Indigenous Stories

  • Father Mercredi
    • Father Patrick Mecredi was an important figure in the Fort McMurray area. Born in 1904 into the Athabasa Chipewyan First Nation community, Mecredi was sent to the Holy Angels residential school at Fort Chipewyan at the age of seven. He left there following the eighth grade in order to go trapping and hunting with his father. Mercredi went back to school several years later, in 1923. In 1928 he attended the Oblate Fathers’ novitiate in Manitoba in order to train to become a priest. On August 15 1934, Mecredi was ordained in Fort Chipewyan, becoming the second First Nations minister in Alberta.


  • Tuberculosis
    • Indigenous people in Northern Alberta began to be exposed to tuberculosis (TB) in large numbers in the nineteenth century (CMAJ article): the creation of the reserve system facilitated its spread in a population that lacked an “ancestral exposure” (CMAJ, p. 1026). In 1936, of the 332 persons who passed away from TB in Alberta, 49% were First Nations or Mètis: considering the proportion of the population that was Indigenous peoples at that time, the fatality rate was quite high. Thus, if an Indigenous person contracted TB, it was considered very serious.

Interprovincial Stories

  • Cod Moratorium
    • The cod moratorium was a policy from the Canadian government that placed an indefinite ban on the fishing of Northern Cod. This was a response to the overfishing of cod and the moratorium hoped to allow the fish population to recover however it also put around 30,000 Newfoundlanders out of work and effectively shut down the industry. As a result of this many people from Newfoundland and the Maritimes were forced to look elsewhere for work and oil sands have become a common destination for maritime workers. The moratorium remains in place to this day.

  • Downturn
    • The downturn refers to the effects of a global drop in oil prices in 2015. This drop sparked an economic recession in the province of Alberta and many oil sands workers lost their jobs.

  • Duty to Accommodate
    • The duty to accommodate applies to all grounds of discrimination covered under human rights legislation and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When any barriers associated with those covered under legislation exist in a workplace, there is a legal requirement of the employer (or union if one exists) to oblige to the needs of the worker, allowing them to work in a manner that results in undue hardship. It is important that the accommodation allows the worker to be treated equally and with dignity. The responsibilities of the duty to accommodate are shared by the employer, accommodation-seeker, and union (if one exists).

  • Emotional Labour
    • Emotional labour can be defined as the work that people do to improve or maintain the emotional and mental health of the workplace. This work is not often recognized as an important and valuable part of the workplace and there tends to be a gendered dynamic to who takes on these tasks within the workforce, it is often female-identifying workers who perform this labour. In the context of the oil sands, workers are often dealing with high stress situations, far from family and loved ones, and facing uncertainty around the work itself, which makes it important to have supports to help manage and deal with these emotional aspects of work.

  • FIFO
    • Acronym for fly in fly out.

  • Labour Market Opinion
    • A labour market opinion (LMO) is a document issued by the federal human resources agency (ESDC, formerly the HRSDC) that demonstrates that no Canadian citizens or permanent residents are available to fill the job position, and that hiring a foreign workers has a positive or neutral effect on the Canadian labour market. A positive LMO is called a confirmation letter. In 2014 the LMO was re-named the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), with key accompanying policy changes.

  • Mobile Work
    • In the technology age, the term mobile work has come to be defined in relation to work that is done from afar using computers or other forms of technology. In these stories however the term mobile work is used to reference the mobility of workers who come to the oil sands and whose home base is somewhere else or multiple places. This term also references the mobility of the work schedule itself as rotations and shifts often ask oil sands workers to be moving back and forth between places.

  • Redeye Flight
    • A term generally used to describe late night or early morning flights.

  • Red Seal
    • The Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program is a program that certifies and assesses tradespeople in Canada. Certification through this program provides tradespeople with an assurance to their employers that their skills meet a national standard. Many oil sands workers go through this program as part of their path to employment.

  • Rotational Work
    • Rotational work references the “on and off” nature of work in the oil sands. In contrast to a typical office work week of 9-5 and weekends off, work in the oil sands often includes moving between day and night shifts as well as working for longer stretches of time before rotating to a longer break. Rotational work is intended to help maximize the productivity of a project by allowing for a more continuous workforce as people shift on and off.

  • Student Loans
    • A number of workers in the oil sands are attracted by the financial opportunities that the work provides, and young workers in particular are coming from situations of debt incurred from post secondary studies. Data from Statistics Canada shows that close to half of students graduate with some form of debt related to their studies. In the Omar story, OSAP stands for Ontario Student Assistance Program, and this agency is responsible for administering the majority of student loans in Ontario, similar programs exist across the country.

International Stories

  • Access to Health Care
    • International workers often struggle to access health care while in Canada. Some workers lack transport, which can be particularly problematic for workers located in rural areas. Other workers report employers unwilling to accommodate medical appointments and language barriers with health-care providers. Some workers must also pay for medical services and then seek reimbursement from insurance providers.


  • Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP)
    • The AINP allows skilled and semi-skilled temporary foreign workers employed in Canada on a work permit and their immediate families to secure permanent resident status. Up to 5600 individuals may be granted permanent residency status in Alberta in 2018. Some workers may self-nominate while others require employer nomination.


  • Caregiver Program
    • The caregiver program historically allowed citizens of other countries to work in Canada providing in-home care for children and certain adults and eventually apply to become permanent residents. This program is now closed to new applicants and prospective caregivers must apply for a work permit under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. In December of 2017, there were approximately 1070 caregivers in Alberta, down from a high of 4700 in 2008. These numbers do not include undocumented workers.


  • Human Trafficking
    • Human trafficking is the economic or sexual exploitation of another against their will. Migrant workers are at heightened risk of being involved in human trafficking because they are often socially isolated when in Canada.


  • Living Conditions
    • Many international migrants rely upon their employer to provide them with accommodation, particularly if they are working in rural or remote locations. Some workers find their accommodations are physically substandard (e.g., moldy walls, inoperable appliances) and often over crowded. Other workers report employers significantly overcharging for accommodations, particularly when the workers have no other options available to them.


  • Remittances
    • Many migrant workers send a portion of their wages to family members in their country of origin. In 2012, over $24 billion was transferred to foreign countries by workers in Canada.


  • Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP)
    • The SAWP allows citizens of Mexico and certain Caribbean to perform agricultural work in Canada for up to eight months per year. Employers can send workers home at any point, making workers vulnerable to exploitation. In December of 2017, there were approximately 920 agricultural workers in Alberta, down from a high of 2200 in 2009. Most of these workers entered under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, rather than SAWP. These numbers do not include undocumented workers.


  • Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP)
    • The TFWP allows citizens of other countries to work in Canada for up to four years. Workers have little ability to switch employers and are thus vulnerable to exploitation. In December of 2017, there were approximately 6785 temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Alberta, down from a high of 36,000 in 2013. These numbers do not include undocumented workers.


  • Undocumented Workers
    • Citizens of other countries without authorization to work or reside in Canada are called undocumented workers. Many undocumented workers enter Canada legally and then remain past the expiry date of their visa or work permit. Undocumented workers are unlikely to enforce their workplace rights for fear of deportation and thus are vulnerable to exploitation. Estimates of undocumented workers in Edmonton range from 7000 and 25,000.


  • Workplace Rights
    • Enforcement of workplace rights, such as the right to a safe workplace and minimum wage, in Alberta is mostly complaint driven: when workers complain, the government enforces the law. International migrant workers—whose residency is often contingent upon their continued employment with a single employer—report being unwilling to complain about violations. As a result, international workers often experience wage theft and unsafe workplaces.