“To be blunt, I consider this an apartheid system,” Chris Ramsaroop, of Justicia for Migrant Workers, told CBC. “Migrant workers live and work under a different set of legal rights and obligations that we do,” he added. “We aren’t denied basic human rights, we’re not denied basic healthcare.”
The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program brings approximately 30,000 farm workers to Canada every year – mainly from Mexico, Jamaica, or several other Caribbean countries. The workers are granted temporary visas to help address the labour gap that many farmers struggle with during the planting and harvesting seasons.
However, the program has repeatedly come under criticism as it leaves workers almost entirely powerless.
"If they complain, they get sent home and don't come back,” Marcia Barrett told the news outlet. “Some are the only support for their family," she added.
Barrett’s cousin Sheldon McKenzie sustained a severe head injury while working on an Ontario tomato farm – confined to a hospital bed and unable to move, McKenzie was stripped of his work visa and health-care coverage.
Based in Winnipeg, Barrett told Go Public that she was pressured by McKenzie’s liaison officer to ship the 39-year old back to Jamaica before he could receive the medical care he required.
"What I found out after much talking to people who will never talk on camera, when the migrants are hurt, sometimes they don't take them to the hospital, they ship them back to Jamaica," Barrett told Go Public.
“It's worse than slavery — they dispose of them," she added.
Carlton Anderson, the chief Jamaican liaison officer for Canada, stressed that, if that was true, it would be a serious violation.
“This type of action by an officer would be inconsistent with the officer's obligation and commitment to the worker,” he said in a statement. "The well-being of the worker is the prime reason for our existence or presence in Canada,” he added.
Barrett eventually succeeding in securing a temporary stay for her cousin but the married father-of-two died before a decision was made on a humanitarian visa.
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A leading advocate for migrant workers has slammed the current program, claiming it strips foreign nationals of any power and fails to protect them.