Demonstrators in Sudbury demand fairness for migrants

By Jim Moodie | Sudbury Star

When the recent high school grad began exploring funding options to attend Laurentian University, however, it “felt like there was this big, huge wall,” she said. That’s because Adeoti hails from Nigeria and, despite having lived in Canada for three years, has not yet secured permanent residency.

“Whenever I would fill out an application for a scholarship or bursary, they would always ask, ‘What is your status in Canada?’” she said. “And because I couldn’t tick that box, I was told it was not for me.”

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She had similar problems applying for student aid and it was only through persistence that she finally managed to secure a loan.

“After a while I was lucky and spoke to the right people, who helped me to get into OSAP, but no-one should go through that torment just to get tuition for education,” she said. “I persevered, but a lot of people can’t and then they just decide, you know what, I’m not interested in going to school anymore because this problem is too much.”

Adeoti was one of several new Canadians from the Sudbury area to speak at a rally Sunday outside the office of Nickel Belt MP Marc Serre in Val Caron. Serre was there, too, standing among the protesters and listening to their concerns.

“We are one of many migrant rights actions taking place all across Ontario, and Canada in fact, to ensure the voices of migrant workers are being heard in advance of the throne speech this coming Wednesday,” explained Scott Florence, director of the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre.

The protesters are calling on Ottawa to extend full and permanent immigration status to all newcomers, be they “migrants, refugees, undocumented, students, workers, homeless, criminalized, sex workers, families,” according to a release from SWEAC.


About two-dozen people were in attendance at the Val Caron event, representing hundreds more in Sudbury who have moved here for work or school, or to escape persecution in their homelands, but do not enjoy the same protections and services as full citizens.

“I spent 15 years of my life in Africa and I do love my country; I am proud of where I came from,” said Adeoti. “But there are so many things wrong with it and it became super dangerous at one point, so we had to leave.”

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About 200 other Nigerians have made Sudbury home in recent years, but they are “just one of many ethnocultural groups that are refugees and asylum-seekers here,” said Florence. “We also have a sizeable number of international students at our three post-secondary institutions — probably a good thousand — and then of course workers who are here on work permits.”

Some of these temporary foreign workers toil on farms in the area, he said, while others — including white-collar workers — are hired by mining companies. Still more work as nannies or on the front lines of the pandemic.

“What unites all of these groups is they don’t have access to the same rights Canadians have,” said Florence. “They don’t have the same access to health care, or social services, or to justice.”

Many migrant workers are “tied to a sole employer,” he noted. “If they’re no longer with that employer, they have to leave the country — which makes if very difficult for somebody to speak out about abuse or exploitation that they’re experiencing at work.”

The plight of agricultural workers in particular has drawn a lot of attention of late, as they have toiled in tough conditions during the coronavirus scare to help ensure Canadians have food on their plates.

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“We’ve been reading a lot about how this has been an incubator for COVID and several migrant farm workers have died,” said Florence.

The media focus has been on agricultural operations in the south of the province but Sudbury also hosts temporary farm labourers, he said, whose stories are not often told.

“The system is actually designed to hide and silence the voices of the migrant workers on whom we depend,” he said. “They are many times bused in and isolated on the farms. We never see these workers, because they are kept working for incredibly long hours, often in atrocious conditions, and don’t have the time or transportation to go anywhere.”

Often they are also paid less than minimum wage, he pointed out, which of course benefits the employer’s bottom line.

“As we’ve learned through COVID, we cannot actually run our food chain without migrant workers,” said Florence. 

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At the same time, however, “we’ve taken away all of the normal protections they would get under the Employment Standards Act,” he said. “And we’ve built these systems because the exploitation of these workers is economically advantageous to businesses and Canadians.”

Not only is it important to address this injustice through legislative reform, said Florence, but people must be reminded that doing so will not pose a threat to their own livelihoods.

“You still hear ‘immigrants are our taking jobs,’ ” he said. “Immigrants are not taking our jobs. You can’t get Canadians to do the work of migrant workers because they won’t put up with the hours and the amount of pay. Immigrants are doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do — and in many cases, they are an essential work.”

Others had jobs until COVID-19 came around, and then lost them, as was the case for Adeoti’s father. 

Meanwhile, she and her two younger brothers have not seen their mother in three years, as she had to remain behind in Nigeria.

The hope is she will be able to join them soon, the daughter said, but that hinges on the outcome of an immigration hearing that the family is still anxiously — and patiently — awaiting.

“We have been here three years and still haven’t been called for a hearing,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, wondering if we will be approved or sent back, and every day it gets harder.”

Florence acknowledged the Trudeau government has fast-tracked some residency applications “as a thank you for the work immigrants have been doing in long-term care homes and hospitals,” but pointed out many other refugees “are also doing essential work — in daycares, schools and grocery stores, or as security guards and cleaners.”

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Those present at Sunday’s rally stressed they were “happy to be in Canada and grateful for what they have,” he said. “But they need more. They’ve been putting their lives at risk, and if they get COVID and get sick, they can’t access the health-care system the way Canadians can. So at its heart this is a human rights issue.”

Adeoti said her family felt warmly embraced when they arrived in Canada, first settling in Quebec, where she quickly learned to speak French. Toronto — their next stop — felt a bit too populous and overwhelming, however, so they headed north.

“My dad is always about education and how to make us better, so he decided we’re moving to a more quiet place,” she said. “That’s when we decided to come to Sudbury to finish our education.”

She completed her Grade 12 here, while also getting involved politically.

“A year ago I volunteered for Marc Serre for his campaign,” she said. 

Joining the rally outside the MP’s office wasn’t an attack on the representative or his party, but “a chance to talk about these issues that a lot of people go through but aren’t allowed to voice, because of the way the system is.”

She said she appreciates everything Canada has done for her but feels too many hurdles remain for families who are trying to fit in and find their way, while contributing to the community.

“Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying the immigration system is not good,” she said. “I’m just saying there’s still more work to be done. That barrier, that discouragement and discrimination about ‘you’re not a citizen,’ that needs to go.”

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