trapped in bogus jobs
Four months after being lured to Canada, housed in a basement and
pressured by a nanny recruiter to work illegally, Filipina Joelina Maluto
summoned the courage to take back her life.
Desperate and disillusioned, Maluto stood on the doorstep of the woman
who had brokered her entry to Canada nanny recruiter Rakela Spivak
and demanded return of the passport that had been taken from her.
Maluto claims in court documents that after her promised job with a
Toronto family turned out to be bogus, she joined 16 other unemployed
Filipina nannies sleeping on the floor of Spivak's basement "in
custody, detention, imprisonment and incarceration, without proper food ...
harassed, frightened, scared." She said she and the other nannies were
"exploited to work for Rakela and under stress, pressured, pushed and
Following a curt exchange, Spivak handed Maluto, a demure 44-year-old
mother of four, her passport and then served Maluto with a lawsuit claiming
the nanny owed $3,500 in brokerage fees.
Maluto's story of mistreatment is being played out frequently across
A Toronto Star investigation
has found that the popular federal Live-In Caregiver Program has become a
nanny trap. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of foreign caregivers have paid
$5,000 or more to come to Canada to care for children or the elderly during
the last decade jobs that too often turn out to be fake. Once here,
their federal contracts are void. Faced with what is for them a crushing
debt, some are forced to work illegally at part-time, sometimes menial jobs;
others are deported.
Federal authorities are turning a blind eye to this exploitation.
Documents obtained by the Star show
Canada Border Services Agency officials believe there is "ongoing fraud
and misrepresentation" within the program, but the immigration and
human resources departments are not taking action.
The Star presented
its investigative findings to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney who said his
department is aware there is abuse in the program.
"We have this whole industry, most of which is unlicensed and
unregulated, and large numbers of unscrupulous operations in Canada and
throughout the world who exploit people's dreams and hopes to come to
Canada," he said.
Kenney says he has asked his officials to recommend changes to tighten
controls over the program.
The Star has
interviewed two-dozen caregivers who came to Canada over the past five
years. Almost all arrived to find their employers did not exist or had hired
"It's a human depot," said Frank Luna, the labour attachι with
the Philippine consulate in Toronto. "The exploitation has been so
widespread and going on for so long that the perpetrators no longer feel or
see evil in what they do."
In an interview, Spivak said she runs a reputable business Rakela
Care International that brings about 200 foreign caregivers to Canada
each year, mostly Filipinas coming via Hong Kong. She denied housing nannies
in her basement, and claimed Maluto used her to get to Canada.
"They come here and they use me and they run away," said Spivak,
whose advertisements overseas promise "real jobs" and "real
employers" that will make a prospective nanny's "dream come
Spivak said it is not her fault if employers who use her services decide
they do not want a nanny.
"It's nothing to do with me. I never know until they arrive if the
client wants them," Spivak said.
In an interview, Spivak would not address allegations that her agency is
violating the rules of the federal program and is exploiting nannies with
high fees while failing to deliver the promised jobs.
Instead, she talked of how she trains all her nannies to do laundry and
cook; and produced cards and a guest book, filled with supportive comments
from nannies expressing thanks for her help.
The 17-year-old federal Live-in Caregiver Program, designed to fill a
shortage of nannies, allows Canadians to import foreign caregivers through
employment agencies, which in Ontario are neither regulated nor licensed.
Anyone can open a nanny importing business. The Internet is replete with
ads from dozens of Ontario agencies claiming to have nannies on hand.
The promised payoff for the nannies is a chance at landed immigrant
status after two years of work. The number of foreign nannies given permits
to work in Canada has tripled in the last five years (from 3,458 in 2002 to
11,878 in 2007, the most recent information available). Most are from the
Likewise, the number of approvals Canadian families received to hire
overseas nannies issued by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
hit nearly 36,000 last year, about 11,000 more than were issued two
A border services source told the Star the
level of fraud in the program is also growing.
On many days "at least 90 per cent of the women coming in as
caregivers come in for bogus employers," said one official on the
condition of anonymity. "The minute they start working illegally they
are open to exploitation by both the agencies and the employers.
