The man behind a map of Western Canada businesses using the temporary foreign workers (TFW) program maintains he’s not anti-immigrant.
“Please, please don’t hate the workers,” said Rohan Rezel in a telephone interview. “Try and understand that it’s not the workers who are taking your [Canadians’] jobs. It’s the businesses that have made that decision. Often, the workers are as much victims as the Canadians who lost their jobs.”
Rezel emigrated from Sri Lanka to Canada six years ago, and is still a permanent resident making his way through the process to become a Canadian citizen. Today he lives in Vancouver after recently moving from Calgary.
The map Rezel created displays the geographic locations of British Columbia and Alberta businesses that appear on a Ministry of Employment list of companies that were using the TFW program at the end of 2012.
Each peg on the map includes the name of a business and its address.
It was published online at NTFW.ca shortly after the C.D. Howe Institute released a report concluding that the temporary foreign workers program can be linked to higher unemployment rates in parts of Western Canada.
Rezel noted the map has a number of shortcomings. It doesn’t differentiate between companies using the TFW program as it was intended and those that are allegedly abusing it. And it was created with an automated program that only picked up a fraction of the actual number of businesses using the TFW program.
Rezel also told the Straight he can “definitely understand” why some people are interpreting the map and website as anti-immigrant. He addressed two points of criticism he’s received.
The first is the map’s title, “Bad Guys”, and the labelling of a sister map that displays a selection of businesses that do not use the TFW program as “Good Guys”.
“They were just internal names I was working with,” Rezel explained. “And then Huffington Post picked it up and they said I was campaigning against the temporary foreign workers, which isn’t the case at all.
“The truly bad guys are the people who are abusing the program, either mistreating their foreign workers or replacing Canadians with temporary foreign workers,” he added.
The second issue Rezel addressed is an option on the website for businesses to “proudly display” a maple leaf symbol in their windows “to show the world that you are playing fair”.
He maintained that the campaign was designed to protect immigrants’ businesses from boycotts; not facilitate boycotts against them, as some critics have suggested.
“There are thousands of Canadians and Canadian permanent residents who are of a visible minority or who have an accent, but just because someone has an accent or is of a visible minority doesn’t mean that they are temporary foreign workers,” he explained. “So if businesses want to identify themselves as only hiring Canadians and permanent residents, then they can use that sticker.”
Rezel argued the TFW program needs to be reformed in order to address a growing number of alleged abuses. But he stressed it’s not the workers that are to blame.
“They need our protection; not our hatred,” he said.