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Migrant workers in Canada fighting back against “racist” policies

  • Published on
    January 2, 2024
  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Law & Policy
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Policies from the 1960s still in place today are being challenged in court by seasonal agricultural workers who say the policies allowed them to be denied benefits and exploited as reported in a recent article by CP24. Plaintiffs say they were left vulnerable to labor abuse at the hands of their employers due to these outdated policies that are both racist and unconstitutional. 

They treat dogs better than men 

Kevin Palmer, one of the plaintiffs who worked in Canada for six years as a laborer said his experience shows how currently, they “treat dogs better than men”. The suit describes how Kevin had to live in one room with 12 other men, didn’t get paid for overtime he worked, and his health declined due to the pesticides he had to spray. Then, when he was let go without notice, he was forced to leave the country as his work permit was tied to that specific employer. Despite him having paid into the employment insurance (E.I.) premiums each paycheck, he was also ineligible to receive the employment insurance benefit he had paid into, which is available to Canadian citizens. 

Palmer said: 

“I’m telling you, it was horrible. The program itself is a good thing, (but) the system needs to change.” 

According to the suit, the federal government has taken in some $472 million in E.I. premiums from seasonal agricultural workers over the last 15 years and hasn’t paid out a cent. The lawsuit also claims the tied employment policy imposed back in the 1960s is racist and was only put in place to prevent Black and Indo-Canadian farmworkers from moving freely about the country based on the overtly racist policy objectives at that time. 

Relegating a dark part of Canadian history to the past 

Around 50,000 temporary foreign workers come every year to Canada to work in the fields, many from Caribbean, Mexico, India and the Philippines, heading back to their home countries when the work is done. The nearly half-billion-dollar lawsuit brought against the Canadian Federal Government aims to change what it calls an unconstitutional system and the root cause of ongoing exploitative and racist practices in the Canadian agricultural sector. Reflecting a “dark chapter” of Canada’s history, the government’s outdated policy of tied employment and taking out premiums for E.I. from worker’s paychecks when workers are ineligible for payouts is unjust and discriminatory.  

The lawsuit states: 

“The unjust enrichment (by the Federal Government) was done on the backs of one of the most vulnerable segments of the Canadian workforce: migrant agricultural workers,”  

One of the memos cited in the case is from Canada’s then-deputy minister of citizenship and immigration and highlights the racist origins of these policies. Dated October 1960 the minister said, “We do not want these people to remain in Canada: we do not want to get involved in the difficulty or embarrassment of forcing them out.” The lawsuit challenges tied employment claiming it was imposed as a racist policy with discrimination as its intent.  

Eliminate discriminatory and exploitative policies everywhere! 

Freedom United stands beside immigrant workers calling for fair labor protections and the elimination of discriminatory and exploitative policies, wherever they are found. Globally the issue of labor exploitation and lack of protection for workers is a huge issue, but you can take action to help! Sign our petition in support of strong, mandatory human rights due diligence legislation in the U.S., U.K., and E.U. Join the call for laws that put people and the planet before profits. Because the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the goods we buy should not cost one’s dignity, freedoms, and human rights. 


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Helen Hansen
Helen Hansen
5 months ago

It seems that Canada is glad to welcome white refugees from the Ukraine w no questions asked – very different from very young and brown migrant workers. As a white Canadian I’m shamed and apologetic.

Karen Shue
Karen Shue
5 months ago

Totally agree with Helen H.
I also learned that the companies that hire in the host country will often provide contracts in English to workers who cannot read them.
As a Canadian, I am ashamed of our treatment of these workers who provide such an important role on our behalf.

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