When Geno García Radilla first arrived in Canada, he never imagined he’d be relying on a food bank.
But after two years of working in the hospitality industry, García Radilla is now among several temporary foreign workers requiring food assistance in Quebec’s central Charlevoix region.
“That wasn’t part of the dream,” said García Radilla, 32, from Acapulco, Mexico.
“It’s depressing. It makes us think about a lot of things.… Even returning to your home country.”
Things started to go sideways when he lost his job at a boutique hotel in October.
He quickly found himself running through his savings, in debt and unable to apply for a job elsewhere because he had a closed work permit which prevented him from changing employers.
“I never thought I’d be in this situation,” he said. “Being unemployed for so long, staying home, it’s not something we’re used to.”
Growing newcomer clientele at food bank
Annie Bouchard, the general manager of the local food bank — Centre communautaire Pro-santé — says in June 2022 only three per cent of their clientele were immigrants.
Now they make up 38 per cent.
“This is unprecedented,” said Bouchard. “We’re breaking all records.”
Bouchard says the region has dealt with several crises over the past three years.
She says the pandemic, coupled with the housing shortage and spring flooding, has driven up prices at a time when more newcomers are settling in the region for work.
“[In] 2020, Club Med opened so we’re talking about a lot of new immigrant workers and there are also a lot of companies that welcomed immigrants,” said Bouchard.
“When they arrive in a new country, they arrive with not a lot of savings. I’d say it’s rare for people to have more than $2,000 in their account.”
The first expense to be cut
She says families often prioritize rent, furniture and basic needs for their children.
“The cost of products is increasing, especially groceries. Unfortunately, for families, it’s the first budget item that’s going to be cut,” said Bouchard.
She says the only way their food bank was able to keep up was through donations.
Luis Shirasago, a migrant worker from Mexico City, has been relying on the food bank for over a month.
“With employment insurance, it’s not enough to buy all my food, pay the rent,” said Shirasago.
He says food from the grocery store cost him about $100 a week — something he can no longer afford after he being fired from his job at Club Med in October.
‘I dream to stay here’
Like García Radilla, Shirasago says this was “not the dream that I visualized.”
“I was pretty happy when I came here, because in Mexico we heard that Canada is the first world and [has] better conditions,” said Shirasago.
But he says he was hospitalized due to depression and anxiety that he says was linked to his working conditions.
“I couldn’t sleep well, I didn’t eat well, I lost weight…. It was very stressful,” said Shirasago.
“They fired me.”
Suddenly unemployed and not permitted to apply for a new job, he considered going back home.
“Wait until my [open] work permit [arrives] or return to Mexico and return to the conditions of violence, the pollution, the drug cartel?” Shirasago tilted his head from side to side as he weighed his options.
“I dream to stay here in better conditions.”
Shirasago received an open permit in November — allowing him to finally start his job hunt.
In an emailed statement, a Club Med spokesperson said the resort prioritizes “the well-being, protection, development and fulfilment of all its collaborators.”
“These same values and principles have applied since the opening of Club Med Québec Charlevoix, and we can assure you that Club Med adheres to all protection of labour laws,” it read.
Shirasago says he hopes things change to prevent workers like him from feeling “chained” to an employer.
“If we have a bad situation and labour conditions we cannot do anything, we cannot search for another job,” said Shirasago.
“It’s that or return to Mexico with all the drug cartels, the violence, the homophobia.”
In an emailed statement, the office of federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the government recognizes the challenges that some workers experience when their employment comes to an end and it “takes its responsibilities to help protect temporary foreign workers very seriously.”
The ministry statement said temporary foreign workers who lose their job through no fault of their own, or leave because of abusive conditions, can apply for an open work permit and may be eligible for employment insurance benefits.
Shirasago says his dream is to work as a dentist, like he was back home, and for his mother to eventually join him and be able to walk around the peaceful Charlevoix town “without any fear.”
“We are good workers,” said Shirasago. “We only want to work with better conditions than Mexico.”
During the month of December, CBC will be working with Food Banks of Quebec to showcase stories of people in our community who are making a difference for our “Make the Season Kind” campaign. For more stories and to learn more about this campaign, visit cbc.ca/bekindqc. You can make a donation to Food Banks of Quebec here.