By Jasminee Sahoye
Migrant workers, advocates and community groups are eagerly awaiting the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal hearing into the death of a Jamaican farm worker Ned Livingston Peart, scheduled to start on April 17.
The Peart case is based on the refusal of the Office of the Chief Coroner to grant an inquest into his death.
Peart was brought to Ontario through the Commonwealth Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP) at an Ontario tobacco farm in 2002. His family sought to have a coroner’s inquest into his death because of safety concerns on the job.
The applicant, Peart’s brother, brought a complaint to the Human Rights Commission in the summer of 2005 asserting that section 10 (5) of the Coroners Act, which provides that a mandatory inquest will be held for certain types of workers while excluding others, violates the code because such provisions have an adverse impact on the applicant in particular, and migrant workers in Ontario in general.
According to a release from a concerned group, Justica for Migrant Workers (J4MW), no death of any migrant worker has ever been the subject of a coroner’s inquest.
The application seeks an inquest into Mr. Peart’s death and broader systemic reforms of the manner in which the office of the chief coroner investigates the deaths of migrant agricultural workers. It also seeks to ensure a safer worker environment for all migrant agricultural workers in this province.
“More broadly this application permits the Human Rights Tribunal to consider the status of migrant agricultural workers within the context of the requirements of the Code, which potentially could positively impact the status of workers in the CSAWP and other temporary migrant worker programs because of the intersection between the Code and the harassment, discrimination and exclusion inflicted on such workers,” the release added.
The Peart family’s central argument is that because of the unique vulnerability faced by migrant workers brought to Canada under the CSAWP, migrant workers like Ned Peart are adversely affected by the exclusionary structure of the Coroner’s Act.
Last month, The Camera interviewed a farm worker from Jamaica who had a leg amputated because of injuries on the job. He was among stakeholders at a consultation with two federal ministers on revising the temporary foreign workers program. He argued why the government should examine the conditions of farm workers, who he said are treated as slaves without chains around their hands and feet.
CSAWP migrant workers are caught in a cycle of permanent recruitment, whereby they may never obtain citizenship rights, and never obtain seniority, recall rights, or job security;. Instead migrant workers are generally selected by their employer, and while most workers return year after year, and while most work the majority of the year in Canada (migrant workers are permitted to work up to 8 months in Canada, though CSAWP prohibits migrant workers from staying in Canada for a full 12 months of any given year), their status is always precarious.
They are also liable to be dismissed and repatriated to their home country for any reason, without recourse, which can include where workers are injured or where workers raise concerns about safety.