A number of high profile deaths of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Alberta has brought attention to the strife that follows the sudden death of foreigners living in Canada.
A pair of similar deaths in late 2014 caught attention when seven TFWs were killed in two separate car crashes, one near Sylvan Lake and one near Leduc.
These most recent TFW deaths are not the first to hit the headlines.
In March 2012 Anthony Castillon, 35, Eden Biazon, 39, Joey Mangonon, 35, and Josefina Velarde, 52, were killed when they were struck by a drunk driver travelling in the wrong direction on Highway 1.
Josephine Tamondong survived the crash. Her friends were driving her from Edmonton, where they all lived and worked in a hotel, to Montana to complete her permanent residency requirements.
An outpouring of support followed these high profile deaths, however, there are many more cases of Filipinos living or visiting Canada who pass away unexpectedly.
Selena (Beng) Cruz is a member of Couple’s for Christ and is part of their new migrants ministry. Cruz is the one who gets the call when a Kababayan passes away in Calgary and does not have any insurance to cover sudden death.
She says she gets at least a couple of requests for help each year. When she is notified of someone who needs help she reaches out to people she knows and Filipino associations, who help spread the word.
Last year she says a close family friend tragically experienced the death of his mother, who had been visiting from the Philippines for two years. Initially they bought insurance for her, but when her visa was extended, they did not extend the insurance. She passed away the night before she was to return to the Philippines, leaving the family with the dilemma of how to deal with her funeral and transport of the body.
In that case Cruz says they were able to raise $9,500 to help the family.
She says it’s always difficult for people to seek out help and accept it when it is offered.
“They feel so embarrassed and there is pride,” Cruz says.
In 2014 Cruz also helped a woman whose husband died while working in the garage, leaving her and their oneyear- old child behind, with no way to pay for his funeral.
Cruz often refers people to Carlos Perez, the pre-planning director for Mountain View Funeral Home in Calgary for 10 years. Perez says he assists them while they work with the funeral director.
“I help them because they are my Kababayans,” he says, adding sometimes there is a language barrier or cultural differences.
People are often shocked by the cost of preparing the body for burial and particularly the cost of sending a body home. He says most Filipinos do not want to cremate the body, but to send a body to the Philippines is $15,000 to $20,000.
“Many people in the Philippines want to see the body,” he explains. “They don’t want cremation or to hand-carry the urn on the plane.”
He says they offer people a number of options and the least expensive is cremation and taking the urn as a carryon onto the plane, with the proper permits. He says that option can cost only a few hundred dollars. Some people are forced to make arrangements that they do not like, simply because of the cost, he says.
Perez sympathizes with their plight.
“It’s tragic,” he says. “They are just working here temporarily and the family is relying on them for support.”
Most of the temporary workers or visitors from the Philippines do not have life insurance, he says.
“We need to create awareness,” he says. “It’s a concern for me. We really need to educate these TFWs. There are some insurance with very low rates. If they have insurance it will protect their family and will have some money to cover their funeral costs.”
Renato Abanto of Alpha Immigration agrees that more needs to be done to make temporary visitors to Canada mindful about being prepared for unexpected death, which he says can be difficult.
“We always touch on life insurance,” he says. “I’m sorry to say they disregard it. In Filipino culture, talking about death is considered to be morbid.”
Dealing with the extremely high costs while grieving is a big burden for the family, he says.
“It’s a depressing, traumatic experience for them,” he says.
They have held seminars in the past, explaining the benefits of life insurance and says they hope to hold another one soon.
“This is for you, for your family,” he says. “So we are not putting the burden on the Filipino community. It should be the responsibility of the person coming to work from overseas.”