(Image Credit: Carleetur via Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
One salient aspect of the persistence of hunger in Canada is that there is a lack of desire to investigate the uncomfortable parts of that situation. We may validly say that there is no hunger to know certain facts about hunger.
GLIMPSE OF A RIDDLE
On Saturday, I had the occasion to go to Sai Dham Food Bank in Etobicoke, ON. CPC leader Pierre Poilievre was going to visit there, and I had been invited. Since I reached there with half an hour to spare before Mr. Poilievre’s scheduled arrival, I decided to take a stroll through the rather spacious premises of the food bank. There was literally tons and tons of food on the shelves, neatly arranged and labelled. This particular section caught my eye, so I took a photo of it:
I found it intriguing that a sizable food bank would devote a specific part of their activity to international students. My understanding was that at the time of applying for their visa to Canada, international students are required to provide proof that they will be financially self-sufficient during their studentship in Canada. I decided to check this out, and sure enough, the relevant page on the government’s website does make it pretty explicit (link: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/study-canada/study-permit/get-documents.html#doc3 ):
The natural question is, therefore, what is going on here? Let us consider the possibilities: (a) the requisite amount as set out in the policy is grossly inadequate, resulting in the students not being able to afford food, (b) the amount is not inadequate, but the students are unable to manage their funds properly, possibly spending in a frivolous manner which then makes them dependent on food banks, (c) the ‘proof’ that they submitted in their application was bogus; they never had that money. Maybe there are other possibilities, but let us explore these three.
At a previous media event of Mr. Poilievre, one of the attendees, a South Asian lady representing a Punjabi language media outlet, brought up the issue of international students and said unambiguously that the money that some of these students bring with them is actually a short-term loan, which they have to send back to their families within about 6 or 8 months of their arrival in Canada so that the loan can be repaid. The understanding of these students and their families is that their stay in Canada as students is supposed to be financed by taking up jobs in Canada. I have no personal knowledge of such an arrangement involving a loan, but this is one of the things that is ‘generally known’ in the ethnic community in Brampton (and the GTA more generally). However, this is also one of the things (such as the prevalence of domestic violence in immigrant communities) that the mainstream media steers clear of, in a determined manner.
I am of the opinion that the financial precariousness of international students is an unstated part of the policy. That is why, in my opinion, the number of hours that they can work in a week legally, during their semester, was raised from 20 hours to 40 hours. On the ‘harsh’ end of the spectrum of conclusions, we can say that the international student policy is in fact the Track-2 of the Temporary Foreign Worker policy in disguise; it would be unreasonable to expect that students can, en masse, work full time and attend to their studies at the same time. On the other side of this chain, I know for a fact that the consultants in some of these students’ country of origin are presenting this policy to prospective international students with the interpretation that they don’t need to have the requisite amount of money in order for them to make it to Canada – they just need *a document that says* that they have the money. The practical part of meeting the living expenses can be tackled by working full-time, goes the sales pitch of the consultants. As a result, a lot of the young people coming to Canada on student visa are actually coming here to work, not study, until such time as they become eligible for Permanent Resident status. In a nutshell, ‘student visa’ is an eyewash in a large number of cases, and both sides are perfectly aware of this – but the pretense continues.
This is another one of the things that MSM doesn’t – and won’t ever – come within a 100 mile radius of saying: In the ‘source’ countries, there is a thriving market for forged or otherwise dubious documents in relation to different types of visas that people are seeking in order to come to western countries, including Canada. Let me give you an example from many years ago. The ‘Pakistani Taliban’ (their actual name is ‘Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’ – meaning ‘Taliban movement of Pakistan’ – or TTP for short) were on a rampage in that country, and their targeting of certain people caused these people to flee their homes and even the country itself. This development gave birth to a market for ‘threatening letters from TTP’. We may think of them as illiterate, but the Taliban were business-savvy enough to realize that people who were keen to immigrate to western countries but didn’t meet the eligibility criteria would be willing to pay to get a ‘threatening letter from the Taliban’ and use that to qualify as a refugee. At the time when I saw these reports (not in the Canadian MSM, of course), the going rate for a ‘threatening letter from the Taliban’ was in the range of US$10,000 to US$15,000. The letter came on a letterhead of either the TTP or some militant group affiliated with TTP, and even had a signature accompanied by a stamped seal of TTP / the group.
A common opinion in some immigrant communities is that Canadians (meaning either the white Canadians or the government, depending on context) are terminally naïve, and therefore keep getting duped by people in / from other parts of the world. However, when it comes to the government, there is a case to be made that it actually wants to get duped. The media plays along for the most part, and therefore is usually incurious about the information that comes to light from different sources. How? Read on.
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
If you are keen to know about issues like housing, poverty and the experiences of new immigrants, one of the best accounts to follow on Twitter (can I still call that platform by its ‘maiden’ name? Saying ‘X accounts’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it) is Justice_Queen (@RE_MarketWatch). She has worked in this field for many, many years, is the daughter of immigrants from Pakistan and is politically neutral – her interest is in solutions that work. On August 7th, she tweeted this graphic from Scarborough Food Security Initiative:
Now let us focus on the information at the bottom of the graphic: “Roughly three-quarters (72.4%) of our Feed Scarborough food bank clients have been in Canada for less than 1 year”. A curious journalist / media outlet may want to drill down on this number: how many of these are refugees, as opposed to Permanent Residents, international students and sponsored relatives? As I see it, the only category where a newcomer can be dependent on food banks during the first year of their arrival in Canada is that of refugees. In all the other cases, documentation would have been provided by the visa applicants as to their financial self-sufficiency. What happened to those financial resources? If I may be pardoned for asking a politically incorrect question: Are these people taking undue advantage of the food bank, or were their documents (ahem) not truthful? Or is there a third possibility here?
