By Jasminee Sahoye
Recent news reports about the Mayor of the town of Leamington, Ontario who allegedly celled the behaviour of Jamaican migrant workers as lewd have met with criticisms from an organization that has been representing migrant workers.
Leamington is a farming community with a high number of migrant workers who are brought to work on the nearby farms. It is one of the only towns nearby where the farm workers can get their personal supplies.
Mayor John Paterson reportedly said that some of the farm workers have been making distasteful comments to women in Leamington over time. But what led to him speaking out now was that his daughter was at the centre of comments made about her body when she walked by a group of Jamaican farm workers.
He described their behaviour to his daughter as lewd. “Not to be bigoted, not to be racist, not to be anything, it is directly related to some of the Jamaican migrant workers that are here,” Paterson said.
The mayor has asked the police services board to look into the matter.
But a migrant farm workers group, Justica for Migrant Workers (J4MW), did not take too kindly to the Mayor’s remarks, and sent him an open letter saying his comments came as “no surprise.”
“In the past several years, the open hostility that your council has shown towards migrant workers represents the most blatant displays of anti-migrant sentiments we have ever witnessed,” J4MW said in its letter to Mayor Paterson. “Recent comments in the media have disparaged the use of public library facilities by migrant workers; made allegations that there are too many migrant workers ‘loitering’ downtown; and criticized the presence of too many ‘ethnic’ businesses serving the migrant worker community. In each instance ‘cultural differences’ have been used to justify the wider community’s adverse reaction to the presence of large groups of migrant workers in visible local spaces.”
J4MW said that Paterson’s remarks about lewd behaviour of migrant workers “cannot be taken in good faith.”
It noted that “instead of dealing with sexual harassment on an individual basis, you skip right to racialized stereotypes; drawing from some of the worst parts of Canadian history. It does not escape us that the community of Leamington once supported ‘sundown laws’ which made it illegal for Black Canadians to walk freely in the community after sunset.”
The letter further states that migrant workers have continued to complain that they are victims of hate crimes and, that racism and sexism continue to be part of the daily experiences while working and living in Leamington.
“They are constantly excluded from all discussions related to their social welfare. The question returns to you: what steps are you taking in your elected capacity to advocate for the rights of migrant workers? What resources will you put forth towards anti-racism programming, training and education for the Canadian community about the experiences of migrant workers? How are resources from the City of Leamington being allocated towards programming concerning violence against women and is this programming culturally and racially sensitive? Are your services accessible and inclusive of the migrant community of Leamington? “
J4MW says a dialogue about migrant workers is needed in Leamington, adding that the dialogue that the mayor is proposing is “skewed towards an outcome that will only perpetuate the racial divisions that exist. One cannot have a dialogue when the population most impacted is left out of the conversation. Furthermore migrant workers must be seen as members of the community something it seems that you refuse to accept. There is a consistent line of argument that migrant workers should be the sole responsibility of employers and that employers should be financially responsible for any form of municipal services rendered to migrants. This argument reflects a deep seated level of paternalism and racism through implying that non-citizens should have no access to municipal services and if they do private interests should be paying the costs.”
The deputy chief liaison officer, Jamaican Liaison Office in Leamington, Vernon Malhado is quoted in a local newspaper as saying he has never received any complaint on the issue. “What might pass back home might not necessarily pass here. We speak to them (the farm workers) on these issues on a continuous basis.”