Corn field and blue sky

Canada’s migrant agricultural workers deserve full and equal rights. Here’s why

By Janet McLaughlin.

Earlier this year, a quiet decision by Loblaw to remove French’s brand ketchup from its shelves was met by an unexpected firestorm of protest from angry consumers. In the weeks following, the brand rose from relative obscurity into superhero status over its local tomato origins. Over the course of 24 hours, Canadians told Loblaw loud and clear that they wanted local Leamington, Ont., tomatoes in the popular condiment gracing their barbequed eats this summer. A surprised Loblaw management team quickly reversed its decision.

Supporting local agriculture makes sense. Buying food produced close to home generates positive ripple effects for local economies, lowers greenhouse gas emissions and promotes Ontario’s food sovereignty and security. The great irony is that often our much-celebrated local food system relies on imported labour, under conditions in which exploitation can be ripe for the picking. I’ve been doing research and health-based community work with migrant farm workers for over a decade. Travelling alongside workers between their Ontario workplaces and their homes in Mexico and Jamaica, I have been continually shocked and saddened by the long-term challenges they face as they spend their adult lives living between two countries.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, a specific stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which was originally designed to help employers fill staffing gaps when local labour supply is not available. While the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has seen some turbulent times as of late, its agricultural branch has more or less remained consistent over the half century of its existence.

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program involves workers (mostly, but not exclusively, men) from Mexico and the Caribbean coming to Ontario for up to eight months a year to work our farms. Some come for decades in a row, returning home to visit family for a few months each winter but never bringing them along to Canada. Children grow up viewing their migrant parents as occasional visitors. Unsurprisingly, depression, family strain and breakdown are common consequences of this type of arrangement. Read more…..