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What's missing from the coverage of the Amanda Lang-RBC saga?

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News of CBC anchor Amanda Lang trying to "kill" a CBC story on RBC hiring of foreign workers back in 2013 has hit the airwaves. Initially revealed on Jesse Brown's Canadaland, the story is now being covered in many mainstream media outlets.

Today (January 13), Kathy Tomlinson, the journalist who was quarterbacking the story on the so-called RBC-TFWP scandal went on the record to explain what happened on an April 8 teleconference where Amanda Lang allegedly tried to kill Tomlinson’s story. 

Tomlinson says,

"She [Amanda Lang] argued hard that it was not about temporary foreign workers -- that what RBC was doing was outsourcing.  I explained how we knew that RBC's contractor iGate was bringing in temporary foreign workers -- under two different visa programs -- and that those workers for staying in Canada for extended periods -- years, in some cases. Canadian workers were expected to train them, in this case, as their replacements."

What Tomlinson, the CBC or Canadaland doesn't clarify, is that Amanda Lang was also right.

As the initial story by Tomlinson on April 6, 2013 revealed, the workers being brought to work at the RBC were being trained to transition the RBC investor regulatory and financial applications team to India. In essence, rather than moving a department to India and sending over current managers to train the new workforce, RBC was flying in Indian managers, training them in Canada and then having them transition the department abroad.

By focussing on the foreignness of the workers and raising questions on the so-called improper use of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, the CBC fanned the flame of xenophobia and racism and propelled a massive Canada-wide uproar against immigrant workers. Facebook pages popped up, rallies were held, and a general anti-foreign worker sentiment set in that has only grown since.

The CBC finally released one story on April 11 that heard from the voices of immigrant workers detailing their mistreatment and abusive manoeuvres to shut them out of permanent immigration status, but the overall frame of the CBC continued to pit "foreign" workers against "immigrant" workers. No story was developed to elaborate how these so-called foreign workers were actually immigrants-in-waiting and could apply for permanent status in Canada after being here for two years. Nothing was said about how under the current immigration system, the vast majority of people that would be able to get permanent status in the country would have to work here on temporary permits first. None of the breaking stories even remotely suggested the possibility of granting permanent status and full rights to migrant workers in the country.

In its initial report on Amanda Lang's conflict of interest, Sean Craig described the impact of the CBC coverage on RBC in glowing terms: "Tomlinson's story would make headlines around the country, set off a national debate about corporate abuse of labour laws, draw a direct response from the Prime Minister, prompt legislative reforms to the government’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) and win a Gold reporting award from the Canadian Association of Journalists."

There are two critical errors here. Tomlinson's story did not spark a debate about corporate abuse of labour laws. Migrant workers and their allies have been organizing for decades highlighting the ways in which employers abuse workers, and how labour laws exclude migrant workers from protections. What Tomlinson's story and the subsequent manufactured outrage did was fuel the xenophobic charge that blames migrants for "stealing" Canadian jobs. The so-called "reforms" to the TFWP were actually laws that would result in wholesale deportation of thousands of people, what some of us called the largest mass deportation in recent history. Interestingly, the so-called "reforms" are entirely directed towards lower-waged workers (which are most often poorer women and racialized people) and do not actually even address iGate type migration to Canada.

Had Amanda Lang's concerns actually been reflected in the resulting CBC coverage and the story was made as much about outsourcing, as it was made to be about foreign workers -- a healthier and more informed debate would have taken place. In the absence of it, RBC quickly cut ties with iGate, likely resulting in the removal of the would-be immigrants who were working here before they could regularize their status.  The outsourcing of jobs by various companies in Canada continues.

Had the CBC ethically pointed out the massive shift in Canadian immigration policies where most immigrants have no choice but to come to the country as "temporary" workers, both in the RBC story, and the following year’s GoPublic story concerning restaurant workers, there may have been a vigorous debate on what just migration looks like within the context of global displacement -- which Canada profits from -- nd job-less local economic recovery.

Instead, we are left with a hollowed out debate where many believe that foreign workers are the cause of unemployment, a pitting of Canadian citizens, particularly unemployed and low-wage citizens against incoming low-wage immigrants. As Chris Ramsaroop and I wrote about the RBC scandal back in 2013, "don't believe the hype". 

Jesse Brown's Canadaland has done critical work shedding light on Jian Ghomeshi's violent and abusive behavior and helped further a national debate on rape culture and patriarchy in Canada. This current expose however by focusing solely on conflict of interest that Amanda Lang had without a clear analysis of her statements fails us all. Yes, we need media outlets that aren't in the pockets of big business, but we also need to question the ways in which media outlets are fanning racisms.


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