News / Toronto

Woman who stood up for migrant workers, facing deportation herself

Gina Bahiwal, who has become the public face of the migrant worker rights movement, is facing deportation to the Philippines on Sunday.

Gina Bahiwal (behind the podium) was invited to speak before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa last year that led to the revocation of the rule that banned migrant workers from Canada for four years after they had worked here for four.

Justice for Migrant Workers

Gina Bahiwal (behind the podium) was invited to speak before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa last year that led to the revocation of the rule that banned migrant workers from Canada for four years after they had worked here for four.

A migrant worker who has stood up for fellow workers and become a public face of the labour rights movement is facing deportation herself, caught up in the very rules she fought successfully to change.

Gina Bahiwal, 42, has run out of options and is scheduled for deportation to the Philippines on Sunday. She was left without status under the former Tory government’s now rescinded “four-in-four-out” rules that banned migrant workers from Canada for four years after having worked here for four.

“I have been inspired by Gina’s dedication and tenacity to fight for the rights of migrant workers. From advocating for their maternal rights to exposing the unscrupulous practices of migrant recruiters, Gina is one of our unsung heroes,” said Chris Ramsaroop of the advocacy group Justicia for Migrant Workers.

“Every victory that we have accomplished, from banning recruitment fees to ending the four-in-four-out rule, is attributed to the activism of Gina. She is a leading voice for a more compassionate, fair and inclusive society.”

Bahiwal, who has a university degree and worked as a social worker in the Philippines, came to Canada in 2008 under the temporary foreign worker program and worked in Ontario and British Columbia in vegetable packing on farms, hotel housekeeping and at a McDonald’s.

She said she paid a Canadian recruiter $5,000 to find her a job in Leamington, Ont., packing tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers but found herself unemployed when she refused to pay another $2,200 to the recruiter to renew her work permit. She later found another job at a different farm.

In 2012, when the Conservative government introduced the four-year ban on migrant workers, Bahiwal knew her days in Canada were numbered and decided to find another job that could potentially offer her a path to permanent residency here.

Bahiwal said she paid another recruiter $1,500 for a job as a housekeeper in B.C. She said she left after two years because she stood up for another migrant worker over her firing and the employer allegedly refused to sponsor Bahiwal’s immigration.

“I always got into trouble for speaking up but I feel there are so many injustices in the system against migrant workers and if we do not stand up for ourselves, no one will,” Bahiwal said in an interview from Leamington, where she lives.

Later she found a job at a McDonald’s in Hope, B.C., and applied for permanent status in Canada under the provincial nominee program. However, her earnings did not meet the government’s income eligibility threshold.

Although the Liberal government recently rescinded the four-in-four-out rules after a parliamentary review of the temporary foreign worker program, Bahiwal’s work permit expired in October 2015 under the old regulations.

While advocates say many migrant workers suffer injustices in silence for fear of repercussions from employers or recruiters, Bahiwal’s lawyer, Richard Wazana, said his client has become a voice for their labour rights.

“Gina’s case is different from other cases because of her advocacy work. She is the spokesperson for this vulnerable group,” said Wazana. “We are hoping immigration officials will recognize that and allow Gina to remain in Canada.”

Bahiwal helped organize the historic 12-hour Pilgrimage to Freedom march from Leamington to Windsor and the Harvesting Freedom caravan to call on the federal government to grant permanent status upon arrival for all temporary foreign workers. She was invited to speak before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa last year that led to the revocation of the four-in-four-out rule.

Since her legal status ran out in Canada, Bahiwal has been unable to provide for her 14-year-old son, her mother and a niece in the Philippines. She has applied for permanent residency in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate groups and a decision is pending.

An itinerary has already been issued to Bahiwal for her deportation Sunday.

Labour groups and community advocates across Canada have written to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and John McCallum, who was until recently the immigration minister, pleading with them to stop Bahiwal’s deportation.

“Why is someone who has worked so hard to advocate for migrant workers, and migrant women in particular, someone your own government relied on to help improve the system for others, now being deported?” asked Ramsaroop.

“Gina worked hard along with other migrant justice activists. She is a model of hard work, perseverance and service, and has already contributed greatly to Canada.”

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