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A broad and dynamic UFCW Canada delegation from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec recently joined more than 1,000 delegates from around the globe at the recently concluded Metropolis Conference 2012 in Toronto, Ontario. Among this year’s delegates were activists from UFCW Canada Locals 247, 401, 500, 501, 832, 1400 and the National Office.
Ensuring that UFCW Canada had a strong and vocal delegation at the conference, the union’s caucus included Robert Armstrong (500), Beatrice Bruske (832), Nora Butz (247), Ricardo De Menezes (401), Johnny Edmond (501), Mouloud Madi (501), Marie Buchan (832), Glenn Stewart (1400), Naveen Mehta (HRED National Office), Joyne Lavides (HRED National Office), Emmanuelle Lopez (HRED National Office) , Stan Raper (AWA), Pablo Godoy (SAME), Alexes Barillas (AWA), and Alex Banaag (National Office).
During the four-day conference, UFCW Canada hosted the biggest exhibition booth that featured for the first time at Metropolis an interactive UFCW Canada News Channel. Media interviews with the Globe and Mail, tweets, ticker tapes, traffic and weather updates were streamed on two monitors with “Speaker’s Corner” videos updated each day. In addition to the daily news coverage, UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley provided a strong video message that attracted many delegates in between breaks to express their comments about the union’s progressive work. Some even offered to bring UFCW Canada materials to distribute in their respective workshops and workplaces.
Entitled “Future Immigration Policies: Challenges and Opportunities for Canada,” the conference hosted plenary sessions, workshops, and roundtables that featured hundreds of speakers representing the academia, community organizations, and government agencies. Naveen Mehta, UFCW Canada Director of Human Rights, was one of the speakers in two workshops: The Ideal Immigrant: Pathways and Priorities for Contemporary Canadian Immigration Policy, and What Happens when Temporary Becomes Permanent? Examining Policy Shifts and Pathways to Permanence for Temporary Foreign Workers.
The latest edition of “Exploitation Express Magazine”, a news magazine that was developed specifically for the conference, was distributed to all delegates by being included in more than 1,000 convention kits. Having read the magazine before the start of the conference, some delegates said they were enlightened by the articles tackling the dehumanizing consequences of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
Other UFCW Canada materials at the exhibition booth that drew significant interest included the “UFCW Canada Migrant Worker Book of Abuse”, an anthology of documented cases relating to the mistreatment, exploitation and abuse of migrant workers in Canada that academics ended up requesting copies; The Jason Kenney (Federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada) Hand Sanitizer which elicited chuckles among activists, including NDP MP Olivia Chow, and sign-ups for future UFCW Canada project updates; Status on Migrant Workers Report, a box of which were gone on the first day; Agriculture Workers Alliance DVD that went like hotcakes, with the last copy flying out the door on the second day; SAME brochures and posters that compelled students to sign up for more information; the latest Agriculture Workers Report; HRED and AWA posters that found their way to many kit bags ready for dissemination in other cities; and a special donation box for delegates who wish to express their support for the Migrant Workers Family Support Fund.
During the March 1st afternoon plenary session, delegates had to listen in disappointment to Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s speech, mocking how changes in federal immigration policies will benefit Canadians. Using his own paradoxical approach, he alluded that “this is such a huge and growing problem…we still see too much unemployment and underemployment among the newcomers that we welcome to the country…”
On the third day of the conference, Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Charles Sousa was asked by a UFCW Canada delegate in a public interview about what the Ontario government is doing to address the health and safety as well as labour rights of migrant workers in Canada. Sousa simply referred to “the appointment of Chief Prevention Officer in the province of Ontario, there is now a dedicated arm of the Ministry of Labour. We’ve carved out WSIB’s health prevention to go into the Ministry of Labour, and they’re entrusted to ensure that practices, health and safety issues are addressed for migrant workers as well as all workers…”
On the last day of the conference, Olivia Chow received a rousing round of applause from delegates during the morning plenary session. In her plenary speech, she criticized Minister Kenney’s changes to the immigration policies by referring to the time when immigration policies in the 1970s allowed immigrants to bring their families, their parents and grandparents to come and settle in Canada. In an interview at the UFCW Canada exhibition booth, Chow further emphasized that “what we need is a fair and balanced immigration policy... the employer-driven direction of this Conservative government is neither fair nor balanced. Let’s change that.”