Former Alberta employment and immigration minister Thomas Lukaszuk has written federal immigration minister Ahmed Hussen urging him to open a formal investigation into serious allegations a temporary foreign worker was improperly treated by a business person who is now a United Conservative Party candidate in Calgary.
Mr. Lukaszuk, who was also Alberta’s deputy premier during the Progressive Conservative government of Alison Redford, notes in his letter to Mr. Hussen that as a former provincial employment and immigration minister he has “considerable knowledge on the subject of the Temporary Foreign Workers program and the potential for abuse under this system.”
Mr. Lukaszuk’s letter to Mr. Hussen references the serious allegations by Amandeep Singh Panesar, who said he arrived in Canada from Punjab in 2008 as a TFW, about Devinder Toor, the UCP candidate in the Calgary-Falconridge riding. Mr. Panesar’s sworn statement has been widely distributed on social media and to journalists.
In the sworn statement – the authenticity of which was confirmed to PressProgress by Ashok Sareen, the Calgary Commissioner of Oaths who also signed the letter – Mr. Panesar described events he said took place when he went to work at a Calgary liquor store owned by Mr. Toor in 2008. These, he said in his statutory declaration, included discovering the position he was told in India he had been hired to fill did not actually exist, being paid less than the agreed upon amount, having wages withheld, having to work seven days a week, and being asked to surrender his passport to his employer.
In conversations he had with Mr. Panesar, Mr. Lukaszuk wrote, the former TFW “told me that he raised these concerns earlier, in writing, with Alberta’s United Conservative Party leader, Jason Kenney.”
Mr. Kenney, it must be noted, was during part of his lengthy tenure as a Conservative MP in Ottawa the federal minister of Citizenship and Immigration embroiled in a bitter national controversy about the federal TFW program and its abuse by some employers.
“Unfortunately,” Mr. Lukaszuk wrote to Mr. Hussen, “these allegations were dismissed by UCP without being forwarded for proper investigation.”
“When anyone is made aware of allegations of abuse, I would hope that they would immediately refer these concerns to the RCMP and/or the Federal Minister so that they can be thoroughly investigated,” he continued. Noting that TFWs’ financial and immigration status often makes them vulnerable, he added, “these workers deserve our protection and they are entitled to have their complaints fully investigated by the proper authorities, not by unqualified, partisan internal political panels.”
“It is unconscionable that any organization, particularly a political party led by a former minister of Citizenship and Immigration would not pass such information on to appropriate authorities,” Mr. Lukaszuk said to Mr. Hussen.
“In view of the above, I am writing you today in hopes that you will consider opening an investigation into Mr. Panesar’s serious allegations,” Mr. Lukaszuk concluded.
You have to wonder if Jason Kenney will come to rue the day he called Thomas Lukaszuk a foul-mouthed epithet in an email and then hit “reply all,” sending it to the office and political staff of all Conservative MPs in Ottawa, presumably to ensure Mr. Lukaszuk was made aware of his sentiments.
That was in 2012. Responding to a request by an aide asking if any Conservative MP would host Mr. Lukaszuk, then the deputy premier, during a visit to Ottawa, Mr. Kenney responded, misspelling the minister’s name, “I say a definite ‘no’ to Lukaszyk. I don’t think it makes sense to create a precedent to do a special caucus meeting for every visiting minister from the provincial government. Plus he is a complete and utter asshole.”
Mr. Kenney eventually apologized – after being asked three times in the House of Commons by then acting Liberal Leader Bob Rae if he would do so – but a legacy doubtless remains.
This is certainly not to suggest Mr. Lukaszuk is not sincere about the concerns for foreign working people on the path to citizenship expressed in his letter. But it’s probable Mr. Kenney’s history nevertheless lent a certain grim satisfaction to Mr. Lukaszuk’s request.
CORRECTION: Canada’s immigration minister is Ahmed Hussen, whose surname was misspelled by the author in an earlier version of this post. AlbertaPolitics.ca regrets the error, and has no one to blame but the proprietor. Thanks to the author’s sister, the smart one in the family, for pointing out the error. DJC