Written by Chris Grisdale for The Star.
Last week Ottawa announced it was going to make it easier to bring in temporary foreign workers. More and more of what we produce in Canada relies on such workers. You can add marijuana to that list; and even if you don’t use it, this story involves you.
The story begins in 1974. That’s when Terrance Parker, a severe epileptic, started to treat his condition with marijuana. For Parker it was a choice between reducing the effects of a life-threatening health condition and the risk of imprisonment. In 1997 he was charged with possession and cultivation of a controlled substance.
Parker eventually convinced the courts that the laws which made his choice a criminal offence violated his Charter rights. In response, the federal government drafted regulations for the cultivation and medical use of marijuana, which laid out the rules of the road in Canada by 2013.
In 2014 MedReleaf Corp. was licensed by the federal government to grow marijuana. By 2015 MedReleaf had 55,000 square feet of greenhouses and 69 employees, of whom 30 were temporary foreign workers.
We’ve heard plenty of stories about how migrant workers are among the most vulnerable workers in the world. In Canada, those who enter under the low-skilled stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program arrive with “closed” work permits. They can only work for one employer and they can only stay four years, at the most. The closed work permit ensures their employers call the shots, with no talkback. The short duration of most of these jobs ensures that they’ll see no increase in pay or benefits.