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Former Alberta immigration minister demands investigation of UCP candidate's labour abuses

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Former Alberta deputy premier and minister of employment and immigration Thomas Lukaszuk (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Former Alberta Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk has written federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen urging him to open a formal investigation into serious allegations a temporary foreign worker was improperly treated by a business person who is now a United Conservative Party candidate in Calgary.

Lukaszuk, who was also Alberta's deputy premier during the Progressive Conservative government of Alison Redford, notes in his letter to Hussein that as a former provincial employment and immigration minister he has "considerable knowledge on the subject of the Temporary Foreign Workers program and the potential for abuse under this system."

Lukaszuk's letter to Hussen references the serious allegations by Amandeep Singh Panesar, who said he arrived in Canada from Punjab in 2008 as a temporary foreign worker, about Devinder Toor, the UCP candidate in the Calgary-Falconridge riding. Panesar's sworn statement has been widely distributed on social media and to journalists.

In the sworn statement -- the authenticity of which was confirmed to Press Progress by Ashok Sareen, the Calgary Commissioner of Oaths who also signed the letter -- Panesar described events he said took place when he went to work at a Calgary liquor store owned by Toor in 2008. These, he said in his statutory declaration, included discovering the position he was told in India he had been hired to fill did not actually exist, being paid less than the agreed upon amount, having wages withheld, having to work seven days a week, and being asked to surrender his passport to his employer.

In conversations he had with Panesar, Lukaszuk wrote, Panesar told him "that he raised these concerns earlier, in writing, with Alberta's United Conservative Party leader, Jason Kenney."

Kenney, it must be noted, was during part of his lengthy tenure as a Conservative MP in Ottawa the federal minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and was embroiled in a bitter national controversy about the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program and its abuse by some employers.

"Unfortunately," Lukaszuk wrote to Hussen, "these allegations were dismissed by UCP without being forwarded for proper investigation."

"When anyone is made aware of allegations of abuse, I would hope that they would immediately refer these concerns to the RCMP and/or the federal Minister so that they can be thoroughly investigated," he continued. Noting that the immigration status and financial barriers faced by workers living in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program often makes them vulnerable, he added, "these workers deserve our protection and they are entitled to have their complaints fully investigated by the proper authorities, not by unqualified, partisan internal political panels."

"It is unconscionable that any organization, particularly a political party led by a former minister of Citizenship and Immigration would not pass such information on to appropriate authorities," Lukaszuk said to Hussen.

"In view of the above, I am writing you today in hopes that you will consider opening an investigation into Mr. Panesar’s serious allegations," Lukaszuk concluded.

You have to wonder if Jason Kenney will come to rue the day he called Lukaszuk a foul-mouthed epithet in an email and then hit "reply all," sending it to the office and political staff of all Conservative MPs in Ottawa, presumably to ensure Lukaszuk was made aware of his sentiments.

That was in 2012. Responding to a request by an aide asking if any Conservative MP would host Lukaszuk, then the deputy premier, during a visit to Ottawa, Kenney responded, misspelling the minister's name, "I say a definite 'no' to Lukaszyk. I don't think it makes sense to create a precedent to do a special caucus meeting for every visiting minister from the provincial government. Plus he is a complete and utter asshole."

Kenney eventually apologized -- after being asked three times in the House of Commons by then acting Liberal Leader Bob Rae if he would do so -- but a legacy doubtless remains.

This is certainly not to suggest Lukaszuk is not sincere about the concerns for foreign working people on the path to citizenship expressed in his letter. But it's probable Kenney's history nevertheless lent a certain grim satisfaction to Lukaszuk's request.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: David J Climenhaga.

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