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On October 7, 2015, Defense Minister Jason Kenney convened a press conference at Mount Zion Filipino Seventh-Day Adventist Church at North York, Toronto to announce what he called a "major policy announcement" concerning the Caregiver Program.
Accompanied by Mark Adler, the Conservative Party candidate for York Centre, Kenney's pledge to process 30,000 caregiver permanent residency applications in 2015 disappointed the crowd of 60 former and current caregivers. Audience members expressed surprised that Kenney's promised major policy change was simply a regurgitation of promises the Conservative government made last year.
Adler and Kenney began the conference by praising the Filipino community for their hard work in Canada, emphasizing that it was because of Filipinos' good work ethic that the Philippines became the "number one source country for immigrants in Canada." Kenney then pointed to the changes that the Conservative government made to the caregiver program.
Kenney claimed that the elimination of the live-in requirement, the provision of more stringent measures against abusive employers, and the removal of the requirement that caregivers have to pass a second medical test at the end of their contracts before they can apply for permanent residency showed the Conservative party's commitment to improving caregivers' situations. If caregivers and their families wanted to see further improvements to the caregiver program, Kenney argued that the Conservative Party provided the best platform.
After Adler and Kenney made their remarks and opened the floor for questions, a group of 20 caregivers quietly stood up and held up placards that said, "caregivers deserve permanent status on landing." The Caregiver Action Center's Pura Velasco approached the microphone and read a statement from a caregiver debunking the 'improvements' the Conservatives have made to the caregiver program. She mentioned that many caregivers under the old system were still waiting for their applications to be processed despite the government's promises. Velasco then gestured towards the group of caregivers standing, indicating that despite Immigration Minister Chris Alexander's promises in October 2014 to clear the caregiver permanent residency application backlog, some in the audience, have been waiting since 2008.
In response to Velasco's statement, Kenney mentioned that Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials should be asked about delays in processing and were ultimately responsible for why certain decisions were made on specific files.
Velasco also noted that the new changes locked caregivers in situations of employment abuse. That 90 per cent of all LMIA applications were rejected from January to March 2015 meant that caregivers who sought and found new employment were prohibited from doing so, therefore locking them into abusive contracts.
Following Kenney's response, Conservative Party aides tried to make Velasco and the caregivers holding placards sit down, to no avail.
Other caregivers asked Kenney about specific cases of caregivers being denied permanent residency because they were seen as being a "drain" to the Canadian welfare system. They said that despite the promise to eliminate the second medical exam for caregivers, CIC officials were still asking caregivers to complete these.
The final question of the night came from a journalist, who asked Kenney "what was new" about his announcement to clear the backlog.
"It is partly a reconfirmation," Kenney responded. "Sometimes when you announce these things two years in advance, implementation doesn't go according to plan."
A heckler, who was later asked to leave the room, asked Kenney how he could justify his promises to caregivers that Canada remained open to them when a "5,500 cap was in place limiting caregiver applications."
Discussions among caregivers and members of the Filipino community continued after Adler and Kenney left. At issue for many was the fact that so-called improvements have led to a marked decrease in the quality of caregivers' lives. "I will not be able to sleep tonight if I do not mention to all of you the effects of these changes. The second medical testing requirement has been reinstated, so many caregivers who have spent years of their lives apart from their families to work for Canadian families are finding that their applications are getting rejected," activist Connie Sorio stated.
Others highlighted the difficulty of meeting new language and licensing requirements. Yet others mentioned that Kenney's promises to clear the caregiver permanent residency backlog were the same ones Alexander made last year, which led them to doubt whether the backlog would really be cleared this time.
Ethel Tungohan is a Grant Notley Postdoctoral Research Fellow and a community activist.
Photo: Wayne Chu