Letter to Federal Minister Lloyd Axeworthy Concerning the Status of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

Wednesday, August 16 2000


The Honourable Lloyd Axworthy
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0G2


Dear Mr. Axworthy:

I am writing concerning the status of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1990. To date, Canada has declined to sign and ratify this international instrument, which would provide much needed protection to the estimated 75- 80 million migrant workers around the world.

The international economy, encouraged by free trade policies of governments such as Canada’s, is tearing down barriers to globalized commerce with increasing frequency. Fast- paced market globalization needs regulation, for without it human values can easily be overlooked. History has shown this to be especially true in the case of migrants who often are forced to labour in the worst conditions that exist in their arrival country.

Concern must also focus on “environmental refugees”, defined by some researchers and United Nations officers as “anyone whose environment has become so hostile or unsustainable that they can no longer remain in their home, community or homeland and to which they may never be able to return.” Depending on definitions used, there may be even more persons displaced by environmental crises, natural and manmade disasters than there are refugees from political and civil strife. In so many cases, the levels of human suffering are enormous among migrants who do not choose to but must relocate.

Recognizing these dilemmas as long ago as 1971, Pope Paul VI wrote of “…the urgent need to be able to advance beyond a strictly nationalistic attitude in regard to migrant workers in order to create a statute which would recognize their right to emigrate, would foster their incorporation, make their professional development easier, and give them access to decent housing where they could reunite their families.”

While defending the human right to migrate, the Church does not encourage its exercise. The representative of the Holy See to the United Nations, speaking in 1990 in favour of the Draft Convention, also noted that “it would seem equally important to insist on the right not to migrate, to be given adequate opportunities to earn a decent living and to raise a family in dignity in the country of one’s birth.” At the same time, it is a matter of crucial moral, social and economic importance to defend and strengthen the Rights of people involved in the migratory process. We believe that the International Convention on the rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families improves some existing protections and definitely deserves Canada’s firm support.

We join several ecumenical coalitions, such as the Inter-Church Committee for Refugees, the Canada-Asia Working Group, and the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, in requesting your thoughtful consideration of the positive implications of Canadian ratification of this international instrument. We are convinced that Canadian leadership in this matter would be a welcomed signal of hope, not only for the migrants who come to our shores, but also for the great majority who find themselves in situations of extreme difficulty in many other states around the globe.

Sincerely yours,

+ Most Reverend V. James Weisgerber
Archbishop of Winnipeg
Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

c.c.: Honourable Elinor Caplan, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration