“The end of immigration?” –The film

A film by Marie Boti and Malcolm Guy-52 min, productions Multi-Monde 2012.

Still from “The End of Immigration?”

The wind beats against a high telecom tower in Quebec. The camera finds a man on top of the tower, hard hat, safety glasses on. Several hundred feet or perhaps a thousand feet down, one catches a glimpse of forests and rivers snaking away, a small town in a bay in the distance, as when you see them from an aeroplane. Prosperous and orderly. The man is Asian and he has a smile on his face. The sound of subway trains are heard already and we find ourselves in the belly of the earth in Vancouver. Latin American workers in 2006, hired temporarily, ploughing through the underground to set up the tube rail. I emphasize this is 2006. Not 1880s or before when mostly Chinese and some Indian workers were brought in to make the rail lines across Canada. These pictures are in colour. The workers wear luminescent safety gear and equipment. They are not the “coolies” we have seen, in sandals, with pick axes, in diffused black and white pictures from the past. But, the workers in the coloured pictures make $3:50 per hour, a balding, kind faced Union organizer informs us with great sadness. He goes on to say “These people are all gone. This tube line will be around for at least one hundred years. But these nameless people are gone.” He continues: “Our view of Canada is that we are a multicultural country. We do not exploit workers. We are shocked. This cannot be like what happened 140 years ago, when we brought in coolies, slaves!”

Well, welcome to the new Canada!

Marie Boti and Malcolm Guy, key players in Montreal-based Productions Multi-Monde, who made films twenty years ago about the Live-in caregiver program (Modern Heroes, Modern Slaves) have found it imperative to come back and make a follow-up on that series. Basically Canada has chosen not to abandon that previous exploitative program, but to expand it further by getting into the “temporary worker” program. Today, Canada physically is the second largest country in the world with a population of 34 million, and right now in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and elsewhere, workers from South America, Philippines, the Caribbean are being brought in temporarily to pick vegetables and fruits seasonally, pack boxes in warehouses, dig subway trenches, roads, gardens and do high tower maintenance work. And then go home after a while. They are told they have no right to immigrate. That is the main focus of “End of Immigration?”

But as they deal with this subject, film-makers Marie Boti and Malcolm Guy then focus on their own parents. They came to Canada from Hungary and England. They came in search of livelihood, looking for work. They arrived in ships, hopped on to trains and started working wherever they could find work. To live their dreams and help build their new homeland. The camera then switches to workers (dark skinned) in Simcoe Ontario. Malcolm Guy’s voice comes along saying that these workers are all temporary. They will never be able to choose to immigrate. They will come, do the work they are told to do and go back.

Today the number of temporary workers in Canada far exceeds the number of immigrants in this country.  Canada, a country with a sound reputation for the past few decades of being “immigrant friendly,” is now taking its cues from Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong: “ Use ‘em and toss ‘em out!”

The camera pans into a shopping mall which advertizes in large green letters “Always more for less!”

The scene then switches to Quebec, where an industrialist states in a matter of fact way, that 5 to 6 years ago he took the business decision to employ temporary workers. Even in the adjoining strawberry fields most of the workers, he says, “are not exactly Quebecers.” They are all from Guatemala.

Malcolm and Marie then take us to the Philippines and interview the organizations that take the contracts for sending the workers over. The arrangement is quite extraordinary. It is the privatization of migrant worker management. The Philipinos supplying the manpower make sure the applicants understand that even if someone close dies in their family, they cannot come back home during the contract period.

Even in “boom town” areas like the Oil fields of Alberta, locals do not wish to do routine jobs. They wish to get oilfield wages. So there is a 100% turnover of locals. Therefore the  bringing in of temporary workers is a “no brainer.”

Malcolm and Marie then go onto interview workers from the Philippines who show that they are very militant and aware of their rights and do not intend to get pushed around.  Social service analysts are interviewed extensively and it is clear to the viewer that the current regime in Ottawa is changing the basic definitions of this country.

Malcolm and Marie have done an extraordinary job capturing the faces of the people, who through a few words of dismay make it obvious that Canada’s current policy of “temporary workers” to replace immigration is a re-born colonial legacy. The smile on the face of an immigrant worker who picks up an orchid that has been thrown away and is trying to grow it in the safe confines of his temporary home is heartbreaking. He hopes it will grow, before he leaves. But the Philipino workers are not going to be cowed down. The camera captures a militant demonstration against touts and middle agents right here in Canada.

As the film edges towards the end, Malcolm goes back to his parent’s home and they go through the website that explains the current points system of how to immigrate to Canada. Malcolm’s father says with a sigh, “None of these things were asked of us. There were no such rules then. “

“There you go,” Malcolm’s mother says after checking through many forms on the website. “We are not wanted anymore. We have been rejected.”

Canada, under Harper and as well as under the Liberals before, or for that matter Quebec with the Bloquists and Pequistes, has  turned its back on immigrants. Malcolm Guy and Marie Boti have documented this transition with exceptional tenderness and political understanding.

You can read an article by the filmmakers in the current issue of Serai

Rana Bose is an engineer, playwright and author.