OTTAWA – A report on the treatment of temporary foreign workers and live-in caregivers is set to land in Parliament amidst a brewing controversy involving a domestic complaint against a high-profile Liberal MP.
Ruby Dhalla, the MP for Toronto-area riding Brampton-Springdale, finds herself at the centre of a storm amid allegations of illegal employment and abuse levelled by two women hired to look after Dhalla’s mother.
Dhalla declined interview requests Tuesday but did issue a statement:
“I take the assertions in today’s Toronto Star story very seriously,” it said. “I have hired a lawyer to vigorously defend my reputation and ensure the facts of this matter are fully explored and corrected.”
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff would only say he’s looking into the facts of the matter.
Magdalene Gordo, 31, and Richelyn Tongson, 37, say they were hired in early 2008 to work in Dhalla’s family home in Mississauga, Ont., to care for her mother, Tavinder Dhalla.
The live-in caregivers told the Toronto Star they earned $250 a week working 12-to 16-hour days, and that Dhalla seized their passports.
The claims come as an almost year-long study of temporary foreign workers by the Commons standing committee on citizenship and immigration is to be released Wednesday.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he couldn’t comment on specific allegations nor would he deign to “politicize the complaints process.”
But his assistant, Alykhan Velshi, later circulated to reporters a press release from the Independent Workers Association that called on Ontario’s attorney general to investigate Dhalla.
Kenney himself, while saying he didn’t know the facts of the Dhalla allegations, was emphatic that holding the passports of foreign caregivers is offside.
“Employers should not be taking their employees’ passports and that’s the kind of tactic which a lot of, which some caregivers indicate makes them feel that they’re especially vulnerable – that if they don’t have access to their own travel documents they can be easily exploited,” Kenney said outside the Commons.
The women also claim that other family members forced them to do extra work ranging from washing cars to shining shoes and cleaning chiropractic clinics owned by the Dhalla family.
Moreover, the workers say they were illegally hired without the necessary approval under the federal Live-In Caregiver Program.
Dhalla has denied all allegations to the Toronto Star and told the newspaper she is “shocked and appalled” by the claims.
“Anyone who has ever worked in our home has been treated with a lot of love, with a lot of care and compassion and money has never, ever been withheld from anyone,” Dhalla told the Toronto Star in an interview.
In a statement released to the Star through her lawyer, Dhalla said she has “no knowledge of the details regarding the live-in caregivers for her family” and had “no involvement in the selection, interviewing, hiring, supervising, sponsoring or any financial transactions whatsoever with a live-in caregiver for my family.”
Both caregivers have said Dhalla’s mother had a foot issue that needed massaging at night, but that their work mostly involved cleaning.
NDP MP Olivia Chow noted that the allegations range from mistreatment to tax evasion and lack of proper worker documentation.
Chow suggested the police might need to be involved because “if all those allegations are true, then there are three or four laws at least that have been broken, whether it’s labour laws or immigration regulations.”