THE PRIVILEGE TO WORK
In the above scenario, one specific demographic is still not included: former international students who are now on a work permit. It has been known for years that the ‘employers’ charge hefty sums to provide a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) that is crucial for getting this work permit. I remember that in 2019, Global News did a 3-part investigative report on this; the going rate for LMIA at the time was anywhere between $10,000 and $40,000. This issue has been talked about elsewhere also, and is also one of the things that are ‘generally known’ in the ethnic communities in Brampton and the GTA. True to form, the government has not deemed it necessary to investigate these allegations of serious malpractice in Canada.
While the victims of this malpractice have been in Canada for longer than 1 year, I think their plight also deserves to be included in this analysis. Consider this: Many of the students arrived in Canada (whether actually for studies or as part of the TFW Track-2) on a threadbare budget. They survived by working full time, often ‘under the table’ jobs that paid less than the minimum wage. After the duration of their course gets over, they are simply not going to have $40K to pay for the LMIA that allows them to stay on in Canada. Naturally, this amount is recovered from their wages by their employer (and nobody ever talks about their exploitation because it is done by people of the same (non-white) ethic group). Given this set of circumstances, it is not speculation to believe that many of these young people would have no recourse for getting food other than a food bank.
The questions that I don’t know the answer to here are, is it legal for the employer to charge the employee for the LMIA? Are the employers declaring this as their income in their tax return? Is LMIA in the ‘wild west’ territory where anything goes? At the event at Sai Dham Food Bank, someone asked Mr. Poilievre about LMIA, and it was apparent from his answer that he didn’t know much about this mess. So, on one side you have a government that doesn’t care, and on the other side you have an opposition leader who doesn’t know. Can this gap be bridged?
UNBROKEN CHAIN OF VIRTUE SIGNALS
Unfortunately, our current political discourse is structured to reward shoving these difficult questions under the carpet. Firstly, the government brags about the high number of newcomers (under all categories) as if it is some sort of unique feat for which they deserve applause. Listening to their messaging, one might reasonably conclude that the world is going to run out of people soon, and we desperately need to get as many of them inside Canada as possible ‘while supplies last’. Expressing any idea that so much as suggests that we may want to take a second look at these policies is sufficient to get a person branded as a ‘racist’ (if the person is white) or accused of ‘internalized racism’ (if the person is non-white) or ‘wanting to pull the ladder up behind him / her’ (if the person is a recent immigrant). Thankfully, the winds have changed in the past 3 weeks or so, and a number of articles and reports have come out arguing for at least a re-look at these policies. One hopes that these debates continue, but in the meantime, the government is holding fast to its stance that talking about reducing these numbers is ‘racist’ in one way or another.
The consequence of these over-ambitious targets (in the context of Canada’s capability of ensuring that the newcomers can have a good life) has been that of diluting the eligibility requirements for the respective visa. When people overseas realize that ‘everybody and their uncle’ can qualify for a visa to Canada, that realization begets all sorts of malpractices, both overseas as well as in Canada, to ease their passage. This necessarily means that a lot of people coming to Canada will be unable to stand on their feet from day one. At this point, the second opportunity to virtue-signal presents itself. “We are making life more affordable for Canadians” is one such virtue-signal. ‘Grocery rebates’ is another (although both of these apply equally to the pre-existing Canadians as well).
For its part, the media, which is supposed to be a ‘doubting Thomas’ has instead become the ‘incurious George’, and therefore is happy to parrot the official narrative uncritically. The key question is pretty simple to arrive at: How is it that so many newcomers to Canada are in such dire financial straits that they have to depend on food banks in the very first year of their life in Canada? I am open to considering the possibility that this is not due to any fault on their part (at least in some of the cases), but if we really care about hunger in Canada, one of the reasons why it exists could be that our system has become so lax that, despite ‘proof’ of financial self-sufficiency, some of the newcomers were already not-independent in their finances when they landed in Canada.
A BETTER LIFE
To make it amply clear, I am not making a statement here as to whether these newcomers should be allowed to come to Canada or not. That is a separate debate. My point here is that (a) we need to find out what makes newcomers dependent on food banks more or less immediately after coming to Canada, and (b) what we can do, as a country, to remove any local factor that may have led to / contributed to their precarious condition. This is an important investigation that should have happened a long time ago; reports that each successive wave of immigrants was doing less and less well financially, compared to the earlier cohorts of immigrants, have been around for at least a couple of decades, as far as I know. Even if belatedly, this crucial investigation needs to happen now without any further delay. Is there anyone in the whole of Canada who has both the time and the inclination to do it before we run out of time?
Independent voices are more important than ever in today’s Canada. I am happy to add my voice to the public discussions on current issues & policy, and grateful for all the encouraging response from my listeners & readers. I do not believe in a Paywall model, so will not make access to my content subject to a payment.
To help me bring more content to you, please consider donating a small amount via this PayPal link on my website: https://darshanmaharaja.ca/donate/