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«We would have done it differently»
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 4 octobre 2012

At the end of her two-year mandate as president of the social justice advocacy group, Evelyn Calugay might be stepping down next month at the AGM of the Quebec Filipino women’s organization, but she won’t stop helping domestic workers victims of racial and gender discrimination.

Last year, Canada voted for the International Labour Organization’s International Convention for Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The Philippines recently ratified the convention, making it fully applicable and binding on all state signatories, according to PINAY lawyer Melissa Arango.

But Canada still has a long way to go. “I don’t know what kind of proof the Quebec Human Rights Commission wants. The declaration of the victims themselves is not proof enough. They have given all the documents they have to the commission,” said Evelyn Calugay to Les Actualités.

Had they known the outcome, the PINAY volunteers would have done it differently, hiring a lawyer earlier instead of trusting the commission to protect victims of discrimination.

Besides waiting six months longer than normal to meet with only half of the victims, contrary to standard preliminary evaluation practices, PINAY alleges that the commission failed to indicate whether it had visited the allegedly substandard conditions where the women were housed. The commission is accused of failing to produce a standard report after three years of investigation, contrary to its own guidelines. It allegedly failed to inform victims of their right to name other persons who had engaged in acts of discrimination and exploitation and claim damages against them. And it ruled that Aurora’s succession cannot be liable for punitive damages.

“The complaint was first rejected by the commission because JA Enterprise (John Aurora’s recruiting agency) was not a corporation,” Calugay points out.

To make matters worse, Aurora’s daughter was not incriminated because she denied involvement. “If John Aurora was the owner, how come the other actors are not accountable? Had we known, we would have mentioned their names in our first complaint. We trusted the commission to help us out because they’re supposed to be there to assist people.”

PINAY and the victims have no money. So what can marginalized women and their families do? Calugay has come to believe that, “if you have no big income, you can’t have justice because you can’t hire a big strong lawyer.”

Calugay, a retired nurse, is presently the only person volunteering full-time at the social justice advocacy group. The first time they received some financial support was when Warren Allman helped them get $1000. Helen Fotopulos also gave PINAY $700 in the past.

PINAY works with the Immigrant Worker Centre, a community organization on Van Horne in Côte-des-Neiges, and the city allows them to use their office.

PINAY also has a legal clinic manned by law students from McGill and volunteers from UQAM. The supervising lawyer, also a volunteer, spends a lot of time with PINAY overseeing the law students. “So we survive because of the students doing research through their projects, and it’s thanks to the universities that we get some subsidies. They call us to partner with them for research and we get some skills training for our membership,» she explains.

Filipinas come to them for counselling in their own language from all over Quebec. At the moment there are three victims who PINAY volunteers are trying to counsel.

Les Actualités has the name of a 31-year-old runaway live-in caregiver turned domestic helper who is being counselled by PINAY. She is out there, in trouble, and so is her American aunt who tried to help her. They are both victims, in different ways, and have fallen through the cracks of our system.

[ Marie Cicchini ]

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