Mistreated, marginalized, migrant

Charting the wins and losses of migrant agricultural workers in Ontario during seven months of COVID-19.

“Any time a migrant worker says they’re sick, it’s like they’re not supposed to be sick.”

These are the words of Maria,* a migrant agricultural worker from the Caribbean who is currently working at a farm in Windsor-Essex County. Maria did not want to share her name, country of origin, or employer, out of fear of being punished. 

Maria is one of thousands of migrant farmworkers across Ontario. These workers come from the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia, most via the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). 

Read the full story in Briarpatch Magazine.

Abandoned and Disposable: An Agricultural Worker Speaks Out

“We feel discriminated [against], abandoned and disposable. For the company, [it’s] very easy to get rid of us, but at the end we don’t get any information, nothing,” says Tony, whose name has been changed to protect his identity. Tony is a migrant agricultural worker at Highline Mushrooms, in Leamington, Ontario.

Like other workers across Canada and around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, Highline employees continue to go to work to provide an essential service while so many other people safely work from home. Highline has facilities in three locations across the province — Leamington, Kingsville and Wellington — and is the largest mushroom grower in Canada.

Tony sat down with Our Times to detail, through a translator, his experiences and those of his co-workers at Highline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full story in Our Times Magazine.

STAND UP, SPEAK OUT! An Interview with Shelina Merani on Comedy, Islam and Unions

Comedian, union activist and award-winning digital media strategist Shelina Merani uses stand-up to empower and educate by deconstructing stereotypes and building bridges.

Merani has performed for unions and organizations in Canada and the U.S., including the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) and the Canadian Association of Labour Media (CALM). She has appeared onstage for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the World Youth and Student Travel conference and the Winnipeg and Halifax comedy festivals. She was also a finalist in the recent summer comedy competitions at Yuk Yuk’s and Absolute Comedy in Ottawa.

Merani spoke with Our Times about her life, her work and her journey to comedy and union activism.

Read the full interview at ourtimes.ca. Subscribe to Our Times Magazine here.

Injured migrant workers: no healthcare and a ticket home

“Nobody cares about you”: Ongoing case of migrant farmworker Ralston Maise shows how system treats migrant workers as disposable.

During Injured Workers Week in Ontario, reports ran detailing the complete failure of the Workers’ Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to address the needs to injured workers. RankandFile.ca spoke to Ralston Maise about his experience with a workplace injury as a migrant farmworker in Ontario.

Read the full story at Rank and File.

‘Assam is boiling’

Human rights defenders struggling to support millions left in immigration limbo by India’s National Register of Citizens

Tanya Singh & Haseena Manek

It has been two months since India threw nearly four million people into a desperate scramble to prove their citizenship or risk deportation. The government published a draft of the National Register of Citizens in late July and the effects were immediate: millions excluded from the list were made to produce evidence of their legitimate claims, security forces were put on alert to quell potential violence in a region with a history of persecuting ethnic minorities, and at least one thousand people are still being held in criminal jails serving as immigration detention centres.

Read the full blog post on Front Line Defenders website.

Migrant workers score victory against racial profiling and coercion of DNA by police

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has ruled that the applications made by two of 54 current and former participants of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program regarding racial profiling in Elgin County were in ‘good faith’. The legal representatives for the respondent in the case, the Ontario Provincial Police, called for the case to be dismissed as it was passed the 1-year limitation period.

Read the full story at Rank and File.

Rise up! ‘Drawn to Change’ illustrates Canadian labour’s stories and struggles

Drawn to Change’ is both a moving historical account and an unabashed call to arms.

“Indeed, much of what we learn about history in school, at the movies or on the History channel revolved around the lives of individuals with the most money and power in society, such as monarchs, capitalists, and politicians. But workers’ lives matter too; without our labour, society would cease to function. We are important agents of social transformation, and our power is magnified when we work together.”

So begins the Graphic History Collective’s new collection Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working Class Struggle.

Drawn to Change has over 20 contributors with nine comics portraying different moments in Canadian labour. From 19th-century Knights of Labour to the contemporary Live-in Caregiver Program, this collection of chronological graphic histories is a feat of visual expression and storytelling and an incredible resource for Canadian labour history.

Read the full review on rabble.ca.

Women of Labour and the Arts: Talking With the 2014 Min Sook Lee Award Winners

Winter 2015

People don’t understand,” says musician, singer/songwriter and community activist Faith Nolan. “They think labour is two old white guys hammering a nail who want more money and to work less. They don’t see that those two old white guys, along with white women and brown and black and yellow women and men, are doing this labour to have the right to a life. People have a disconnect in this sense.”

Read the full feature on the Our Times Magazine website.

