BY: CAROLINE ROLF
For more than 50 years, migrant workers come to Canada to tend to our fields, work in our orchards and toil inside our greenhouses. We may put a lot of thought into what produce we’re putting on our tables but we are quick to forget whose labour and sweat have really made it possible.
Migrant Dreams is a documentary that provides these workers with a voice to tell their stories. Filmmaker Min Sook Lee follows a group of migrants in Leamington, Ontario and the conditions the workers face both on and off the job. Screened at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival on May 1, the film investigates Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP)—a federal initiative that has been heavily scrutinized for allowing companies to hire foreign employees when they are unable to find willing Canadians to do the work. It’s a story of those indebted to their recruiters, exploited by the inability to claim labour rights.
“When people talk about buying organic, buying local, I think it’s a really shortsighted viewpoint because it doesn’t factor in who is doing the work,” Lee says. “Yes, it’s important to buy local, but also to think about labour issues. Are the people in the local farms and local work sites being treated properly?”
If you have seen this program in the news before, it likely begs the question, “Are these foreign workers stealing paycheques from hard-working Canadians?” The activist documentary reveals that the women are coming to Canada for a better economic opportunity but find themselves in a corrupt system, terrified of losing their jobs and being deported when their contract runs out. Migrant Dreams sheds light on an uncomfortable truth and pushes for change, but above all it asks one question: Why must these workers be temporary? If they are filling a labour gap, why aren’t they provided the opportunity to fill it permanently?