By Gerald V. Paul
The family of a Jamaican farm worker killed in an accident on an Ontario farm in 2002 is calling for compulsory inquests any time a migrant farm worker meets their death on a Canadian farm.
The call was made during an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Hearing last Friday into a complaint by the family of Ned Peart as to why there was no inquest into his death.
Peart was crushed to death by a tobacco kiln on at the Vilaca Tobacco Farm in Brantford in August 2002, and there has never been an official inquest into his death.
The family is asking the tribunal to determine what may have been behind the decision not to hold an inquest.
Mandatory inquests for workers killed in construction mining sites in workplace accidents are a norm, but there has never been one held for a migrant farm worker.
Peart’s family has asked the tribunal to declare that the mandatory inquest provisions of the Coroner’s Act violate the human rights code and to order the province to comply by holding an inquest into Peart’s death.
Migrant farm workers are exclusively people of colour from Canada and Mexico, and mandatory inquests can help prevent workplace deaths in dangerous occupations.
Government statistics showed 67 per cent of the more than 500 agricultural deaths between 1990 and 2008 were related to Canadian farm owners, operators or their children. But migrant workers only accounted for 11 per cent, said Arif Virani, lawyer for the province.
According to the family, the provision of the Coroner’s Act that mandates inquests into the deaths of construction workers and miners excludes migrant workers in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme from the benefits of a public inquiry into their workplace deaths.
“To be blunt, the effect (of the provision) is racialized non-citizen agricultural workers will continue to work in dangerous work setting,” Farah Malik, lawyer for the family said, noting that nothing has been done to improve the workplace safety of this group.
According to Malik, the Coroner’s office has never held an inquest into the deaths of migrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable because their status in Canada is tied to their employers and they often get sent back to their home countries after suffering injuries at work.
Meanwhile, Virani, lawyer for the province, argued that migrant farm workers did not suffer disproportionate adverse impact from the exclusion of the clause as a mandatory inquest does not apply to the agricultural sector as a whole.