"This is clearly human trafficking," the border services source
A bulletin from the Anti-Fraud and Human Trafficking Section of the
Canada Border Services Agency last March cites a "trend occurring in
which dishonest employment agencies sign up fraudulent 'employers' to bring
live-in caregivers to Canada but the contracts disappear once the caregivers
arrive," the memo reads. "The caregivers are innocent and are left
obligated to pay the agency fees but are left without employment."
But instead of going after the agencies, the government nabs some of the
nannies, with the authority of a 2007 Federal Court ruling that found
caregivers with bogus contracts cannot remain in Canada even if they find a
"This is so unfair to these women who have given up everything and
taken on so much debt to come here and work," said Pura Velasco, of the
Caregivers Support Services Centre. "We have to stand up as a community
and make the government account for its lack of respect for us."
Advocates such as Velasco regularly host meetings across the GTA where
nannies speak angrily about their predicament.
One recent meeting in a North York auditorium attracted more than 120
nannies. They complained openly about the fees, and the bogus families. Some
talked about being forced to work 12- to 15-hour days without overtime, days
off or even minimum wage salaries.
Others complained of isolation, lack of nutritious food and mistreatment
"We look at Canada as the land of milk and honey," said Mel, a
50-year-old Filipina nanny and mother of two children in the Philippines
shortly after two Star reporters
helped her leave a home where, she said, she had been verbally abused and
"Everyone wants to come to Canada until they're here."
Marsha Mason, director of Intercede, a non-profit agency that counsels
domestic workers, said most of the 5,000 cases the agency handles each year
are Filipina caregivers.
Mason says she recently gave $100 from her own pocket to a nanny who
didn't have enough to buy sanitary napkins and deodorant.
The practice of charging fees to the nannies to secure them work is
banned by governments in all western provinces, but not in Ontario. The
Philippines government also bans the practice, but it still goes on, with
many agencies getting around the laws by recruiting nannies working in Hong
Kong, Singapore and Dubai.
Some nanny advocates say agencies should charge families for arranging a
caregiver. While some respectable agencies do this, they say they lose
business to agencies that just charge the nanny. Some agencies charge both
the employer and the nanny.
Memos obtained by the Star show
federal enforcement officials have repeatedly warned their bosses that the
program leaves "innocent victims" open to exploitation by both
agencies and employers. One memo from the Border Services Agency lists about
20 Toronto-area Live-In Caregiver agencies and individuals suspected of
fraud, and recommends they be prosecuted.
Another memo from an enforcement officer at Pearson International Airport
states the problem is widespread.
"Again today we had another live-in caregiver with no
employer," the memo reads. "The integrity of the program seems to
be in jeopardy."
At Pearson, some officials call to see if an employer exists. Most do
not. Typically, the women are allowed to enter the country, are picked up by
an agency driver, and then housed in basements or dingy apartments run by
For nannies who can't afford to pay their placement fees up front, some
agencies offer financing by closely related companies that charge interest
of up to 20 per cent.
Some agencies compel the women to open bank accounts into which their
paycheques are deposited until their placement fees are paid back.
Caregivers who cannot or refuse to pay sometimes find themselves in
small claims court fending off lawsuits from their recruitment agents.
Spivak has sued two and threatened a third nanny with a lawsuit.
"It's as if all the agencies got together and came up with a
template for exploitation," said Velasco, a former caregiver who has
spent the past 20 years advocating for nannies' rights. "We have to
stand up against this intolerable situation. It's disgusting what's
happening to these women."
Three nannies interviewed by the Star say
their lives in Canada became so intolerable they seriously considered
suicide. One of these women is Joelina Maluto, brought in by the Rakela
"I was so depressed, I didn't want to keep living," said Maluto,
who paid Spivak's agency $1,100 up front in the Philippines for a job as a
caregiver looking after six children with a Thornhill family a job that
had disappeared when she arrived.
"My children are desperate and asking for money and I had nothing to
send them," she said of her four daughters back in the Philippines.
Rakela Spivak has sued Maluto claiming unpaid fees; Maluto has filed a
defence alleging mistreatment by the Rakela Agency. The claim and
counterclaim are allegations and have not been proven in court.
