P.E.I. foreign workers mount second hunger strike to protest work permit expiration
P.E.I. foreign workers mount second hunger strike to protest work permit expiration

Foreign workers in Prince Edward Island have mounted another hunger strike as they protest the looming expiration of their work permits.

The protesters are demanding that the P.E.I. government extend their work permits, offering them an eventual pathway to permanent residency. 

The protests began last month and have been on and off ever since, with demonstrators angry about recent changes to the province’s immigration policy. So far, the calls have fallen on deaf ears, they say.

“It’s not leading us anywhere solid,” protest organizer Rupinder Pal Singh told CBC News. “We haven’t heard something solid back from government except excuses and nos.”

According to Singh, six members of the group planned to start another hunger strike this week.

“This is how serious it is,” said Singh, who also spoke before the P.E.I. legislature last month, claiming that it was unfair that he had to pay three times as much as a Canadian citizen for his education.

Singh said that the “extra” money spent on his education in Ontario and his taxes during his stay in Canada, should grant him “equal rights” as a Canadian citizen.

“Altogether, I paid around $30,000 for my tuition. For the same schooling fee, a person born and raised in Canada paid around $10,000,” Singh said. “An extra $20,000 for the same thing, and still suffering. How unfair is that?” Singh told the legislature in May. 

The group also informed P.E.I. Minister of Workforce Jenn Redmond about the return to a hunger strike almost three weeks after the first one ended. 

The group decided to “pause” their no-liquid strike after being given a meeting with P.E.I.’s top immigration official. 

Redmond responded to Singh in an email that she also forwarded to CBC News. 

“We strongly advise against resuming a hunger strike, as it will not lead to a change in the government’s decision and may endanger the health of those participating,” it reads, while also saying she respects their right to protest. 

However, Redmond says that the province won’t be backing down on the policy changes any time soon. 

“Prince Edward Island has often been seen as an easy place to obtain permanent residency,” it continued. “This is a reputation that we are changing to ensure our province is not seen as a place to get expedited permanent residency for those seeking to immigrate.”

Redmond went on to say that her office met with over 50 people who will be affected by the policy changes made in February and offered them “alternative pathways” to proceed with in their pursuit to becoming permanent residents.  

The policy changes make it more difficult for people working in sales and service to be nominated for permanent residency by the province, including those who are already presently working there.

The province did offer to extend some work visas but only for the construction and healthcare industries, as those are the most in-demand jobs on the island.

However, Singh called the offer unfair as not everyone can work in those jobs that are in demand such as construction, arguing that the decision would disproportionately affect women who would be less likely to work in the industry.

True North’s Harrison Faulkner travelled to the island to interview Charlottetown locals to get their opinions on the protests. 

He was later confronted by Singh after the video went viral online, who asked him why he would report on the matter without contacting him first. 

“Why did you post that video,” asked Singh. “You don’t even know what’s going on here? Do you know how much hate you spread with that video?”

Faulkner responded by asking Singh if he thought it was right to get people to try to censor Canadians’ opinions on the protest.

Singh told him he should first know what the protest was about before reporting on it.

“What did I say about the protest that was not accurate?” asked Faulkner.

“You said that ‘you should deport them,’ who are you to make that decision?” asked Singh.

“If there is no space in Prince Edward Island for more service workers – ” 

“Who are you to decide that brother,” interrupted Singh. “How would you know? Are you from here?”

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