Last Monday, 54 migrant farm workers sought justice from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in a historic and potentially precedent-setting case.
In October 2013, after a sexual assault that occurred near the community of Bayham, Ontario, the OPP conducted a DNA sweep to collect samples from approximately 95 migrant farm workers employed in the region.
The OPP conducted its investigation with what appeared to be a total disregard for the detailed suspect description that it had obtained from the victim. DNA samples were taken from Indo and Afro-Caribbean men from Jamaican and Trinidad. Their ages ranged from 22 to 68, their heights ranged from 5’2” to 6’6”, and their body sizes ranged between 110 lbs to 328 lbs. Other identifying features were also disregarded. Workers were targeted solely on the basis of their skin colour and their status as migrant farmworkers.
Fifty-four of the migrant farmworkers who were affected jointly filed human rights applications with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The applications were finally heard last Monday. The workers will argue that the DNA sweep and the manner in which it was conducted was racial discrimination that violated their rights under section 1 of Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
This is the first human rights case of its kind in Canada to examine allegations of systemic racial profiling and discrimination by the police towards migrant farmworkers. It is anticipated that it will expose not only the inherent vulnerabilities that workers are exposed to under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, but how those vulnerabilities were exploited by the police in their execution of the 2013 DNA sweep.