Rights hearing to open for migrant worker

By Jasminee Sahoye

The human rights hearings into the death of Jamaican migrant worker, Ned Livingston Peart who was killed while working at an Ontario tobacco farm in 2002, comes up on Monday, November 19 at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in downtown Toronto.

Peart, 39, was crushed to death while working at the Vilaca Tobacco Farm in Brantford in August 2022.

The death was declared an accident by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) who said Peart was killed while assisting to reload an iron bin from a kiln onto a bin lift. The bin tipped backwards, pinning Peart against the Kiln.

In spite of requests from Peart’s family, the Office of the Chief Coroner refused to grant an inquest into his death, who brought to Ontario through the Commonwealth Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme (CSAWP).

The worker’s family sought to have a coroner’s inquest held into his death because of concerns regarding the safety of his working conditions. The applicant, the brother of Peart, 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 and migrant workers in Ontario.

According to a release from Justica for Migrant Workers (J4MW), “this case is significant because while issues regarding the exclusion of migrant agricultural workers have been raised in a number of decisions, the Human Rights Tribunal has not, since the beginning of direct access to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), had the opportunity to fully consider such issues. Moreover, the status of migrant workers is the subject to the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers.”

It states that while Canada has not signed or ratified this convention, migrant workers are recognized as having a unique status, and given the racialized nature of this class of workers, consideration of their exclusion from legal protection by the HRTO would be of significant benefit to the over 15,000 migrant agricultural workers brought into Ontario through CSAWP each year.
“No death of any migrant worker has ever been the subject of a coroner’s inquest,” according to the release.

The application, which seeks an inquest into 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, seeks to ensure a safer worker environment for all migrant agricultural workers in this province.

On a wider level, J4MW says this application permits the HRTO 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 further states that the case highlights the facts that CSAWP migrant workers are caught in a cycle of permanent recruitment, whereby migrant workers 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.

It also points to the fact that these migrant workers are liable to be dismissed and repatriated back to their home country for any reason, without recourse, which can include where workers are injured or where workers raise concerns about safety.

They are also restricted by their work visas to working for only one employer, with little realistic option of switching employers and subjected to long hours and difficult work conditions, which are exacerbated by a documented absence of protective equipment and appropriate training at many farm, even though the Occupational Health and Safety Act applies to farm work.

It was also found that these workers are in many cases socially isolated and uninformed about their rights, with little ability, given the nature of their work and their economic conditions, to assert the rights they have on paper, or to access the health care, employment insurance, or workers compensation benefits they pay for out of their wages.