suffered and for the violation of their fundamental rights, in addition to dissuading any future government from infringing on the fundamental rights and freedoms of (im)migrant workers.

According to Gabriel Allahdua, RHFW member and former worker on a closed permit: "I have dedicated my life to fighting for the fair treatment of migrants in Canada. Challenging restrictions on the right to change employers in the courts is one of the potentially decisive means at our disposal. The Canadian government claims that migrant workers are essential, but it ties them to their employer and excludes them at various levels, thus restricting for them access to the protection mechanisms put in place for workers."

This historic legal action is a crucial and necessary step towards recognition in Canada of the fundamental rights and dignity of all (im)migrant workers.

According to Fernanda Cortes, RHFW member and former community worker dedicated to supporting people on closed permits: "Workers tied to an employer suffer, sometimes for years, abuse and violence of an economic, physical, psychological and sexual nature in their workplace, in addition to discrimination. As their right to work in the country depends on their employer, they rarely denounce it. What's more, they are likely to fall into undeclared work or irregular status when they lose or leave their jobs. Many have been forced to return to their country of origin still in debt, with deep physical and psychological scars from the abuse experienced here, having obtained no form of justice or reparation."

For several decades now, the detrimental impact of immigration status linked to one or more specific employers has been repeatedly denounced by community groups, NGOs, unions, journalists and researchers. It has been recognized in court, before tribunals and by rights commissions, but also by various parliamentary committees and by the federal government itself.

According to Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier, Director of the Constitutional Project at RHFW: "Talking about incestuous societal histories is never pleasant. However, Canada's prosperity over the last few decades has been notably acquired through the systemic violation of human rights, on the backs of an underclass of (im)migrants placed in conditions of servitude in their workplace. It's time today to put an end to non-free work, a system that treats the worker as the quasi-property of her employer, to put an end to this chilling omerta and to these horror stories that have been repeated for too long with the complicity of the federal government."

Earlier this week, Quebec's four major labour organizations also unanimously denounced the perverse effects of the closed work permit on the working conditions of migrant workers and, by extension, on the entire labour market. They called on the governments of Quebec and Canada to abolish this type of permit.

According to Katia Lelièvre, Vice-President of the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN): "Employers use closed permits because they have the right to, just as they would pay people below minimum wage if they could. In fact, many do. The fight against closed permits is one of the great labor struggles of our time, and foreign workers can count on the labor movement and the CSN to fight alongside them."

The finding of the UN Special Rapporteur, made public last week at the end of his visit to Canada, is shameful but true: the federal government continues to place certain (im)migrants in a situation of "vulnerability to contemporary forms of slavery".

According to Hans Marotte, Political Advisor, Fédération des Travailleuses et Travailleurs du Québec: "Closed work permits create two classes of workers that run counter to all the principles of equity and justice worthy of a democratic society. The situation is alarming not only for domestic and farm workers, but also for a host of other trades. As a central labour body, we have always campaigned to improve working conditions for everyone, whether unionized or not, and this recourse is a major step in the right direction towards putting an end to a horror that has been going on for too long on Canadian soil."

The federal government doesn't have to use closed permits to achieve its goals. It could admit more immigrant families more quickly. At the same time, it could create a fast-track admission program with quotas for open work permits by skill type. It could recognize unconditional access to permanent status as soon as a work permit is issued. It could also provide automatic permits for spouses and children. These are all ways of meeting Canada's labour needs while respecting the rights, dignity and integrity of (im)migrant workers.

According to Lauriane Palardy, President of the RHFW Board of Directors and a lawyer with Justice Pro Bono: "To prevent a human being from changing employers is to deprive them of their freedom and dignity. We urgently need to do something about this and mobilize against the vulnerability of (im)migrant workers."

This recourse to the courts is intended to emancipate all those currently in the country under restrictive work authorization, to obtain justice for the past and to prevent, in Canada and elsewhere, the consolidation of employment regimes of unfree, replaceable and disposable people, who are migrants. Immigration is certainly socially positive and necessary, including for workforce development; but state restriction of workers' freedom, security and access to justice has never been, and never will be, justifiable in a free and democratic society.

For more information: Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier
Executive Director
Association for the Rights of Household and Farm Workers (RHFW)
eugenie.depatie-pelletier@dtmf-rhfw.org 514-535-0142

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