Min Sook Lee’s Migrant Dreams documents migrant agricultural workers in Leamington—boasting this continent’s greatest concentration of greenhouses—and elsewhere in Southwestern Ontario who work in what the film describes as appalling circumstances. The victim-by-victim portrait here is of a government initiative—the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, expanded in 2006 and placing hundreds of thousands of low-wage migrant workers across Canada—which is so riddled with extortion and exploitation that, in my opinion, it should be seen as a national disgrace.
This mostly fly-on-the-wall investigation of indentured servitude in our own farmyards has, at its heart, a tale of Romeo-and-Juliet romance. Amid the Indonesian, Latin American, and Jamaican workers—some living 26 to a garage or with their passports in employers’ hands or paying fees to recruiters—talking to Justice for Migrant Workers representatives are Rahmi and Dwipa, whose Hindu-Muslim marriage would be impossible back in Indonesia. They, and others here, are not only brave enough to allow their faces to be shown on camera but proceed with a civil suit against their employers.
While the title’s bitterly ironic, some images are even more so: long highways; the glowering sun dropping in the sky; workers walking down snowbound sidewalks or around the corner; one woman being videophone-guided through her faraway Indonesian home. Departure and distance; being led astray or misled; fading futures and a cold, temporary home. “The pathway to citizenship is a distant dream,” indeed, as one postscript reads—since 2006, temporary foreign workers have outnumbered immigrants given permanent-resident status in this country. And while another postscript lists three politicians who declined or didn’t answer interview-requests, it’s not just they who have to answer for this, or at least face up to this scandalous situation. We all, as Canadians benefiting from disposable-serf labour bringing food to our tables, do.