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Migrant worker advocates call for changes to coroner’s inquest system

11 people are dead after a tragic crash in Hampstead, Ontario. File Photo

TORONTO – Advocates hope the case of a Jamaican father of six crushed to death in an Ontario farm will prompt changes to the way agriculture migrant workers’ deaths are investigated.

More than 30,000 temporary workers come each year from countries such as Jamaica, Barbados and Mexico to work on farms in Canada – most of them in Ontario.

Last year, 20 of those workers died, but the Agricultural Workers Alliance says a coroner’s inquest has never been held into any of those deaths.

Coroner’s inquests are mandatory in Ontario when workers in the mining or construction sectors are killed on the job, and migrant worker advocates want the same process for agricultural workers’ deaths.

They have taken the case of Ned Livingston Peart to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

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Peart died in August 2002 at age 38 when a piece of equipment fell on him while working on a tobacco farm near Brantford, Ont. Peart left behind six children in Jamaica.

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“The coroner, the government of Ontario and the Ministry of Labour need to be doing more to educate, prevent and make sure there is a culture of health and safety in the workplaces of Ontario,” said Stan Raper, national co-ordinator of the Agricultural Workers Alliance.

“Because their (migrant workers’) visas and work permits are tied to the employer, they don’t want to cause problems because they could be repatriated.”

While migrant workers in Ontario have had the right to refuse work since 2006, there is not one recorded instance of a refusal to work from a migrant worker since that time, Raper said.

The Peart family, along with the Agricultural Workers Alliance and activist groups such as Justicia for Migrant Workers, have asked the human rights tribunal to consider whether it’s discriminatory for the deaths of workers only in certain sectors to trigger mandatory coroner’s inquests.

“The agricultural industry is what we call the three Ds, dirty, dangerous and deadly,” said Raper. “I can’t count how many people we’ve sent home in a box every year.”

In 2012, ten South American migrant workers died in Hampstead, Ont., in one of the worst crashes in the province’s history. Despite pleas from migrant advocates and the Ontario NDP, the coroner’s office declined to call an inquest under its discretionary powers.

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Some of the widows of the ten men were in attendance at the tribunal on Friday as it heard final arguments in the Peart case.

The decision in this case is expected some time in the next five months.

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