Spivak runs her agency out of her spacious Thornhill home, using her red
Range Rover (licence plate RAKELA) to drive new nannies to the bank and
other appointments. She advertises in hockey rinks and the local Shalom
Torontonewspaper. Her ads boast of the 2006 "Excellent Service
Awards," an honour she said she bestowed on herself at the urging of a
group of nannies.
To bring in a foreign caregiver, federal regulations state that a family
with suitable income must sponsor the nanny. An application must be filled
out, paperwork processed, typically taking up to a year.
But Spivak, and many other agencies, can get you a nanny almost
instantly. The Star found
that's because a person who applies for a nanny today is actually getting
one that was sponsored by another family months earlier.
When a Star reporter
posing as a potential client visited Spivak, she said a nanny could be
provided within a week, and acknowledged that the proper application process
would take much longer.
Asked if the government could learn of the illegal employment, she told
the would-be client: "Why would they have to find out?"
Spivak also said her nannies work well beyond the contractual eight hours
without overtime pay.
"No, no overtime ... don't worry about that. I've never had any
problems with this."
Maluto is one of nine nannies interviewed by the Star who
came to Canada through Spivak's Rakela Care Agency.
All said Spivak promised them jobs for fees ranging between $2,500 and
$3,500, which ballooned to $5,000 when they arrived in Toronto. All but one
arrived to learn their jobs didn't exist. None had ever even spoken to
employers who supposedly filled out the federal paperwork to sponsor them.
Spivak demanded the nannies sign contracts that required turning over
their passports and social insurance cards.
Most were housed in Spivak's basement for as many as two weeks with as
many as a dozen other women. The nannies say they slept on mattresses on the
floor and spent their days cleaning the house and cooking for Spivak's
If the basement becomes too crowded, some are moved to an apartment at
Steeles Ave. and Bathurst St. To pay their debt to Spivak, most were offered
part-time jobs cleaning homes, which immediately placed them in violation of
immigration rules that stipulate they must work and live with the family
that sponsored them.
In an interview at her home office, Spivak denied telling the undercover
reporter she could provide a nanny without proper federal approvals. She
acknowledged the Hong Kong government warned her in 2007 about recruiting
there without a licence.
She said the matter has been resolved and she visits Hong Kong several
times a year to hold "orientation" seminars for nannies interested
in Canada. Her caring treatment of the women has often been abused, Spivak
"You should talk about the girls that come here and are using
me," she said. "Some come here to find guys and get pregnant. You
know how many are pregnant?"
As to the passports, Spivak said she collects them "for safe
keeping." She recently received a stern letter from the Philippine
consulate in Toronto demanding she return them to their owners. Spivak said
she will comply.
Until the consulate letter, nannies interviewed by the Star said
Spivak would not return passports until placement fees were paid up.
Immigration Canada's website alerts foreign workers that employers cannot
take their passports.
In the food court of Thornhill's Promenade Mall last month, half a dozen
nannies lined up to hand cash to one of Spivak's assistants, who handed them
Six of the women who spoke with the Star all
said they worked longer than the 40-hour weeks listed in their contracts,
Ali Martell, a former Spivak client, said she received a strange call
from an Immigration official in 2007 telling her that her nanny had just
arrived at the Vancouver airport.
The Martells had gone to Spivak months earlier asking for a nanny for
their three children. Spivak had them fill out an application form and got
them a nanny within days.
"We picked up (the nanny) and she had a completely different name
than the name we were originally given."
When the nanny quit three months later, Martell said she cancelled all
ties with Spivak. But Spivak used the previous application to bring a nanny
to Canada without her permission, Martell said.
"It makes me sick to think about it," Martell said in an
interview. "What happens to this poor woman who just showed up in
Vancouver, completely alone, thinking she was going to have a job? I was
devastated for her."
In an interview, Spivak denied misrepresenting her services to the
Martells and said the couple never cancelled their original request for a
nanny. As for providing nannies quickly, Spivak said if a family wishes to
hire a caregiver without the proper federal work permits, "that's their
problem, not mine."