Hot Docs 2016 Review: Migrant Dreams
Migrant Dreams tells the harrowing stories of migrant agricultural workers in Leamington, Ontario and through them, reveals the dark side of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). The workers featured in this film, who come to Canada from all over the developing world to build a better life, find out upon arrival that getting ahead is going to be an arduous process, complicated by corruption, extortion, and a highly problematic TFWP.
Director Min Sook Lee focuses largely on a group of Indonesian women imprisoned by the system which has them bound to a single employer. These women are away from their families so they can send money home but make minimum wage and struggle with an aggressive repayment plan on debts accrued through illegal (but very common) recruiting fees.
This group of workers feel cheated by the system and receive the help of local labour advocates who try to help navigate the legal system and overcome language barriers. However, the scope of the issue goes far beyond this one group, and the advocacy work is limited by a lack of resources, awareness, and existing legislation.
Some scenes, like footage of deplorable living conditions, are chilling, while others, like a mother and wife going for a virtual walk with her family via Skype, are plainly heartbreaking. It is hard to fathom that the events unfolding on screen are happening in Ontario and that it all goes on so quietly.
The film raises a number of important and urgent questions on the TFWP and how we treat foreign workers more generally. It remains to be seen if the film will shake viewers out of complacency.