Writing Pictures, Drawing Stories: A Caregiver Comic Book

August 2014

What does it mean to care for another person’s child when your own is far away? What does it mean to exist in a country only as long as you are employed by citizens of that state? What is it called when you work 24 hours a day caring for a family that becomes your family, because you live with your employer?

According to two Toronto artists, Althea Balmes and Jo SiMalaya Alcampo, it is called a labour of
love. The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), one visa option under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker
Program, is where the politics of labour meet the politics of love.

Balmes and Alcampo are the creators of LCP Comics, and the project Kwentong Bayan: Labour of Love.

Read the full feature on the Our Times Magazine website.

“JAILS AWAIT REFUGEES”: York panel discuss the Canadian response to Tamil asylum seekers

October 2010

“JAILS AWAIT REFUGEES” was just one of many sensational and dramatic headlines to grace Canadian newspapers in the past year regarding Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.

Last October, 76 asylum seekers that had arrived on Canada’s western shore were detained for three months on suspicion of terrorism before finally being released, and before the process of their refugee claim was initiated.

This past August, another boat arrived with 492 asylum seekers, and they are still being detained.

The Tamil minority in Sri Lanka are currently facing violence, persecution and receiving no international aid.

Canada’s actions regarding these refugees and the escalated violence in January of last year (which saw many protests across Toronto, though poorly received by the Canadian government) are being heavily debated and critiqued.

Last month, York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies hosted an informative discussion panel on these recent events.

Present were Sherry Aiken of the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University, Craig Scott, of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, Jennifer Hyndman of the Cen- tre for Refugee Studies in the Social Science Department at York, and Kubes Navarantnam of the Canadian Tamil Congress.

Susan McGrath, Director of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies, moderated the comprehensive panel.

Topics covered the historical, geographical and political situation of Sri Lanka, the dangerous route of asylum seekers coming to Canada and their reception by the Canadian government and Canadian media.

When discussing the situation of Tamil refugees, one must consider the political complexity that governs their actions.

First, as Navarantnam succinctly explained, “any Muslim, Sinhalese, or Tamil person [in Sri Lanka] op- posing the government is in fear for their life.”

As we saw last January, the Sri Lankan government’s attempts to annihilate the Tamil Tigers, an organization fighting for an independent Tamil state, resulted in a shameful number of civilian casualties.

Though the Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have been declared a terrorist organization by the Canadian government, and are obviously enemies of the state in Sri Lanka, there exists scattered support for them among Tamil people in Sri Lanka and abroad.

“I’ve had issues with the methods,” says Mera Sivane- san, Law student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “[But] the Tigers provided infrastructure. They had hospitals set up, courts…schools, a credit union.”

“All of that was wiped out during the fighting last year,” continues Sivanesan, “hundreds of thousands of people were herded into camps and now when they’re told to go back home they have nothing to go back home to. This has also been compounded by an active campaign of colonization of formerly Tamil areas with Sinhalese settlements.”

Once the decision is made to seek asylum abroad, however, the journey ahead is by no means an easy or safe one.

Jennifer Hyndman illustrated this point by quoting an Edmonton Journal headline that described the refugee’s journey, “through hell or high water.” She also mentioned that boats used by refugees are those previously deemed not seaworthy, and headed to the boat equivalent of the junk- yard.

Hyndman’s presentation, focusing on the media mania that ensued following the arrival the asylum seekers, illuminated one of the central issues, that the “spectre of boatloads of refugees seems to stir up hysteria.”

This may be because as a part of the process of confirm- ing the refugee status of the Tamil asylum exiles, they must also be cleared of their almost automatic status as terrorists.

Accused of being involved with the LTTE, these émi- grés, are detained first, perhaps welcomed later.

Even after the brutal assault on LTTE institutions last winter, the Sri Lankan government “has been repeatedly say- ing they are regrouping,” explained Navarantnam. Though there is “no evidence of other violent mobilizing” on the part of the Tigers.

“The Tigers have demised but the fight for Tamil independence has not,” he says.

Consequently, anyone coming out of Sri Lanka is guilty until proven innocent. But, Mayoori Malankov, graduate student at York University and attendee to the panel, brings up a valid question: “How would we even know if they are terrorists?”

Considering they have spent such a short amount of time in Canada and that virtually no information is coming out of Sri Lanka, it is viable to question the process by which the Canadian government determines who is terrorist and who is not.

Despite Canada’s international reputation for being open and accepting, it is obvious that the government’s political ties to Sri Lanka and the Western ‘War on Terrorism’ have affected their welcome of these asylum seekers.

In this case, it appears that while the Canadian government loses respect, Tamil refugees are just plain losing out.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, October 2010